The Irish Derby is an Group 1 race held over a 1 mile 4 furling course. It’s a flat race open to both three year old colts and fillies. While there have been prior versions of the Derby going back to 1817, the modern day event has been declared to have first taken place in 1866 in Curragh, Co Kindare, Ireland.
Taking place in Late June or early July of each year the Irish Derby is a flat race that attracts top class horses, jockeys and trainers from Ireland and further afield. It takes place just weeks after the Epsom Derby and as such, much like with the Grand National doubles that we see, it’s a not uncommon aim for trainers to attempt to win both the Epsom and Irish Derby with a horse. This has happened a grand total of 18 times so far, with Harzand being the last to achieve this feat back in 2016.
Prize money for the Irish Derby has risen over the years and this understandably took the race to the next level, and drew in a higher calibre of participants.
A couple of individuals have excelled in the Irish Derby and deserve to be recognised for it. Aidan O’Brien is leading trainer at the event with an unrivalled 12 wins between 1997 and 2017, and leading owner Michael Tabor has 13 wins over the same period. As you may have already deduced the two have paired up on several occasions, last in 2017 with winner Capri ridden by Seamie Heffernan.
The event has a huge purse of €1,500,000 with €855,000 going to the winner, €285,000 for second place and €135,000 third. The 2018 Irish Derby winner was Latrobe, who won at an SP of 14-1. Even money favourite Saxon Warrior disappointed, coming third.
No matter the Grand National in question (English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish), the occasion always brings out the very best in racing talent. The Irish Grand National certainly adheres to that criteria and is steeped in history, first taking place way back in 1870 where the race was won by a horse named Sir Robert Peel. Interestingly, and unlike the Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals, the location of the 1870 race is the same as its location today, Fairyhouse, Co’ Meath, Ireland.
The distance of the Grade A Irish Grand National handicap race is 3 miles 5 furlongs (upped from 3 miles 4 furlongs in 1990) and there are 24 fences to clear. The race, which is for 5 year old horses and older, takes place on Easter Sunday each year and is part of the Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival. It’s a popular event with racegoers, including those from Dublin who attend as part of the ‘Dub’s Day Out’ tradition.
As is the case with the Welsh and Scottish Grand National races, success in the Irish event can often mean good things for a horses prospects elsewhere. While none taking part have ‘done the double’ by winning the Irish Grand National and the Aintree Grand National in the same year, a few have still won both events. Ascetic’s Silver was the first in 1906, and Rhyme ‘n’ Reason, Bobbyjo and Numbersixvalverde in more recent times.
Leading jockey over the years in the Irish National is Pat Taafe with 6 wins between 1954 and 1966, leading horse Brown Lad with 3 wins in the 70s, and leading trainer Tom Dreaper with a staggering 10 wins from 1942 to 1966.
2018’s winner was General Principle with jockey James Slevin on board, and trained by George Elliot. It was George Elliot’s first Irish Grand National Victory, narrowly beating out rival Willie Mullin’s Bellshill by a head. Prize money for the event was a very healthy €500,000 , with €270,000 of that going to the winner, so not a bad day’s work.
There is often much excitement generated by the Aintree Grand National, and the same applies to the regional races. The Scottish Grand National is no ‘bolt on’ event either, in fact it first took place in 1858 when it was called the West of Scotland Grand National and consisted of 32 stone wall jumps.
Nine years later the race was moved from Houston, Renfrewshire to Bogside racecourse near Invine. After Bogside closed in 1965 the race moved to its current home in Ayr. At its now home the course is a little longer than it previously was at 4 miles.
Much like with the Welsh Grand National, a win in the Scottish National handicap race is often indicative of wider success. The legendary Red Rum ‘did the double’ in 1974 by winning both the Scottish Grand National and Aintree Grand National. Others achieving this feat (though not in the same year) include Earth Summit and Little Polveir.
Aside from what winning might indicate in a wider context, the prize money alone for the Scottich National is impressive, with the total prize pot at £215,000 in 2018, with £122,433 of that going to the winner. The Festival prize money in total stood at £714,000 over the 15 races held over two days making this the richest jumps event in Scotland and a highly entertaining spectacle. It’s no surprise then that leading trainers and jockeys alike are drawn here to compete.
The 2018 Scottish Grand National winner was 9 year old Joe Farrell (yes, that’s a horse’s name!) ridden by Adam Wedge and trained by Rebecca Curtis. Another trainer that has excelled here in recent years is Paul Nicholls who trained the 2016 and 2017 winner Vincente, with Sam Twiston-Davies riding.
All Grand National events have a special feel about them, and the Welsh Grand National is certainly no exception to the rule. The race was established in 1895, when the race was held at Ely racecourse in Cardiff. Now taking place at Chepstow racecourse on 27th December, this Grade 3 event understandably has the tagline ‘The Biggest Race in Wales’. The date of the race ties it in nicely with the Christmas season making it a magic event both on course and to watch at home.
There are seven races on the card, and a distinctly Welsh feel throughout (including a performance of the Welsh National Anthem) but the emphasis from both a betting and spectator point of view is on the main event which has a very healthy £150,000 prize. The prize pot ensures that the event, which is for horses aged four and above, attracts plenty of racing talent.
The Welsh Grand National handicap race is run over a distance of 3 miles and 5½ furlongs and features twenty two fences. The first winner at Chepstow in 1949 was Fighting Line ridden by the legendary Dick Francis. David Nicholson holds the distinction of making it three in a row by riding back to back winners in the 1959, 1960 and 1961. Trainers of the winners of the Welsh National over the years reads like a who’s who of racing greats, Martin Pipe, Jenny Pitman, Paul Nicholls, the list goes on.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 2017 event was a real stand out, with James Bowen winning the race at just 17 years of age on Raz De Maree, a 17-1 shot . Bowen’s brother Sean is a very talented jockey too and James, who was signed by Nicky Henderson, is often described as learned beyond his years and a wise head on young shoulders.
Success in the Welsh National is often an indicator of further accolades to come. Bindaree and Silver Birch won both the Welsh and Aintree Grand National races, and success for Native River in 2016 led to the Irish trained thoroughbred winning the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup.