Lion’s Chance At Punchestown Festival

Tom Gibney’s shock Ladbrokes Irish Grand National winner, Lion Ne Bearnai, could be set to bid for another big prize, with connections seriously mulling over a bid for the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival, later this month, writes Elliot Slater.

Although a 10-year-old, Gibney’s surprise 33/1 Irish National scorer is still eligible for the top grade novice contest, in which he could well clash with the recent impressive Cheltenham Festival winner, and current ante-post favourite for next year’s Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, Sir Des Champs.

However, connections are not scared of taking on the much higher-rated chaser, and feel that their charge has recovered particularly well from his exertions at Fairyhouse. The horse proved four-and-a-half-lengths too good for Out Now, under the young Andrew Thornton, following a tremendous battle with the runner-up from the second last fence.

Punters clearly had not taken Lion Na Bearnai’s 50/1 victory in Grade 2 company at Navan, in February, too seriously. The gelded son of New Frontier popped up to shock Four Commanders in landing the Irish Form Book Ten Up Novice Chase, in what most observers at the time felt had been a fluke performance.

It does appear that, despite his relatively senior status, Lion Na Bearnai has improved significantly in his last two starts and, having stunned punters twice in his last two outings, it might be that, at last, Gibney’s big winner might be taken seriously next time out, despite the likely higher quality of the opposition.

The County Meath handler reported his charge to have returned home from Fairyhouse and eaten up every oat; although, as usual, he pulled out a bit stiff the following morning. If he continues to thrive over the next 10 days, it could be increasingly likely that the winner of three of his 29 starts will be a popular pick in the Punchestown odds, before the month is out.