The countdown has begun to the biggest weekend in Irish racing with the 2019 Easter Festival at Fairyhouse just three weeks away.
Easter Monday, 22nd April, will be the day the nation stops for the Boylesports Irish Grand National with a prizefund of over €500,000 making it the most valuable jumps race in Ireland.
All eyes will be on trainers Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins, the top two trainers vying for the National Hunt title.
Not surprisingly they took the first two positions in the feature last year.
Twelve months ago Elliott added another first to his impressive CV when winning the Irish Grand National with the Gigginstown-owned General Principle.
Unusually, owner Michael O'Leary wasn't at Fairyhouse, but was watching the race from Miami in the USA.
Second was the Mullins-trained Isleofhopendreams while Batterstown-based Eddie Cawley took third with outsider Forever Gold which was in with a great chance over the final fence.
While Elliott will be flying the Meath flag, other local trainers to watch out for at the Fairyhouse Festival include former winners of the big race Noel Meade (2002) and Tony Martin (2001).
Meade was in double form on Easter Sunday last year when he was on the mark as part of a double for Meade with the Gigginstown-owned Bel Ami De Sivola in the €50,000 Grade B novice handicap chase.
Watch out also for runners trained locally in some of the other races - particularly Dermot McLoughlin and Shane Crawley.
However, the main focus will be on the Boylesports Irish Grand National and Meath jockeys have ridden five of the last eight winners of the big race - Nina Carberry (2011), Andrew Thornton (2102), Barry Geraghty (2014), Ger Fox (2016) and Robbie Power (2017).
Fairyhouse is long established as a place where dreams come true and horses become champions. Arkle, Flyingbolt and Fortria were among those that followed up Gold Cup or Champion Chase success at Cheltenham with spectacular feats of weight-carrying in the Boylesports Irish Grand National.
And of course there was crowd favourite Desert Orchid, a UK entry, which won the race in 1990 carrying 12 stone, after winning the Gold Cup a year previous.
According to Fairyhouse General Manager, Peter Roe, Easter Monday and the Irish Grand National are inextricably linked.
“The atmosphere at the Irish Grand National is always amazing and the build-up to the 5pm race is what makes it so special. The starting point is close to the main stand in front of the people, so when that flag goes up and the horses start galloping, the roar from the crowd is deafening and the loudest in Irish racing. It’s that roar that makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
WATCH: Peter Roe looks ahead to the 2019 Easter Festival at Fairyhouse
“We are delighted with the strength and depth of entries for this year’s BoyleSports Irish Grand National. There are numerous Grade 1 winners, Cheltenham festival winners and plenty of exciting novices among the 110 entries. We are particularly delighted with the strong overseas entry up from four last year to 19 this year. I know how much it meant for Gordon Elliott to win for the first time last year, so we are looking forward to his strong team bidding to retain the trophy too.”
"It will be fascinating to see if Willie Mullins (left) can finally claim his first Irish Grand National win. He claimed his first Cheltenham Gold Cup this year so maybe it’s his year!”
Peter is quick to point out that Fairyhouse is not just about racing over the Easter Weekend with preparations well underway to create the ultimate playground with, excitement, food, music and great atmosphere for everyone, as well as a funfair and playground to keep the little ones happy while under-16s go free.
Live music features throughout and the Festival Bar will host a racing After Party on Sunday and Monday. There is also music in the hospitality areas, including the Bobbyjo Bistro.