The Guinness Kerry National remains a glaring gap in JP McManus’s domestic big-race portfolio although it is one the renowned owner will hope to finally fill on Wednesday. McManus’s silks are carried by three of the 18 starters in the €200,000 Listowel festival feature due off at 4.25pm and live on TG4.
There is barely a handicap of any sort, never mind a lucrative one, that McManus has not scooped during his 47 years owning racehorses. Twice a winner in the most famous “National” of all at Aintree, the billionaire businessman has four victories to his name in the Irish Grand National, as well umpteen successes in other versions.
One of his trio on Wednesday, Stealthy Tom, landed the Connacht National at Roscommon during the summer and is joined by both Ciel De Neige and A Wave Of The Sea.
Over the years McManus has thrown a lot of darts at the Kerry National board but even the top-class Carlingford Castle could finish only runner-up a decade ago. It is a curious omission for the renowned 72-year-old champion owner whose Martinstown base in Co Limerick is just an hour from Listowel, and he has admitted the festival highlight is “still on my bucket list”. Major cross-channel prizes McManus has yet to collect include the King George, the Champion Chase and the Scottish National, but victory so close to home is likely to mean a lot.
To pull it off he will have to overcome a seven-strong team from Gordon Elliott that includes the Galway Plate hero Ash Tree Meadow.
Danny Gilligan’s mount is topweight, although bookmaker attention this week has mostly focused on his stable companion Salvador Ziggy, winner of his last three starts. Up to 20mm of forecast overnight rain may not help his chances, although it should not be an issue for Rachael Blackmore’s mount Ain’t That A Shame.
Ciel De Neige is one of two hopes for Willie Mullins, who can boast three Kerry National successes, including Cabaret Queen in 2020.
The horse that could finally break McManus’s Listowel duck, however, might be Stealthy Tom. He followed up his Roscommon win with a runner-up placing in the Midlands National at Kilbeggan, and bounced back with a very smooth success in Killarney last month. Regular rider Mark McDonagh again takes a valuable 5lbs off a horse that is admirably versatile in terms of ground conditions and is coming into this in the form of his life.
The Mullins team could prove tough to beat elsewhere on Wednesday’s card, although safe at home back in Carlow is the horse that is already the focus of much attention in Australia. Mullins’s dual-purpose star Vauban is a clear 4-1 favourite to land the Lexus Melbourne Cup after the release of weights for the race that famously stops a nation.
Winner of a Group Three at Naas on his last start, the 2022 Triumph Hurdle hero has been allocated 55kgs – equivalent to 8st 9lbs – for the Flemington showpiece. It puts him 16th on the list of entries for a race in which a maximum of 24 can run on the first Tuesday in November.
Mullins’s Ebor winner Absurde is assured of a slot in the race and has been assigned 53kgs, while Aidan O’Brien has left in both Broome and Saturday’s St Leger fourth Tower of London.
Dermot Weld, who famously changed the face of the Melbourne Cup with Vintage Crop’s groundbreaking success 30 years ago, has left open the option of trying to win the race for a third time through the rising star Harbour Wind. However, his 50kgs allocation leaves him well down the list of early entries that is topped by last year’s winner Gold Trip.
Instead of a trip down under Tower Of London could line up instead in this Sunday’s €600,000 Friends of the Curragh Irish Cesarewitch. That massive prize is not even the Curragh’s most valuable race of the weekend, although just 24 entries are left in Saturday’s Goffs Million after Tuesday’s latest acceptance stage. Europe’s most valuable two-year-old race, confined to horses catalogued at last year’s Orby yearling sale, had 19 runners line up in it a year ago.
One of the leading contenders left in appears to be Aidan O’Brien’s Lowther Stakes runner-up Cherry Blossom.