Easter Monday will see the 2017 running of the €500,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in Co. Meath.
The Irish Grand National is a handicap steeplechase run over 3 miles and 5 furlongs, with field jumping 23 fences in order to win the biggest prize in Irish national hunt racing. Since its inception in 1870 the Irish Grand National has made many household names and created many notable sporting memories. The very first winner of the race in was a horse called Sir Robert Peel winning 167 sovereigns in comparison to the €275,000 on offer for this year’s winner. The Grand National quickly became Ireland’s most valuable and prestigious steeplechase and each success has its own rich tale, none more amazing than the win in 1929 of a six year old mare ‘Alike’, owned and ridden by 5’4” Frank Wise who was missing three fingers and who rode with a wooden leg! Affectionately known as ‘The Race of the People’ due to the fact that anyone can enter their horse in the race and win it against many of the sports well known millionaire owners and never was this better borne out when in 2012 the 33/1 shot Líon na Bearnaí won it for a small syndicate of tradesmen and trained by a young novice trainer called Tom Gibney and just a year later a 50/1 shot Liberty Counsel won the big one owned by two sisters and trained out of a tiny yard in Mullingar by a Danish would-be Olympian called Dot Love.
The most successful horse in the history of the famous race is Brown Lad, who claimed victory in the event three times, in 1975, 1976 and 1978. He is also the only horse in the last 50 years to have won the Irish Grand National more than once. The now-deceased trainer Tom Dreaper holds the best record in the race, winning it an incredible 10 times with 10 different horses. One of these was Arkle in 1964, a horse that became a household name after carrying 2½ stone more than his nearest rival. The famous grey horse Desert Orchid won the race in 1990 carrying 12 stone, after winning the Gold Cup a year previously. Jenny Pitman was the first female trainer to win the race, who trained Mudahim in 1997. Bentom Boy in 1984 won under Ann Ferris and Organised Confusion in 2011 won under Nina Carberry. The 2015 race was won by the first all female pair of trainer Sandra Hughes and jockey Katie Walsh with a horse called Thunder and Roses.
The importance of the race to Fairyhouse and Irish racing is seen in the fact that nine people are employed at Fairyhouse but this increases to 600 at the venue all through Easter Weekend. 30,000 people will come through the turnstiles over three days of the Easter Festival, with 1,000 visitors coming from Britain, helping the festival to generate about €4m. Fairyhouse business is worth over €14.5m to local economy over the course of the year.
There will be live coverage of the Boylesports Irish Grand National from Fairyhouse on both RTÉ and At The Races on Easter Monday.