2:30 Irish Field Chase
Another cross country chase, this one over 3m, which was won by Sizing Australia last season and he is back to defend his title after finishing fifth in the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Handicap Chase.
Sizing Australia is not the horse he was at the age of 12 now but this is only an okay race of its type and he is more than up to winning it if reproducing last year’s performance or his fifth place at the Cheltenham Festival. This is the sixth running and Enda Bolger won the first four and he has declared Be Positive who won the cross country race here on Tuesday, Keep On Track who was second in Thursday’s poor running of the La Touche Cup and Star Neuville who was talked up as being his main hope for the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Chase and started as short as 7/1 but he could only finish twelfth. Nina Carberry was on the right one of the Bolger quartet when Be Positive won easily on Tuesday and rides again and the 8lb he receives from Sizing Australia is a bonus. Nothing should be read into the fact Carberry doesn’t ride Star Neuville as Danny Mullins is the owner’s retained jockey and as he was only beaten half a length in this race last season and he is four years his younger so if we take out the Cheltenham run, he has a big shout.
3:05 Madra Irish Dog Foods Handicap Chase
Twenty horses have been declared for the marathon staying chase at the meeting taking place over 3m6f. Willie Mullins won all four runnings between 2008-2011 and he relies on the top weight, Vesper Bell, who was beaten a head in this race last season and Are Ya Right Chief who is 0-6 over fences but a good third over course and distance here in February.
Are Ya Right Chief
Vesper Bell was outfought close home by Goonyella as a novice in this race last year and is only 3lb higher this time so providing his 13th place in the Grand National has not left its mark, he can run well again after a season that has not gone to plan after falling on his first two starts. He has a good each-way chance for Willie Mullins who is chasing a fifth win in this race since 2008 and his other runner Are Ya Right Chief is not out of this either despite being a maiden over fences as he has faced some tough tasks having run in 16+ runner handicaps on his last three starts. His third here in an 18-runner handicap over this 3m6f behind Folsom Blue was a good run and he races off the same mark here. The winner also takes his chance, albeit off a 9lb higher mark, but he ran well to finish fifth in the Irish National last week so it’s a case of how much that Fairyhouse run might have taken out of him. Jonjo O’Neill is mustard in the top staying chases and he sends over Storm Survivor who was second in the Grimthorpe Chase on his last start. The Irish Handicapper lets him run off the same mark of 129 here so if he stays the extra 4f, then he has a good chance but if he improves for it, he might be the one they all have to beat under McCoy.
3:45 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle
This should be a cakewalk for Annie Power who is officially rated 9lb superior to Cockney Sparrow who, in turn is rated 12lb cear of Glens Melody, who was fourth behind Jetson on Thursday, and 16lb clear of Jennies Jewel. Interesting that despite finishing a clear second to an unbeaten horse in More Of That in the World Hurdle that the Handicapper has dropped Annie Power 2lb to 163 so he clearly thinks this trip of 2m2f will suit her better than 3m.
Cockney Sparrow won the Scottish Champion Hurdle back to 2m on a flat track which are her ideal conditions whereas this is 2m2f on an undulating course, and unlike at Ayr, she is not getting almost 2st from the class act (My Tent Or Yours that day) as this is a Grade 1 race so it’s level weights and Annie Power was in the process of totally outclassing her at Doncaster when John Quinn’s mare fell two out. Annie Power is far too good for these and 2m2f will be no problem for her so she deserves extremely short-priced favouritism which limits betting options. I prefer Glens Melody as the bet without the favourite even if she did run just two days ago as (a) I don’t think she is anywhere near as far behind Cockney Sparrow as 12lb which is officially the case and (b) especially not over 2m2f on an undulating course as I don’t think Cockney Sparrow will run up to her rating under these conditions. Glens Melody won this race last year and shaped well when fourth to Jetson on Thursday making a good move round the home bend and was only beaten five lengths by the well-ridden winner who stole it a bit or, more to the point, only beaten 2¾ lengths by a stronger stayer over 3m in At Fishers Cross. This is more Glens Melody’s trip and she appeals most without the favourite. Jennies Jewel is not mug as she proved when second to Rule The World at Naas in January but she does need to step up to finish in the first three.
4:20 AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle
Twelve of the last 16 winners (and eight of the last ten) contested the Triumph Hurdle and eight of those recorded a top four finish in the season’s number one juvenile hurdle so this season’s 1-2-3 of Tiger Roll, Kentucky Hyden and Guitar Pete would appear to be the obvious three. Other Triumph runners were Royal Irish Hussar (6th), Pearl Castle (7th), Lindenhurst (9th), Plinth (12th) and Abbyssial who brought down his stable mate Adriana Des Mottes at the second hurdle and was the horse that kept Ruby Walsh off the course for six weeks. The latter has since won the Grade 1 mares’ novice hurdle at Fairyhouse but Walsh prefers Abbyssial again.
Over the last six years, four winners contested the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle run at Leopardstown on Irish Hennessy Day. This season’s event was won by Guitar Pete who beat Tiger Roll after the supposed big two of Ivan Grozny and Plinth ran well below expectations. Guitar Pete also won the Grade 1 Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree in which five of the last 12 winners of this Punchestown Grade 1 event took part including the winner and runner-up in 2011. The Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham’s November Meeting has featured three of the last six winners. Royal Irish Hussar won this season’s race beating Guitar Pete but has disappointed in his two subsequent runs.
British-trained horses have been massively stronger than the Irish in the juvenile hurdling division over the last decade before Our Conor and Tiger Roll won the last two editions of the Triumph Hurdle so I am not surprised that they hold the edge even in an away game winning nine of the last 16 runnings. They were unrepresented last season in a weak year as far as British juvenile hurdlers was concerned but Nick Williams sends over the Grade 2 winner Fox Norton (only sixth behind Guitar Pete at Aintree but now fitted in a first-time hood) and Nicky Henderson sends over the Triumph second and sixth, Kentucky Hyden and Royal Irish Hussar. Henderson has won this event on three occasions.As with the Triumph Hurdle, this is a good race for the leading fancies to the extent that only one of the last 13 winners started at bigger than 7/1.
A top-four finish in the Triumph Hurdle has been such a strong stat that the shortlist rather picks itself and I do not see any good reason why Kentucky Hyden and Guitar Pete should reverse placings with Tiger Roll who won cosily and is the most likely of the trio to improve again as this is just his fourth hurdles start and he improved plenty in between his last two runs where he turned around Spring Hurdle form with Guitar Pete, and that has been the second best guide. Guitar Pete then franked both form lines when winning the Grade 1 at Aintree. Kentucky Hyden is a dual Grade 1 runner-up and represents a yard that has twice won this race and any softening in the ground would be in his favour. All three shortlisted winners should also be in the front rank in the betting in a race where there has been no winner with an SP of bigger than 7/1 since 2004 and just one in the last 13 runnings.
4:55 Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase
This 3m1f handicap chase has been a race for the low-mid weights as just one winner in the last decade has carried over 11st 1lb and there has been no winner aged 10+ since 2004. That man again, Willie Mullins, has had more than his fair share of successes winning three times in the last nine years. His two runners, however, are the two top weights, Prince Du Beauchene and Away We Go, though the latter only carries 1lb over 11st 1lb but both are aged 11 as is Jamsie Hall off 11st 1lb, Your Busy and Rubert, whereas Thegreatjohnbrown is ten.
The six-year-old, Grand Jesture, makes appeal for Henry De Bromhead against plenty of exposed or out-of-form rivals. This is just his fourth chase start and he has acquitted himself well on his previous three winning at Fairyhouse before a good fourth in novice handicap company last time. As with most of his trainer’s horses, he is a good jumper and he looked likely to win turning for home last time on soft ground on his first try at 3m after travelling well so perhaps this better ground will help him see the trip out better. Tom Taaffe will be keen to win this Pat Taaffe Chase for obvious reasons so Heaney is of interest and the man of the moment, Barry Geraghty, has been booked. Sixth in the Irish National just 12 days ago was clearly a good run so it is a question of what he has left after that effort but if that run has had no ill effects, he arrives here as an obvious contender on that performance in a far less competitive race. Tom George has already had a good week with a Grade 1 winner and he runs Chartreux who ran his first good race for nearly a year when successful at Sandown in March so he is one of few in-form horses in the contest and we know his stable are going well. The fact his owner is Roger Brookhouse who loves this meeting also suggests he has been specifically aimed at this race. The second British-trained runner is Brass Tax for Ben Case who is fresh having started his season in February and then he improved on his next start when second at Kempton in first-time cheekpieces. The better the ground, the better his chance.
5:30 Setanta Sports Handicap Hurdle
This 2m4f handicap hurdle is the big betting race on the final day but it could be argued to have only really been in existence for six years under its current guise after it received a significant prize money boost, since when Willie Mullins has taken over winning four of the last six runnings including recording 1-2s in 2010 and 2012 but he has not made things even for us this year by declaring as many as nine horses! Ruby Walsh rides Upsie with Paul Townend on Bally Longford so jockey bookings suggest that those are his best chances. Smashing is owned by Alan Potts so no surprise that Andrew Lynch rides the Coral Cup fourth, and Ger Lyons claiming 7lb is an interesting booking for Mikael D’Haguenet. Emmet Mullins rides the dual-purpose mare, Tarla, Conor O’Farell rides the novice, Upazo, David Casey is aboard another novice in Indevan, Katie Walsh rides the juvenile, Noble Inn, and 19-year-old future star, Johnny Burke, who won the bumper under an assured ride for Mullins on Tuesday takes the ride Wicklow Gold.
Winners regularly carried over 11st when it was just a run-of-the-mill handicap but, since the prize money injection, it has been that lightly-weighted horses that have been coming to the fore with 15 of the last 18 first-three finishers carrying no more than 10st 12lb. Only three of those 18 top-three finishers starting any bigger than 16/1 despite the big fields so it has been a race to concentrate on those towards the head of the market.
Three recent winners finished placed at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting on their last start. Bally Longford (fourth in a handicap) and Upsie (third in a conditions hurdle) both fit that profile.
Anyone who backed the valuable purchase, Un Temps Pour Tout, for Cheltenham are likely to be keen to go in again on David Pipe’s novice and top weight who looked so good when thrashing Cole Harden at Ascot who was then a clear second to Beat That in a Grade 1 at Aintree and the winner then franked that form winning the Grade 1 over 3m here on Wednesday. Big weights have struggled however. Bally Longford may be the pick of the Mullins squad after a decent fourth at Fairyhouse last week which was his first run since September so in all likelihood that was a prep for this valuable prize. Upsie was third in a Grade 2 at the same meeting behind Thousand Stars so in good heart and another to run well at that meeting was Benemeade for Noel Meade who was sixth in a 3m handicap and this drop in trip can suit. The former Triumph Hurdle runner-up, Hisaabaat, won on the Flat 23 days ago and won the Group 1 4-y.o hurdle at this meeting two years ago so he is interesting for the in-form Dermot Weld. He hasn’t always looked in love with racing but is clearly in good heart at present and was last seen over timber when a respectable fifth in the Galway Hurdle. Davy Russell rides him for the first time and might just suit him.
6:05 K Club Hotel Spa And Ryder Cup Venue Bumper
Virtually total guesswork being a maiden bumper race and only four of the 21 declarations have run, none of which are trained by Willie Muliins, and they were in point-to-points so just a very brief overview. I imagine Attribution will be very well backed though for Gordon Elliott, Gigginstown and Nina Carberry having won a point-to-point at the end of March on his debut. Uncle Danny won the second of his point-to-points and John Queally turns to Ger Fox who is excellent value for his 7lb