3:40 KFM Hunters’ Chase
An exceptionally low key start to another eight-race card which is restricted to hunters who are the property of farmers who farm in the Kildare district so, even in point-to-point terms, this is a poor contest. Last year’s winner and third, Johnnie’s Star and Enniskillen, return. Tradition is tradition I suppose so it keeps its place at this meeting but I would purely be guessing so I hope that you don’t mind I will pass though I will say that Enniskillen is likely to have be involved in the finish of the cross country chase here on Tuesday if he didn’t run off the track when leading losing at least 30 lengths and got back into it before dropping back to ninth.
4:20 AON Novice Handicap Chase
Fifteen have been declared for this 2m5f novice handicap chase which has been won by Willie Mullins four times in the last 11 years and he relies this season on Balnaslow who justified odds-on favouritism at Tramore three weeks ago. British interest comes in the shape of Nicky Henderson’s Ericht who was pulled up when a leading fancy for the novices’ handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival last time out and the Tom George-trained Ballinvarrig whose second to Present View on his last run looks much better now given that the winner went on to win that novices’ handicap chase at Cheltenham in March. My JLT Novices’ Chase fancy at Cheltenham, Sizing Gold, also takes his chance and runs in a handicap for the first time but I can’t put my finger on why he faded so tamely from four out back in March.
Willie Mullins is chasing a fifth win in 12 years in this race with Balnaslow who was driven out to win half a length at odds of 8/13 last time so he is not flashy by any means but he is experienced having previously finished fourth behind On His Own and then filled the same position in the Kim Muir on his next start so that will stand him in good stead back to taking on novices again. Jessica Harrington has won this race twice with lowly-weighted horses in the last eight years and she runs the course winner Operating off 10st 7lb who won just 11 days ago at Cork so we know he is in great heart. I know it makes no odds but his owner, Michael Buckley, is having a cracking run with his horses recently and he has had plenty of experience as this is ninth chase start having struggled against the likes of Felix Yonger and Morning Assembly early in his chasing career after been quite well regarded as a novice hurdler. I should give Sizing Gold another chance having been my JLT bet at Cheltenham and dropping from Grade 1 to handicap company. Quite why he didn’t prove to be factor having travelled well to four out I don’t know so that is a concern but if there was a legitimate reason, then I would have to be interested again off a handicap mark of 137. Ballinvarrig has only twice finished out of the first two in ten career starts and we now know he was facing a very hard task in attempting to complete a hat-trick at Kempton in February given the winner then went and won at the Cheltenham Festival off an 11lb higher mark. Prior to that run he had won at stiff right-handed courses like Exeter and Ascot so this course should be ideal for him whereas Kempton when second to Present View might just have been a little sharp for this big horse.
4:55 Seaniemac.com EBF Mares Handicap Chase
It’s not as if this meeting doesn’t have enough races anyway but this mares’ handicap chase is a new race and it will come as no surprise if the Grade 3 chase for mares at Fairyhouse run last week dominates proceedings with the 1-2-3 of Une Artsie, Nadiya De La Vega and Burn And Turn locking horns again. Nicky Henderson trained the 1-2 that day and also sends over Utopie Des Bordes.
Utopie Des Bordes
Mares’ handicap chases are rare enough as there is not a big pool to choose from so it would be no surprise at all if the class acts at the top of the handicap are far too good for their lower-weighted rivals so it worth considering the top four in the weights in perms for the forecast and trifecta. Utopie Des Bordes is very interesting as she won four times in ten chase starts in France as a three and four-year-old but Henderson has kept this mare, who lacks size, purely to hurdles in her 12 starts since she has been in his care. She also showed a lot more on her last start when fifth in a hot Aintree handicap after leading until the final flight than other runs since a very good second in the valuable Fixed Brush Hurdle behind Gevrey Chambertin and Geraghty rides her rather than either of last week’s 1-2 for the same yard in a Grade 3, Une Artiste and Nadiya De La Vega, where just half a length separated the pair. Geraghty rode Une Artiste last week so it is a little surprising he rides Utopie Des Bordes instead and I imagine plenty will be read into that. Burn And Turn was only 2½ lengths back in third but is 4lb better off with the winner and if the ground is faster than the good/yielding that day, then that is expected to suit her. The winner showed lots of guts though and a few pounds here or there doesn’t compensate for a great attitude in my view.
5:30 Racing Post Champion Hurdle
A disappointing turnout of just three runners, one of which, Steps To Freedom, is out of his depth and maybe acting as a pacemaker for Jezki but it is still more interesting than Hurricane Fly winning at virtually unbackable prices for the last three renewals. He also won the 2010 running at 3/1 so is chasing a fifth straight victory in this race.
We should deal with Jezki first being the current Champion Hurdler and six reigning Champion Hurdlers have run here with four winning and two finishing second. At Cheltenham, Jezki comprehensively turned around two pieces of Leopardstown form with Hurricane Fly beating him by just under five lengths appreciating a stronger-run race, not being held up and the application of a first-time hood. Where Hurricane Fly backers can be hopeful of turning that from around is that because this is just a three-runner race, then it is far more likely to be run like the small-field races in Ireland he has been mopping up over the last few years where his turn of foot is a potent weapon. Hurricane Fly may have won two Champion Hurdles, but he is unbeaten in Ireland in his last 15 races with the slower gallop being more in his favour. I imagine Jezki will shade favouritism but the second-favourite has beaten the favourite into second place in six of the last 11 runnings. That record read even better before Hurricane Fly’s three odds-on victories as it was 6-8.
However, Hurricane Fly was unplaced on his most recent start and only two winners in the history of the race had such a profile. One was Brave Inca, though he appeared to be travelling best when taking a tumble in the Aintree Hurdle. The other was Silent Oscar but he he had won on the Flat since not running to his best over hurdles less than a fortnight earlier so he was clearly bang in form so I would argue that the last 15 winners has shown the wellbeing last time out. At the age of ten, if successful, Hurricane Fly would also be the race’s oldest winner, as he was last year when he won aged nine.
It would be a bit cheeky to include both in the short list wouldn’t it? Although I can make a good case out why Hurricane Fly can reverse Cheltenham form with Jezki because this race should be more like the contests that the former dual Champion Hurdler has been winning for the last four years in Ireland and a very different tactical test from the Champion Hurdle, trends-wise Jezki gets the vote as Hurricane Fly was unplaced last time out and would be the oldest winner of the race at the age of ten. Probably a race to watch rather than take a view about.
6:05 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle
Last year’s winner finished fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over 2m in which Vautour bolted up this season but the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over a similar trip to this has been the best guide as three of the last eight winners finished first or second in Cheltenham’s 2m5f novice hurdle championship event. Not surprising that the Neptune should be a better guide of course and its only representative this season is Lieutenant Colonel who finished sixth and then added a Grade where he beat Le Vent D’Antan by ten lengths who then here on Wednesday.
The Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle over 2m2f on Irish Hennessy Day at Leopardstown used to be the most influential guide but it has gone quiet of late to the extent that just three of the last 15 winners had won or placed back in February. This season’s Deloitte was won by Vautour who made the most of handed a dead soft lead but he was so good when winning the Supreme that Willie Mullins commented that he is on a different level to Faugheen after the latter won the Neptune and, even more remarkably, also after he won so impressively here on Tuesday. If he justifies odds-on favouritism, Vautour will be giving Willie Mullins his seventh winner of this race in the last 13 years and will be the eighth successful favourite in the last 11 runnings.
With regards to Aintree’s Grand National fixture, it has surprisingly been the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over three miles won by Beat That who won here on Wednesday rather than the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle over this 2m4f trip that has been the key guide. This season’s Mersey was won by the Paul Nicholls-trained Lac Fontana moving up to 2m4f for the first time who will be bidding to join Istabraq and Sprinter Sacre as winners at all three major spring Festivals in the same year having also won the County Hurdle. The Brits won this in 2010 and 2011.
There is no getting away from the runaway Supreme winner, Vautour, on form, visuals and trends and, judged by the way he won the Deloitte over 2m2f, this extra 2f should not pose any problems to this strapping chasing short who should give Mullins his seventh winner of this race and provide punters with another winning favourite in a race they have dominated of late. If he is too skinny a price for you then Lieutenant Colonel appeals as the most likely to follow him home now he is developing into the prospect his connections felt he would do in time and I would be pretty certain he is a better horse now than the one who finished sixth in the Neptune so he makes most appeal for the forecast or in a without-favourite market.
6:40 Star Best For Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle
Thirteen horses have been declared for the 2m novice hurdle for horses that have not won more than once over timber which has been won by Sizing Europe, Copper Bleu, Arvika Ligeonneire, Kid Cassidy and Un De Sceaux in recent seasons so it usually takes a good one to win it. Favourites have won the last five runnings and Arctic Fire has an outstanding chance of extending that to six as the County Hurdle runner-up is 12lb clear of his next nearest rival.
The Plan Man
It is very hard to get away from Arctic Fire who represents the Mullins yard that has won this race twice recently with horses that have gone on to be out of the top drawer given he is 12lb clear of Double Irish (third in a Grade 2 to Valseur Lido last time but well beaten) on ratings who, in turn, is 5lb clear of Indian File. The County Hurdle was franked when the winner, Lac Fontana, then added the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle and the fourth, Diakali, was only beaten a neck by The New One in the Aintree Hurdle and now Walsh takes over from Casey. The decent ground is also in his favour so the only thing not to like is the very likely prohibitive odds. If his price doesn’t float your boat then The Plan Man is quite an interesting each-way alternative for Tony Martin and Gigginstown having won a maiden hurdle at Cork 11 days ago by nine lengths very easily.
7:10 ITBA Fillies Premier Bumper
As many as 25 will face the starter but this is one of the lesser interesting bumper races of the meeting which is restricted to fillies and I won’t list all the other conditions or we will be here for forever and a day and it is not particularly relevant to winner finding.
Inevitably most focus will be on Willie Mullins’ runners even if Glens Melody is his only winner of this race in the last decade and the number one according to jockey bookings looks to be the debutante, Morning Run, with Patrick Mullins in the saddle. The same yard’s On The Bike was second on her only run at Thurles when Patrick rode underlining that the unraced mare is the more fancied and his other runner will be another debutant, the four-year-old, Cleeves Steeple, for the same owners (Supreme Racing Club) who won the bumper here on Day 1. There are four winners in the field they being Carrigmoorna Rock who added a Wexford bumper win (by a head) to a point-to-point win amongst three defeats, Degenerous who was sent over to win a bumper at Catterick at 16/1 after three heavy defeats in Ireland and Montana Belle who was trained by John Butler when he won a Newbury bumper in December but is now trained by Stuart Crawford. However, the biggest threat to the Mullins trio could be Queen Alphabet who won at Roscommon in August before disappointing slightly next time behind Wicklow Brave but she ran well when fifth in the competitive mares’ bumper at the Grand National Meeting behind Avispa.
7:45 Donohue Marquees Champion Hunters’ Chase
No Tammys Hill but we do have the impressive Aintree Fox Hunters’ winner, Warne, and the Cheltenham Foxhnters’ third, On The Fringe, who runs here rather than the La Touche Cup plus the former Irish Hennessy winner, Quel Esprit. All three were behind Tammys Hill in the Raymond Smith Hunter Chase in February where On The Fringe finished four lengths ahead of Warne with Quel Esprit last of the seven finishers. These three stand out on pure form.
On The Fringe
I felt before his brilliant Aintree win that the Grand National fences and flat track over an intermediate trip race would suit Warne very well as he more speed than stamina so, back up to 3m1f here, I think he is vulnerable on the stamina front so fancy On The Fringe will confirm placings over 3m at Leopardstown in January when he finished four lengths in front when they filled the places behind Tammys Hill who then franked that form at Cheltenham. On The Fringe was also a little free that day and throw in the fact he is unbeaten in two completed starts at Punchestown including when winning this race five years ago as a mere five-year-old, and I make him the one to beat. Quel Esprit was fancied to win that Leopardstown race but faded quickly so I have major doubts about him so I do have to make Warne the danger and I couldn’t put anyone off the straight forecast.