NO one has trained more winners of the Guinness Kerry National in the last 15 years than Eric McNamara, but it is perhaps a reflection of the current top-heavy nature of the National Hunt sector that you have to go back to 2012 to find his most recent winner of the big race.

That was a different time. When the big handicap chases in this country would regularly go to smaller yards. Shark Hanlon won it the year before, Dessie Hughes the year after, then James Nash and then Mouse Morris. However the race has been dominated by the big names since - Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Joseph O’Brien and Noel Meade.

Prize money of €200,000 has made for a higher quality race and while that is a general positive move, it has rendered the race significantly more difficult for smaller yards to win or even just get a run in the race.

McNamara has three interesting horses entered in the race next week - the J.P. McManus-owned Punchestown winner Donkey Years and a couple of recruits from Britain, Falco Blitz and Real Steel. However, he was disappointed on Thursday when just one of the 36 entries came out and he accepts now he’ll struggle to get one horse into the race.

“We’re number six, eight and 11 in the ballot so it looks as if all three are going to struggle,” he said. “If that is the case, they will all run on either the Friday or the Saturday. But the aim has been the Kerry National for all three horses for a good while, you know, and it’s disappointing that they won’t get in.

“Donkey Years went home to Martinstown for a few weeks after Punchestown and came back in early with a view to being aimed for Listowel, which has been the plan since Punchestown.

“Real Steel is certainly interesting. He was a very high class horse when Willie Mullins had him. He lost his way when he went to England, and I bought him on spec at the sales and decided to take a chance on him. We left him off for a while.

Freshened up

“He seems to have freshened up well, enjoyed the Irish air, and he spends all his time out of the field and in at night. His prep has gone very, very well and he’s working very well.

“We bought him and Falco Blitz, who is another interesting one coming from Nicky Henderson, with the hope that they might get in at bottom of the weights but if they don’t get in, we’ll run them in other races next week and there will be lots of targets for them going forward.”

The Kerry National has a field limit of 18 and you had to be rated at least 137 to get a run in the race last season. Falco Blitz is the highest rated of McNamara’s trio on 136, while Donkey Years is the shortest priced of the three at 11/1.

The Limerick trainer excellently plotted back-to-back wins in the race with Ponmeoath in 2007 and 2008 while Faltering Fullback led home the better fancied Questions Answered to win in 2012.

“We’ve been very lucky there. It’s been a target, if we think any horse might suit the course, we’ll aim them there.

“It’s only 40 minutes away from us and it’s a place that has been lucky for us. Our horses tend to be out on grass or only back in around Galway time.

“We tend to kind of miss Punchestown and Galway and they are back in early then getting ready for Listowel, and the season ahead really.

“We’ll have plenty of runners through the week. I suppose if you were to hold me to two, I like Cahirdown Boy in the 0-109 handicap chase on Friday and Alvaro, who could go for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle on the Saturday.”