Irish National bid not ruled out for Lord Lariat

Last year’s winner Lord Lariat and the veteran Captain Cj could represent Dermot McLoughlin in his bid for a remarkable third successive victory in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

CAPTAIN CJ. Picture: Pat Healy Photography

Based less than five miles from the track, the County Meath handler saddled 150-1 shot Freewheelin Dylan to claim the traditional Easter Monday feature in 2021 and repeated the feat last spring as 40-1 chance Lord Lariat secured the lion's share of the huge €500,000 prize fund.

Dermot Mcloughlin's father Liam claimed Irish Grand National glory as a jockey in 1962 when partnering Kerforo for legendary trainer Tom Dreaper, who won the race on a record 10 occasions including seven renewals on the spin in the 1960s, with chasing greats Arkle and Flyingbolt among the victors.

Dreaper's son Jim won the staying prize four times in 1970s, with Brown Lad winning three – and speaking at the launch of this year's renewal at his yard on Tuesday morning, McLoughlin junior admitted to have his name on the roll of honour is a dream come true.

"I worked for Jim Dreaper for 15 years and there was plenty of good horses there going for the Irish National at the time," he said.

"My father rode the winner of it and I remember a lot of people coming to talk to him about Arkle and Flyingbolt back in his day, so I got wrapped up in the Irish National and never forget being taken there from a very early age every Easter Monday."

McLoughlin's celebrations were relatively muted two years ago, with Irish racing taking place behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, but he was able to enjoy his 2022 success with his family and friends.

He added: "It was always an aim of mine just to have a runner in the race, let alone a winner. We've been blessed to have two winners and I got serious satisfaction out of both.

"Last year was great as we came home and there were plenty of neighbours and plenty of staff and it was great for everyone."

Lord Lariat has run three times since last year's triumph – finishing fourth behind Galvin in a Grade Three at Punchestown, sixth in the Porterstown Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse in December and seventh over hurdles at Leopardstown on Monday on his return from a three-month break.

A tilt at the Randox Grand National at Aintree on April 15 appears his more likely target this time around, but McLoughlin is not ruling out the possibility of him instead turning up at Fairyhouse earlier that week.

"At the moment, Lord Lariat is Aintree-bound. The lads that own him want to have one go at it, but that could change and I might swing him back to Fairyhouse," said the trainer.

"I gave him a run on Monday and I thought he ran very well actually. That will hopefully leave him spot-on, although he might get another run or a racecourse gallop and school somewhere.

"We're happy with the weight in the Irish Grand National (10st 4lb) and everything else, so we'll see what happens."

McLoughlin has two other entries in Captain Cj and The Echo Boy, but the latter has little prospect of making the cut at the very bottom of the weights.

Captain Cj, who was off the track for well over two years before finishing down the field over hurdles at Gowran Park last month, is also well down the order of entry – but does have the opportunity to pick up a penalty that would move him up the list if he can win this weekend's Leinster National at Naas.

"I think the handicapper has been too generous with Captain Cj – he mightn't get in now," McLoughlin continued.

"He had leg trouble and missed a year and then we were ready to go again and he then got suspensory trouble. He's a good horse, but unfortunately just ran into trouble.

"He's getting on now and it's not straightforward, but he's sound at the moment and we'll see how he runs on Sunday and go from there."

McLoughlin admits taking on the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott for top honours is a difficult task, but one he relishes rather than fears.

He said: "It's like footballers or golfers – we all have to compete.

"I enjoy taking on the bigger lads. We've had well handicapped horses (for the Irish Grand National) in the last couple of years and things came right.

"Every day you go out you're taking on Willie and Gordon and Henry (de Bromhead) and a few others, but we just have to compete at the level we can and when we hit the spring and the ground changes we seem to hit form, so long may it continue.

"It isn't easy in any game – sport in general is tough."

With Irascible not qualified, a total of 83 horses are in Irish Grand National contention.

At the head of the weights on 11st 12lb is the 168-rated Conflated, who is first bound for next week's Cheltenham Gold Cup.

He is one of 19 entries for Gordon Elliott along with the likes of Galvin (11st 9lb), Fury Road (11st 5lb), Delta Work (10st 13lb) and Coko Beach (10st 11lb).

Gold Cup contender Stattler (11st 7lb) is the highest-rated of 14 Willie Mullins-trained possibles, while Venetia Williams' Royale Pagaille (11st 4lb) and Dan Skelton's Ashtown Lad (9st 13lb) are a couple of interesting potential challengers from Britain.

Ireland's National Hunt handicapper, Sandy Shaw, said: "It's a fantastic entry and high quality race. There's 17 horses rated 150-plus and there's multiple Grade One winners in it.

"The question none of us can answer at this stage is what is going to run. There's a lot of horses at the top end that are in the Aintree National as well and it's difficult to know what is going to be top-weight."

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