The Offaly horse that could just win the Irish Grand National
Offaly could have a couple of big wins on the sporting front over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.
With Shane Lowry riding high at the RBC Heritage event in the US, a racehorse born and bred in Offaly will go for glory in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.
Snugsborough Benny is among the favourite as he tackles the mammoth three and a half mile trip in the centrepiece event of the Meath track's Easter festival.
The horse was bred and is still owned by Shinrone's Ray Loughnane and is a previous winner of the Offaly Express Sports Star of the Month award. He picked up the prize last August and went on to finish fourth in the end-of-year vote to crown the overall 2018 winner.
Snugsborough Benny, trained by Liam Cusack in Mountrath, announced his credentials when landing the Guinness Galway Blazers Handicap Chase at last summer's Galway Races Festival, seeing off A Rated and Mine Now by over a length, and the rest of the field by over 17 lengths.
After two relatively uninspiring runs over the winter period last year, Benny warmed up for an Irish Grand National tilt with an impressive win at Fairyhouse in February, beating Call It Magic by six lengths on good ground.
Speaking to the Offaly Express, Ray said: "This is a family-run business here and we have horses on the point-to-point scene. I had this lad [Snugsborough Benny] point-to-pointing but I always knew he was a very good horse."
Ray sent both Snugsborough Benny and his full brother Snugsborough Hall to be trained by Liam Cusack in Laois as he didn't have a licence to train them himself on the track. He has since sold Snugsborough Hall but held on to Benny who he says "is one of the family."
"Everything is in order and he's in good form and Liam expects a good run from him, especially with the ground drying. Good to yielding would be ideal for him and it looks like it will be good given the weather."
"His jockey, Denis O'Regan, has ridden him in all his chases and he thinks he'll love the longer trip," Ray explained. Ray recalls the horse once running a point-to-point over three miles, saying, "he was galloping away over the line that day."
"He's a horse that likes to be ridden off the pace and he loves jumping. Winning this race would be very special. Even having a runner in it is great and I'll be there hoping for the best."
All going well, Ray envisages Snugsborough Benny heading for the Galway Races after Fairyhouse with a crack at the Galway Plate possible.
Although he doesn't want to get ahead of himself, Ray says the Aintree Grand National would be the ultimate aim with the horse if he was to perform well at Fairyhouse and over the summer months.
"He's a perfect age now at nine but for a horse that age, he has relatively few miles on the clock. Liam picks his races wisely. I'd expect him to shorten up with the bookies after final declarations are made this morning."
The Irish Grand National takes place at 5pm on Easter Monday. Snugsborough Benny is currently a 14/1 shot.