In an era of the super stable leading to domination of the biggest races by only a handful of trainers, the Irish Grand National is the anomaly.

On Monday, Tom Gibney’s Intense Raffles saw off the Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now for a popular win in the three-mile-five-furlong contest at Fairyhouse. The six-year-old grey was giving Gibney, who trains locally just outside Trim, a second win in the race 12 years on from Lion Na Bearnai’s win at 33/1.

Remarkably, he was becoming the second local trainer to win the race alongside Dermot McLoughlin, who operates out of Ratoath, and won the race back to back in recent years with 150/1 shot Freewheelin Dylan and the 40/1 Lord Lariat.

Intense Raffles is the first horse Gibney has trained for major British owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and he has now won on all three starts for his new yard.

Huge confidence

“I told JJ (Slevin, rider) all he had to do was to get around and he’d win,” Gibney said. “I had huge confidence in the horse. People were asking me if I was nervous, and hand on my heart, I wasn’t nervous because we have huge confidence in the horse.

“He is the best I’ve had. You know when you ride this horse, he just gives you a better feeling than all the others and that’s the feeling I get on him nearly everyday that I ride him.

“It’s very easy for the big owners to go to the big yards, so for them to pick out a yard like ours and give us a horse, kudos to them, it’s great to be able to repay them.”

The win came 24 hours after Spillane’s Tower secured the other big race at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival, the Grade 1 WillowWarm Gold Cup, for Cork trainer Jimmy Mangan, another triumph for a smaller yard.

Like Intense Raffles, Spillane’s Tower has a major owner in J.P. McManus. The good horses are always going to filter through to the big owners with the big wallets, but this should be seen as a big weekend for the smaller trainers in Ireland, with two very fine examples of the talent that is out there.

The general feeling after Cheltenham for the casual fan of racing was that the Willie Mullins domination was taking away from the competitive nature of the sport. McManus has always been hugely supportive of smaller yards and hopefully, results like the two aforementioned can further vindicate that strategy for other big owners to follow suit.