3:40 Colm Murphy Memorial Handicap Hurdle
A new race and, with all these 25-runner handicap hurdles at this meeting, it’s more often than not a case of trying to find the horse laid out for the race rather than one with recent form in the bag.
Hurler And Farmer, Golden Ticket and Halling’s Treasure wear headgear for the first time and as the first named had run three times in April, I prefer the latter who may have been trained more with this race in mind by Gordon Elliott who has had more than one horse run well at the big meetings when he puts headgear on for the first time, famously with Flaxen Flare of course who then hosed up in the Fred Winter. The fact he is a maiden after five starts over timber wouldn’t concern me and he is now given his handicap debut and stepped up in trip. Combine all those factors together and I sense he will find much improved form. Christy Roche also turns to first-time headgear for Golden Ticket who has won only one of his seven hurdles starts but he returns to timber here after having his last nine starts over fences and is 11lb lower over hurdles so he is interesting, especially being a course winner even if A P McCoy rides Time Please of the McManus runners. As such, Edward O’Grady’s charge also has to be interesting even if he hasn’t got within 22 lengths of a win in his last three starts but you would think that the Champion Jockey wouldn’t be riding him for nothing when Golden Ticket has quite an interesting profile? Fire Fighter had a run on the Flat three weeks that might have been used simply to tee him up for this race by Adrian Maguire. That was his first run since finishing second at Sandown in February 2012 when trained by Alan King and he is off a 7lb lower mark here on just his fourth hurdles start so there could easily be more to come.
4:15 Three.ie Handicap Chase
It doesn’t get any easier as 20 runners have been declared for this 2m handicap chase where no winner in the previous ten years had carried over 11st until Twinlight won with 11st 10lb on his back last year. A 12-year-old won two years ago but generally this has been a handicap for young, progressive horses with nine of those last 11 winners aged between six and eight.
Looking at the age and weights stats, and seven horses are aged between six and eight carrying under 11st and, of those, I most like Toostrong. Gordon Elliott’s novice has only won once in his 13 chase starts but he has only found one too good on his last two runs notably last time out a month ago when he was having his first start since October so lack of hard fitness may have caught him out, especially on heavy ground. With that run banked and now racing on better ground, he can go close. Few trainers are as adept with two-mile chasers than Arthur Moore so I wouldn’t be surprised if he has trained the novice, Treat Yourself, with this race in mind. He was tailed off last time out but that wouldn’t bother me if this is the plan and after he won well at Leopardstown in January, his trainer commented he could be one for Ireland’s top 2m handicap chase, the Dan Moore, next season, so he clearly feels he is up to winning a race of this competitive nature. Mallowney makes most appeal of those set to carry over 11st and wears a hood for the first time. He could have taken his chance in the Arkle as he was going quite well when he fell late on in the Irish Arkle but three subsequent defeats have shown he wouldn’t have been a serious factor. This is his first handicap though and Davy Russell will know him better this time having had his first ride on him when second to the useful Road To Riches last time out where Golanbrook was back in third. He doesn’t find a lot off the bridle so this faster ground will help him get home better. He might be more of a back-to-lay horse but I fancy him to travel well and hit the frame. The Grand Annual runner-up Ned Buntline is another who has found less than expected in a finish more than once but he clearly arrives here in good form and the Grand Annual winner, Savello, ran well in the Grade 1 on the opening day giving that form a boost. He had previously finished second to Mallowney at Naas and I do like novices in handicaps at this stage of the season.
4.50 Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort Chase (La Touche Cup)
Not a good running of the La Touche Cup I’m afraid, in fact, a very poor renewal. Some punters won’t touch these races given the added risk of what can go wrong but overall I feel they offer backers a real chance as very few of these kind of races are not dominated by the leading fancies and 17 of the last 19 winners started at no bigger than 7/1. Enda Bolger has trained 11 of the last 15 winners (seven with Risk Of Thunder) and runs Quiscover Fontaine and Quantitativeeasing who were ninth (off 10st 9lb) and thirteenth (off 11st 8lb) respectively behind Balthazar King in the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Handicap Chase. They run off the same weight today so the latter should be favoured. Bolger also runs Keep On Track who started favourite for the cross country handicap at Cheltenham in December and finished sixth. Part reason he started favourite was a featherweight of 10st 1lb in a handicap but this is a conditions chase and he has to give weight away to all his rivals.
Seven of the last eight winners contested the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country where Duke Of Lucca fared best finishing only eight lengths adrift in fourth and he then followed up in a valuable handicap chase at the Grand National Meeting but if he is successful here then he will become the first British-trained winner of the La Touche Cup. Willie Mullins’ Uncle Junior won this race in 2012 and finished seventh at Cheltenham under a big weight and is 14lb better off with Duke Of Lucca here and the longer trip will suit but whether he will enjoy the fast ground on the cross-country course is another matter. Mullins runs three in total as the dodgy jumper, Bishopsfurze, and the former Aintree Foxhunter’s runner-up, Boxer Georg, join him.
Last season’s La Touche Cup has featured three of the last 11 winners but would clear top if we extended the table to the last 20 years given Risk Of Thunder’s seven victories in this race. Lydon House (6th) who is now aged 15 and Uncle Junior (fell 6th) contested the race last year.
Given what a poor renewal this is there has to be a superb chance that Duke Of Lucca will provide Britain with its first La Touche Cup winner being much the best horse in the race and in such great heart to boot having then also won at Aintree but, as this race is covered in the book from a trends perspective, for that reason I have to leave him off the short list even if he did fare best of those in the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Handicap that has featured seven of the last eight winners. Being Bolger-trained and having also contested that race, then the Galway Plate runner-up, Quantitativeeasing, makes appeal even if he did run down the field at Cheltenham, but so have other winners of this prize. He had a big weight that day whereas this is a conditions event so the weights will favour him much more. The fact that Nina Carberry rides suggests he is the yard’s best hope. His stablemate, Quiscover Fontaine, beat him that day but is not so well favoured by the weights but Punchestown might be more his course judged on his 4½ lengths’ third in the P.P. Hogan over these banks in February, though surprisingly that hasn’t been a good guide. I have reservations whether the ground will suit him but the 2012 winner of this prize, Uncle Junior, also took his chance at Cheltenham and went close to beating Balthazar King in November and would be giving weight away to virtually all his rivals if this were a handicap so if he can lay up and be on the scene turning for home, his class and stamina would give him a chance.
5:30 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle
Given the Brits have a good record winning eight of the last 17 renewals (it was an even more impressive 8 of the last 13 before Quevega won the last four runnings), it is remarkable just what a poor guide the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle have been given they were the only two Grade 1 3m hurdle races run earlier in the campaign before Leopardstown upgraded their staying hurdle at the Christmas Meeting this season. Only Blazing Bailey of the last 14 winners contested the World Hurdle which is a big surprise as that race would seem to be the obvious first port of call yet ten of the last 11 winners contested races at the Cheltenham Festival notably Quevega of course whose four wins in this race followed victories in the OLBG Mares Hurdle (beat Glens Melody a little snug in the end last month). Nine of the last 13 favourites have won which is another stat in Quevega’s favour.
At Fishers Cross best represents the World Hurdle this season where he finished third and had the Long Walk Hurdle winner, Reve De Sivola, back in eighth. Not one of the last 13 winners of this Punchestown race ran in the Long Walk Hurdle. On the other hand, two winners in the last decade had contested the Pertemps Final where they finished unplaced which was won by Fingal Bay off top weight and the form has worked out well with Southfield Theatre (2nd) winning at the weekend, Pineau De Re (3rd) only went and won the Grand National and Trustan Times (4th) was then placed in the Scottish National. Jetson was back in fifth beaten 2½ lengths in the Pertemps Final but is 9lb worse off with Fingal Bay here. The shock Cleeve Hurdle winner, Knockara Beau, also ran at the Festival when seventh in the Gold Cup and Sadler’s Risk was well beaten in the Coral Cup.
Six of the last ten winners ran at the Grand National Meeting so running at both Cheltenham and Aintree has been no barrier to success and At Fishers Cross finished second in the Liverpool Hurdle despite running with a ripped shoe for much of the race which may have affected his jumping as he lacked fluency at times again. Jetson was fourth in the 3m handicap hurdle, a race that Carly’s Quest and Refinement contested prior to winning here having also run in the Pertemps Final on their previous start.
Not only have nine of the last 12 winners won at 3m+ (Sadler’s Risk and Glens Melody haven’t), they have managed it in Grade 1 events where, in theory, the stamina argument becomes even more important given they should attract a better class horse and, in turn, a better gallop placing more emphasis on staying prowess. Two of those exceptions were trained by Willie Mullins. Non Grade 1 winners are Jetson, Knockara Beau, Mourad and Sadler’s Risk.
Ten of the last 13 winners won last time out which is a positive for Bog Warrior, Quevega and Fingal Bay. In fact, only one of the last 17 winners failed to at least place last time out which is another negative for Sadler’s Risk, Reve De Sivola and Mourad plus Knockara Beau.
Hard to get away from Quevega on form and trends and she should make it five wins on the spin. Recent reports are that she is also in foal to Beat Hollow and as being in foal is also regarded as a positive in that it improves mares, that factor could even see her improve again. She does tend to improve from Cheltenham to Punchestown impressing more here than at Prestbury Park and I felt her win in this race last season was her best ever so I would expect her to beat Glens Melody more comfortably this time than at Cheltenham. The fresher Fingal Bay could be more of a threat than the busier At Fishers Cross. The latter was ready to run in early November but was withdrawn on the morning at Wetherby so this has been a long season for him. Fingal Bay won the Pertamps Final off top weight which has surprisingly been a better guide to this Grade 1 race than the World Hurdle and Philip Hobbs’ record at the Punchestown Festival from few runners speaks for itself. Bog Warrior bypassed the Cheltenham Festival unlike most winners and would want it softer but he arrives here off a win, and is a proven Grade 1 horse and a proven 3m performer so he might be interesting returning to hurdles for the first time since he traded at around Even money two out in last season’s World Hurdle before he faded into fifth and was found to have returned with what was feared at the time as a career-ending injury.
6:05 Naas Court Hotel And Il Fico Restaurant Handicap Hurdle
Only two winners have carried more than 10st 11lb in the last 11 years so hopefully that might be the quickest way cutting this 25-runner 3m handicap hurdle by around half? Again, I would prefer to look to horses that may have been plotted up for this than more obvious in-form contenders.
Express Du Berlais
Off The Charts
Annie Oakley may have only won once in nine hurdles starts but that victory was the only occasion when she ran over timber at Punchestown and also over this 3m trip so Jessica Harrington may have been working backwards from this date since then and she was kept ticking along by being sent over fences last time out. After that victory, her trainer stated that she stays all day so the big field should place even more emphasis on stamina that will play to her strengths. Dessie Hughes gave Everything Zain a spin on the Flat 19 days ago and he ran pretty well too finishing sixth of 19 which can have put him right for this first step up to 3m which can hopefully bring around the required improvement. Having finished second in seven of his 16 starts and just a sole success, maybe he is more of an each-way option. Hughes also runs Off The Charts in a first-time visor who won two handicaps in J P McManus’ colours before never getting competitive at Fairyhouse last week. If the new headgear works, then he looked most progressive before his last run. Express Du Berlais is a lightly-raced winning pointer over 3m who won a handicap hurdle over trip last month in the Gigginstown colours but was disappointing at Fairyhouse just ten days ago. The fact he is out again so quickly is interesting as is the fact he is more lightly raced than most of these. Inis Meain was narrowly beaten in a three-way finish to a Listed race on the Flat just five days ago so is the class act. If I fancied him off a similar hurdles mark for the Pertemps Final (which I did) only to be balloted out and then win a Listed Flat race before his good run last weekend, I have to fancy him again providing he has recovered in time.
6:40 Ryanair Novice Chase
I would argue that is now Ireland’s top novice chase of the season over any distance. Upgraded from Grade 2 status into a Grade 1 affair in 1998, the Brits have started to target the race more as a consequence and have a fine record since that elevation in race status winning on five of the last ten occasions in which they have been represented and the impressive Maghull Novices’ Chase winner, Balder Succes, flies the flag this season after he easily despatched Trifolium. The Maghull has featured five winners in the last 17 years, two of which completed this double.
The Arkle Trophy featured the winner again last year, the eleventh time in the last 17 years, and Champagne Fever (2nd), Trifolium (3rd) and Ted Veale (fell two out when well held) represent that Cheltenham for this season. It is still hard to believe that Western Warhorse denied Champagne Fever right on the line so if you take the view that a head-defeat is as good as a win for this purpose, you will be interested to know that four of the seven Arkle winners to run here have won. However, I would also argue that we should not be put off by a contender that failed to fire for whatever reason in the Arkle as Captain Cee Bee was a well-beaten eighth at Cheltenham after breaking a blood vessel before bouncing back to win here adding to the likes of Another Promise and War Of Attrition who were also well beaten in the Arkle and non-completions from Le Roi Miguel, Accordion Etoile and Arvika Ligeonneire before they struck in this Grade 1 event.
The best Irish guide with five winners in the last 13 years has been the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Meeting. This season’s race was won by the now-injured Defy Logic who beat a held-up Trifolium and Champagne Fever, though the third lost all chance by banking the penultimate fence. The winner then broke a blood vessel when well beaten by Trifolium in the Irish Arkle. Surprisingly, that Grade 1 race run in late January had not featured the winner of this race until 2012 but has now featured the last two winners.
As many as 17 of the last 19 runnings were won by novices aged 7+, so this is where Champagne Fever could hold the edge over his main rival, Balder Success, as the latter is just six, as are God’s Own and Arnaud though only two six-year-olds have run in the last four years. However, the last 12 winners had all taken part in at least four chase races and Champagne Fever has only run in three whereas this is Balder Succes’ eighth chase start.
Two eight-year-olds take their chance in Felix Yonger and Moscow Mannon and horses aged 8+ have won nine times since 1992 which could not compare any more differently to the Arkle where the only two winners aged older than seven since 1988 had the class to be crowned the Champion Chaser the following season. Perhaps older horses hold their form better at this stage of the season?
Only one of the last 19 winners has started at bigger than 6/1 so don’t go looking for an upset. The favourite won last season at 7/2 adding to the odds-on victories for Captain Chris, Le Roi Miguel and Moscow Flyer.
Unlike the 3m novice chase at this meeting, this Grade 1 race has been dominated by the leading fancies down the years but both the big two of Champagne Fever (just three chase starts) and Balder Succes (only a six-year-old) have a negative to overcome so Trifolium, although beaten by both when placed at Cheltenham and Aintree, would just sneak it from a trends point of view having also contested the major guides. Given that the Arkle has been the key guide and Champagne Fever all but won it, I would prefer him to Balder Succes as his negative of having just three chase starts was overcome by Tiutchev who won the Arkle so out-and-out class can overcome that factor and we know that Champagne Fever is right out of the top drawer and probably would have won at Cheltenham if he did not endure a far from ideal preparation. The rest should start at bigger than 6/1 and only one winner in the last 20 years has been sent off at bigger so if Trifolium starts at 13/2+ then there are no qualifiers if we take the Key Trends is the book literally as all eight runners would then have a statistical negative to overturn.
7:15 Drinkwater Construction & Orchid Transport Mares Novice Hurdle
The second running of this mares’ novice hurdle. Willie Mullins is so strong in this division over the last few years and he took the inaugural running with an odds-on favourite and, although he has better novice mares in his stable than Vicky De L’Oasis, Urticaire and Florishwells D’Ete, they are still officially the highest three rated horses in this race. Morga is an interesting recruit to hurdling though being a 93-rated filly on the Flat for Jim Bolger who won her hurdles debut for Desmond McDonogh, David Pipe sends over Western Diva and the hat-trick chasing Whisper Rock also has to be respected so Mullins may not get it all his own way.
Vicky De L’Oasis
Morga only won once on the Flat in 14 attempts but she was rated 93 so is entitled to respect and especially having won at Cork on her maiden hurdle debut 11 days ago. Whether she can cope with the Mullins trio off the back of just one hurdles run is another matter and Urticaire sets the standard on her 1½ lengths’ second to Upsie three starts back given that it was Upsie who won this race last year. Since then this six-year-old was narrowly beaten in a Grade 3 when a shade of odds-on and third in the Grade 1 mares hurdle behind Adriana Des Mottes three weeks ago. Vicky De L’Oasis is preferred to Florishwells D’Ete of the other Mullins pair with the latter not matching the form of her hurdles debut win on her next two starts. Vicky De L’Oasis, on the other hand, has been most consistent finishing runner-up on her last three starts, two of which in pattern races. At the time of writing, jockey bookings have not been announced but clearly I would be favouring which Mullins representative that Walsh rides. David Pipe sends over Western Diva who made a successful hurdling debut just 11 days ago at Market Rasen by seven lengths having previously finished fourth to Ballyboley in a Towcester bumper and that winner then won a big bumper prize at the Grand National Meeting. Whisper Rock has won his last two races for Philip Fenton, one in a bumper and then on her hurdling debut on soft/heavy but is expected to enjoy this ground more.
7:45 Kildare Post Bumper
A bumper for horses aged between 4-7 that have won no more than once under Rules which is having its fourth running and all 13 horses have run of which 11 have won so this is competitive.
Tell Us More
Being the only Mullins representative did not stop the yard having a 12/1 bumper on the opening day of this meeting and the stable are doubly represented here. The pick looks to be the Gigginstown-owned, imposing Tell Us More who is unbeaten in two starts adding a Gowran Park bumper by 12 lengths to a point-to-point success so I would not go expecting too tasty a price about him. Mullins also runs Most Peculiar who won at the third time of asking so I would be concerned that he couldn’t win on either of his first two starts for him to be one of the yards better bumper horses. Noel Meade’s Champoleon is the only four-year-old so receives 8lb from most of his rivals and won his sole bumper start well at Naas in January in a newcomers’ event under Nina Carberry who rides again. I liked the fact that he took a little time to work out what to do but was well on top at the end so he should come on plenty for that experience. The third that day ran pretty well when fifth of 19 here on Day 1 behind the brilliant winner, Forgotten Rules. Patsio is given the final short list berth. Philip Fenton knows the time of day with bumper horses and he got off the mark last month on his third start on his first run since October having pulled a muscle on his previous start so he is likely to progress again.