Naas Leinster National Preview

Can the Naas specialist Espanito Bello reign supreme again and take the Leinster National

Espanito Bello is gearing up for his second run in the Irish Grand National, having previously finished 18th, well behind Freewheelin Dylan, two years ago. However, Connell is confident that the outcome will be different this time around.

"Easter was later that year and it was quick ground and I think the [likely softer] ground is going to more suitable this time around,” he said. "Going into that race, he was at the end of a long season but I think he is in better shape now - he's been lightly raced. If runs as well as he did in Naas, he'll be thereabouts."

It's been a tough week for Barry Connell with the withdrawal of Marine Nationale from the Arkle, but things could take a positive turn at Naas with ESPANITO BELLO, a favorite at this track, poised for victory in the Bar One Racing Leinster National Handicap Chase (4.37) for a second consecutive year.

Espanito Bello shines at Naas, boasting all five of his wins here, making it clear Connell has set his sights on this race. His recent performance trailing Ferny Hollow, despite a drop to 2m showing it wasn't his best distance, still saw him far ahead of the Galway Plate victor Ash Tree Meadow. Last year, Espanito Bello effortlessly dominated a similar group and, despite carrying more weight this time, his prospects look bright amidst a field of uncertain competitors. Following Pairofbrowneyes' path to back-to-back wins wouldn't be shocking.

Willie Mullins, as usual, presents a formidable challenge with Bronn, a standout who placed third in last year's Brown Advisory at Cheltenham, and Minella Cocooner, a Grade 1 novice hurdle victor at the Dublin Racing Festival in 2022, and runner-up in the Albert Bartlett. Minella Cocooner, despite a less spirited run behind American Mike last time, steps down in grade but faces a strong contender in Espanito Bello at Naas.

Gavin Cromwell, with a strong lineup at Cheltenham, remains a noteworthy mention, especially in handicaps, where his record this season is unmatched. His entries in the Leinster National, Velvet Elvis and Hartur D'Arc, both recent winners for the stable, bring intriguing prospects. Velvet Elvis, despite an easier field at Fairyhouse, has shown potential reminiscent of his 2022 Irish National form, while Hartur D'Arc, despite needing to prove his endurance over 3m1f, enters as a dark horse with potential value given his unproven stamina at competitive odds.

Macs Charm, revitalizing with a strong finish at Gowran Park in the Thyestes and debuting under Rachael Blackmore, also merits attention despite a harsh handicap assessment based on this season's performances. With a Naas victory under his belt, he shouldn't be overlooked.

In summary, the Leinster National looks set for an exciting showdown, with Espanito Bello aiming for repeat success against formidable opposition, including notable entrants from the stables of Willie Mullins and Gavin Cromwell, in a race that promises to highlight the depth of talent in the field.