3:40 Kidare Hunt Club FR Sean Bean Memorial Chase
A very low key start as always with this cross country chase for poor hunter chasers and point-to-pointers so I will keep this brief.
Enda Bolger has won five of the last nine runnings so inevitably much of the focus will be on the J P McManus-owned Wish Ye Didn’t under Nina Carberry who also rode the winner of this race on the Bolger-trained winners in 2010 and 2014. He is the youngest horse in the race at the age of six and last year’s winner, Be Positive, was also the youngest horse 12 months ago for the same owner/trainer/jockey combination. Wish Ye Didn’t was just five when he contested this race last year and unseated Trevor Ryan at the 18th and has not pulled up any trees since but he was a fair fourth beaten 15l in the Risk Of Thunder Chase over course and distance in November. Enniskillen also ran last year and was a well beaten ninth having finished sixth the previous year. Peter Maher of Big Shu fame trains Enniskillen (Big Shi won this race in 2012) plus Serious Times and Oscar Day and the latter appeals most of his trio having won a point-to-point at the end of January.
Boxer Georg is the class act in terms of back catalogue having finished second to Baby Run in the Aintree Fox Hunters’ four years ago and second to Big Shu in this race in 2012 before the winner then improved to be top dog in this sphere of racing. However, he was trained by Willie Mullins then and in his prime and now he is aged 13 and moved to Seamus O’Farrell having also been with Shark Hanlon and was a 100/1 outsider and tailed off when he fell in this year’s Aintree Fox Hunters’. He did win a hunter chase for Hanlon in November though which is more than any of his rivals have managed. Jim Dreaper runs Katie’s Oscar who was second in a point-to-point nine days ago so unlike most of these at least we know he is in good heart though one win in 30 point-to-points says it all. Blackwood River was also second between the flags last time out having won his previous point-to-point so he is a plausible winner especially as this is juts his sixth start so there is more to come. Elembridge King is only 2-21 in point-to-points but has run some decent races though he likes to have two ways of running.
Wish Ye Didn’t
Even by this race’s usual standards this is a poor running and you need to see a doctor if you get involved too heavily but if Enda Bolger, who has won this race five times in ther last nine years, is relying on just Wish Ye Didn’t then that probably means something and he should be a better horse than the one who exited in this race as a five-year-old last year. He has probably been trained for this race since to give J P McManus the perfect start to the meeting and a reproduction of his Risk Of Thunder Chase fourth should be good enough. Blackwood River has the best profile of the others being a lightly-race and in-form point-to-pointer and Oscar Day may prove to be the best of the Peter Maher runners, a stable that should be noted in this sphere and he might be a bit of each-way value. Next….and sharpish.
4:20 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle
This novice hurdle over 2m possesses a terrific Roll of Honour since it was upgraded to a Grade 1 contest 17 years ago including five Champion Hurdle winners in Dawn Run, Brave Inca, Hurricane Fly, Jezki and last year’s winner, Faugheen, in addition to a dual Champion Chaser in Moscow Flyer and it is long odds-on that the impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Douvan is going to join them. The first of a number of odds-on favourites this week that Willie Mullins intends to run, surely they aren’t all going to win but unless I have a view one or more might underperform, I find it is best to look at the without-favourites markets in such instances. Five opponents take him on but it’s as good as 20/1 bar two with Blair Perrone, Rich Coast, Cardinal Palace and Velocity Boy having a mountain to climb on pure form, leaving the Supreme third, Sizing John, as the only real threat. Twelve of the last 15 winners had won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race and two of the three that did not had placed at Grade 1 level so that aforementioned quartet have it all to do against two Grade 1 winners in Douvan and Sizing John.
All eyes will be on Douvan attempting to improve the poor run of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner as only two of the eight Supreme winners to take their chance have won, they being Back In Front and Brave Inca. The six who failed were French Ballerina, Sausalito Bay, Like-a-Butterfly, Ebaziyan, Go Native and Champagne Fever and two of those were Mullins-trained. I wouldn’t suggest anyone back at horse at around 2/9 but especially not in a race where six of the eight Supreme winners to line up have been beaten. So, that’s the angle if you think that Sizing John can reverse places and hope that the winning effort of Douvan took more out of him than appeared so he won’t give his best. Sizing John was beaten 7l by Douvan at Cheltenham compared to 12l when they met at Gowran Park in November and also won a Grade 1 in between so he is improving and I can see him cut into the deficit again.
If you like long odds-on shots and can’t see beyond Douvan following up his Cheltenham victory it is worth considering Willie Mullins’ record and it took a long time for him to notch up his first victory in this race when Hurricane Fly won in 2009 but then he followed up the next season’s supplying the 1-2. Unrepresented in 2011, Mullins was responsible for three of the five runners two years ago but they filled the last three places and his Champagne Fever couldn’t recover in time from his Supreme exertions last year in time. No such problem for Faugheen however, who was even more impressive here than when he won the Neptune.
The Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novice Hurdle, a Grade 2 run at Fairyhouse over Easter, has been contested by three of the last seven winners, the latest being Alderwood three years ago. This season’s running was won by Sempre Medici beating Identity Thief and the Noel Meade-trained Rich Coast who was previously only 18th in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle. Meade has a very good record with his Easter Fairyhouse Meeting runners in this race as Cardinal Hill, Scottish Memories and Jered all won here after winning or finishing second and he has won this race on five occasions in total and supplied two runners-up.
If DOUVAN has fully recovered from his Supreme Novices’ Hurdle then he wins at long odds-on with comfort. However, if he is feeling the effects of that win like six other Supreme winners who were beaten here (and both of Mullins’ Supreme winners to run in this race were comfortably beaten here plus Vautour was no way near as impressive winning at this meeting last year over 2m4f after pulverising the Supreme field) then SIZING JOHN has 7l to find having finished closer to him than when they met at Gowran so he too is improving and the yard had a Grade 1 winner with Special Tiara on Saturday. On that basis, 4/1 each-way about Sizing John looks about the only ‘in’ I can see in the race if you must have a bet with little downside if he finishes second as Douvan is too short in the outright market, Sizing John is too short in the without Douvan market, and the obvious forecast won’t pay much either. A trends case can be made for Rich Coast to outrun his odds given Noel Meade’s record in this race and especially with horses who contested the Grade 2 at Fairyhouse over Easter but if you are looking for a bet in a without Douvan market, he still has 11lb to find on official figures with Sizing John. Looking at the Supreme field in the paddock beforehand, they looked a very good bunch to me and the runner-up, Shaneshill, has already bolted up since at Fairyhouse so one of that pair will need to have an off day for him to sneak second.
4:55 Killashee Handicap Hurdle
The handicaps at this meeting are incredibly difficult and 11 of the last 12 winners of this 18-runner, Grade B, 2m handicap hurdle have all started at a double-figure price. The exception was the Nicky Henderson-trained Cool Macavity who won at 9/1 last year and he returns off a 7lb higher mark for his 2l victory. His eighth place in the Scottish Champion Hurdle which followed an absence of four months could easily have been used to set him up for a repeat. Upgraded from a Class C event two years ago, nine of the last 11 winners carried no more than 10st 7lb. Some Article and Rupert Lamb appeal most of those with the first-named a former winner of the bumper on this card three years ago and having won two of his last three starts and the latter-named having dropped down the handicap for Willie Mullins but he has long threatened to win a good race.
Fethard Player hit the front a little early in the equivalent race at the Grand National Meeting taking it up three out and only headed with 100 yards to race by Astre De la Coeur. If he is held onto for longer he can reverse placings. Just under 2l back in third was The Game Changer who was fourth in this race 12 months ago and a big punt for the County Hurdle where he could only finish ninth. The Game Changer is clearly an obvious contender so it is interesting to see Bryan Cooper ride the Tony Martin-trained The Plan Man for Gigginstown instead and he shaped well in fourth behind Some Article at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting on his first run since October including making an error two out. Is Tony Martin the man with a plan? One place ahead of him was Sizing Codelco who ran a little free. Cliff House is a novice who has won two of his four starts over hurdles and quickened clear to win in heavy ground last time and seems to have a preference for a testing surface.
Sticking with spring Festival form and although Waxies Dargle couldn’t get in a blow in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle, he ran well when fifth in this race last season off 130 and is just 1lb higher here. He was only a 15/2 chance for the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown in January (Ireland’s most prestigious handicap hurdle) when he fell four out. Lucky Bridle is a second contender for Willie Mullins and contested the same two races having finished midfield in the Boylesports before making headway when falling two out in the County. He did subsequently disappoint behind Some Article at Fairyhouse at Easter however. Macnicholson was down the field in the Martin Pipe where maybe 2m4f stretched him but he had been very consistent until then so makes some each-way appeal for Jessica Harrington who does well with her 2m hurdlers.
The Plan Man
THE PLAN MAN might be well named as his good fourth behind Some Article after six months off had the whiff of a prep for race for this and Bryan Cooper rides him rather than The Game Changer who had a solid form chance and ran well in this race last year. With a less aggressive ride I fancy FETHARD PLAYER would have won the conditional and amateur riders’ handicap hurdle that followed the Grand National but he was caught half-way up the run-in by Astre De La Coeur at 33/1 beaten a neck. I shortlisted him that day and keep the faith. WAXIES DARGLE also ran a good race in this contest 12 months and can be the scene at the business again and makes each-way appeal as does the consistent MACNICHOLSON now that he reverts back to his favoured trip after probably failing to stay further at Cheltenham. RUPERT LAMB is most interesting of the lower weights having lost his confidence over fences and is lightly-raced for his age. Being Willie Mullins-trained and running off a 22lb lower mark over hurdles here than his best chase rating, he is worth a second look.
5:30 Boylesports Champion Chase
The best Irish two-mile chasers generally bypass Aintree for this Grade 1 contest (there is no 2m Grade 1 at Aintree) though some try their luck over further in the Melling Chase over 2m4f like many of the Champion Chase chief protagonists down the years. Given the historical lack of depth in the 2m chase division, which sees the same horses contesting the same races, it is not at all surprising that the four most prestigious two-mile chases, the Champion Chase, Tingle Creek, Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase and the Clarence House, have featured in the campaigns of plenty of contenders for this Grade 1 prize with the Queen Mother Champion Chase proving to be top dog as you might expect. Sizing Europe became the tenth winner in the last 12 years that contested the sport’s ultimate 2m chasing prize when successful last season, a race represented this year by just Sizing Europe (6th) again and Savello (7th). I was pretty keen on Sizing Europe for this race last year off the back of his fourth place in the Champion Chase but am struggling to find the same enthusiasm for him this time at the age of 13. I can only conclude that Savello ran in the Champion Chase as Gigginstown wanted a runner as there were much better options for him at the meeting and he was unsurprisingly outclassed and he has since finished a tailed-off last of three behind Twinlight. Savello was third in this race last year beaten 5¾l by Sizing Europe after winning the Grand Annual but he doesn’t enter the race in any way near the same form.
The leading Irish guide featuring four of the last ten winners is the Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase at Leopardstown where Twinlight beat Hidden Cyclone into second. I felt the winner benefitted from not having anything to do with the mad gallop up front so Hidden Cyclone boxed on well in the circumstances taking it up down the back straight and being 3l clear two out. Since then Hidden Cyclone won the Tied Cottage Chase well but disappointed in the Ryanair. Tried in first-time blinkers here, that’s an angle I like for the big races. The stat against him is that he is a 10-year-old and that three of the four winners since 1992 aged older than nine were ten-year-olds that won the previous season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase (Moscow Flyer, Big Zeb and Sizing Europe) and their class was enough to see them through. Then again, Sizing Europe also took the honours aged 12 last season.
Twinlight would prefer softer ground like when he won at Leopardstown and when beating Mallowney by 7l earlier in the month but the runner-up didn’t run his race. Mallowney had seriously impressed winning his previous two races and would have been a leading contender for the Champion Chase had been entered, but the intention was always to aim him at this prize having won so easily in a handicap at this meeting last year. If you can forgive him that poor run where he didn’t have the assistance of Davy Russell who gets such a great tune out of him then he has a great chance and there is an argument to made that he has the best 2m chase form in Ireland this season.
Champagne Fever was my Champion Chase horse as I was convinced that he would be at his best forcing it over 2m so it was very frustrating that he was withdrawn on the day giving been bitten by a stablemate in transit. He has to bounce back from a mediocre effort in the Melling Chase and his supporters will be hoping that run can be put down to him being reined back rather than allowed to bowl along. He does run some bad races now and again however and I reckon he is best fresh too so and this is just 18 days later.
British-trained raiders have a decent record since this became a Grade 1 winning it with Celibate, Get Real, Flagship Uberalles, Twist Magic, Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre in addition to Big Matt winning the 1998 running when it was Grade 1 handicap and Viking Flagship took the 1993 edition as a novice. However, the Haldon Gold Cup third, Oscar Hill, is bottom rated by some margin rated just 144.
Felix Yonger, Flemenstar and Baily Green complete the field. Felix Yonger is chasing a four-timer and is the stable third string on jockey bookings. His overall form suggests he is a good Grade 2 horse but that a class act will have his measure. Flemenstar shaped well for a long way on his first run in 16 months before fading into sixth beaten 20l by Felix Yonger and it will be some training effort to get him back to be in the first three, let alone win. I always felt he was a little over-rated anyway but he still has a big fan club and reputation so I imagine he will be underpriced. Baily Green isn’t the same horse this season and his best isn’t good enough regardless.
Mallowney and Hidden Cyclone would be my two against the field. This has been the primary aim for MALLOWNEY since he breezed home at this meeting last year and he would be near enough favourite if he arrived here off the back of his easy Grade 2 win at Naas that followed a demolition job in the Dan Moore Handicap. His latest run has to be forgiven but I am prepared to do that as he was missing the key ingredient of Davy Russell who is back in the saddle here, and especially at around 15/2 which looks a knocking each-way price about such a supreme traveller. HIDDEN CYCLONE fell in this race last year when he had the tag of being a slightly unlucky horse but he has got his head in front this season and is a big player if not ridden as aggressively as at Leopardstown at Christmas when Twinlight beat him and on his impressive Tied Cottage Chase success. I am not sure he needs blinkers as he looks to put it all in and more but their first-time introduction makes him more intriguing. If Champagne Fever pours it on from half-way in front and gets into a jumping rhythm then he will take some catching. However, he has too many poor days and as I think he’s best fresh, running again just 18 days after disappointing under hold-up tactics worries me. FELIX YONGER is my idea of the best of Mullins’ trio even if he is the least fancied. His overall profile is one of a horse not quite good enough but there are question marks about every runner.
6:05 Goffs Land Rover INH Flat Race
The first of six bumpers at the meeting, this is restricted to horses bought at Goffs in June last year and with 100,000 euros up for grabs, it should produce a good horse or two. Over half the field are having their debut so this is a race to play carefully in. Willie Mullins has won four of the last nine runnings including the last two and has declared St Stephens Green who makes his debut like two of his four winners. All but one of the 23 runners are 4yos, the other being Zagelle for Henry de Bromhead.
There are three previous winners in the field; Petit Mouchoir and Ball D’Arc, who made winning debuts in point-to-points, and Bon Enfant who Warren Greatex sends over having won his only start in a Wincanton bumper 27 days ago where he kept on gamely after which the trainer reported his jockey had trouble pulling him up. Petit Mouchoir represents Gordon Elliott who made most to win his only point-to-point and they have now turned to a hood with him whereas Ball D’Ac only beat two rivals in his point-to-point win and was then stuffed on his bumper debut beaten 27l.
Of those beaten on their only bumper start, the most interesting are Our Three Sons who was just touched off on Fontwell for Jamie Snowden, Art Of Synergy who was third of 20 at Navan last month for Sandra Hughes, and Aidan O’Brien runs Tesseract who was a never-nearer sixth at Fairyhouse three weeks ago in the McManus silks. Even more guesswork involved in the debutants but Jessica and Katie Harrington won this race in 2009 and they combine with the filly, Twinkletoes, Jonjo O’Neill sends over Set In My Ways for J P McManus, Thomas Mullins won this with Some Article in 2012 and he runs Phar Island, and Noel Meade and Nina Carberry are represented by Red Giant.
St Stephens Green
Given Willie Mullins’ good record in this race, and not with short-priced horses either with winners at 14/1, 12/1 and 7/1, then ST STEPHENS GREEN has to be considered. Warren Greatrex has a fine strike rate in bumpers in Britain and he was talking up his hopes for BON ENFANT recently so he looks the pick of the three-strong raiding party having shown a good attitude to win at Wincanton. Gordon Elliott’s PETIT MOUCHOIR would be my pick of those with previous experience of the Irish who is interesting in a first-time hood and, while we are guessing to a very large extent, I will chance TWINKLETOES with a fillies’ allowance for a trainer-jockey partnership that have won this race before.
6:40 Growise Champion Novice Chase
Upgraded from a Grade 2 2m5f event to a Grade 1 3m1f race in 2007, this is a different race now from a decade ago so, effectively, there are just eight runnings to work off so strong patterns are thin on the ground at present.
This Punchestown Festival equivalent of the RSA Chase was first run in 1992 and won by Milford Quay who was the first of five British-trained winners, the latest of which being the Charlie Mann-trained Air Force One seven years ago. Rebecca Curtis sends over Irish Cavalier who I fancied for the Mildmay Novices’ Chase but he fell at the fifth fence. Hard to think that he would have beaten Saphir Du Rheu though given the ease of his victory. I liked his chance at Aintree as I felt that his stamina won him the novice handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival despite making a mistake three and being forced to switch round rivals in the home straight, after which I commented that I thought he was an ideal type for next season’s Hennessy. Sadly, we didn’t get the chance to find out at Aintree but his connections want to give him another shot at 3m1f here. Paul Townend rode him at Cheltenham and Aintree but he rides Wounded Warrior so Noel Fehily comes in for the ride for the first time.
Sir Des Champs became the first successful favourite three years ago since the race took on a new look when outclassing his field at odds of 2/7 so he was giving Gigginstown successive wins in the race following on from Quito De La Roque 12 months earlier and their maroon-and-white silks only found one too good two years ago when the NH Chase runner-up, Tofino Bay, was the bridesmaid again behind Mount Benbulben. This year Gigginstown supply three of the five runners headed by Don Poli who had Wounded Warrior 7½l back n third when he won the RSA Chase and they are also represented by Valseur Lido. A big run at Cheltenham Festival can take too much out of a novice, it certainly did for the RSA Chase winner, Cooldine, who had the look of a horse that had not come close to recovering from those Festival exertions when beaten here and the last two defeated favourites, Back In Focus and Morning Assembly, were also below par after a win and third at the Festival. As such, this race has so far had an end-of-season feel to it which has resulted in four relatively-surprising winners at 7/1, 9/1, 16/1 and 14/1 in smallish-field events in the eight years since it became a Grade 1 event so that is your best angle if you don’t like the projected odds of 1/3 about Don Poli. If the RSA winner is beaten here it wouldn’t be the first time a very good horse has simply had enough for the season at this meeting, it also certainly wouldn’t be the first time this season that a Gigginstown second or third string has upset their main hope and, with just four rivals, maybe it could get tactical, in which case this out-and-out stayer becomes vulnerable having hit flat spots in his two Cheltenham wins before storming clear each time. The chase course here suits front runners much better. I think that of all the Mullins hot pots this week, Don Poli might be the most vulnerable.
Wounded Warrior would have won the NH Chase in my view had Gigginstown stuck to Plan A before playing silly beggars in their running plans, saying one thing and doing another. Very easy to say after the race of course but I would think that his third place in the RSA was a superior effort to Cause Of Causes beating Broadway Buffalo in the four-miler. Last year’s winner, Carlingford Lough, finished sixth in the RSA Chase before striking here as third-favourite in a field of five. I certainly made a mental note not to listen closely to anything their racing manager Eddie O’Leary says in the future regards their running plans (another one to add to the ever-expanding list!) as he wasn’t the only horse of theirs that ended up in another race from when interviewed just a few days beforehand. As much as I liked Valseur Lido up to Cheltenham, I was a little disappointed with him at Prestbury Park when third in the JLT and he looked to have had enough for the season when running no race at Fairyhouse on his next start so I am surprised to see him here. I can only conclude Gigginstown want as many runners as possible in the Grade 1 races (or they found a good reason for a very poor run) so I prefer Wounded Warrior to the Drinmore winner.
In addition to Wounded Warrior, Noel Meade also runs Apache Stronghold who moves up in trip. He just got the better of Valseur Lido for the second time when finishing second in a different parish behind Vautour in the JLT before he fell at the ninth fence in the Grade 1 over 2m4f over Easter at Fairyhouse. Meade hopes that he can develop into a Gold Cup horse (he certainly looked the part in the paddock before the JLT as no horse impressed me more all week in the preliminaries) in which case he needs to be staying well here and just four rivals, two of which are dour stayers in Don Poli and Wounded Warrior, can help him do just that unless one of this pair makes it a real stamina test. Three of the last six winners ran at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting, two finished unplaced in that Ryanair Chase (formerly Powers Gold Cup) and Rare Bob finished fourth in the Irish National.
In terms of a short list of most likely winners then of course Don Poli has to be top having won two Grade 1s in terrific style in his last two starts but he could vulnerable at this late stage of the season in a race that has seen The Form Book been turned upside down more than once so this particular short list is more in terms of potential bets. APACHE STRONGHOLD only has 3l to find to Don Poli on Topaz Chase form over around this trip at Christmas and rates decent value at around 6/1, especially if this gets tactical as he has more speed than Don Poli and Wounded Warrior and more class than Irish Cavalier and he also has the edge over Valseur Lido on their last two meetings and that rival also now his wellbeing to prove after a bad run at Fairyhouse. Paul Carberry was gutted he didn’t win the Topaz such is the regard in which he is held. WOUNDED WARRIOR could be a little under-rated despite an easy Grade 2 win and a good third in the RSA last time out as he is not the type to catch the imagination. If Don Poli is not at his best and this develops into a stamina test, he would best placed to take advantage.
7:15 JLT INH Flat Race
A little bit more form to go on in this bumper restricted to four-year-olds who are maidens under Rules as exactly half of the 22 declarations have run and it was won last season by Forgotten Rules (had Sizing John back in fourth) who I think will take all the beating in the Ascot Gold Cup on June 18th. Prior to him it was the Albert Bartlett winner, Very Wood, who won this race and 12 months before him it was Saturday’s Bet365 Gold Cup second-favourite when trained at the time by Don Cantillon, Grand Jesture, who refused to race but many bookmakers refunded stakes.
No Willie Mullins contenders, surprisingly. The one winner in the line up is Crazyheart but as that came in a point-to-point three months ago he is eligible to run for Paul Nolan but he was all out to win in a small field. Of those beaten under Rules, Man Of Conquest and Couer Joyeux look the pick, the first-named finishing third for Dessie McDonogh here in February behind the impressive Disko who is likely to run in the Grade 1 bumper here later in the week, and the latter-named finishing second in a Leopardstown bumper in February for Sandra Hughes behind Charbel who has won again since at Limerick for Willie Mullins.
Of the 11 unraced contenders the four that could catch the attention of punters most are Startinfromscratch for Jonjo O’Neill and J P McManus, Noel Meade and Nina Carberry team up with Showem Silver, Gordon Elliott unleashes Petite Gold and the Harringtons team up again with Bright Tomorrow.
Man Of Conquest
Noel Meade and Nina Carberry combined to win this race in 2006 so SHOWEM SILVER makes it onto the short list. Nina has extra incentive to get him into the frame as she also owns him and can sell him for a few quid. Jonjo O’Neill has an okay record with his bumper horses at this meeting so STARTINFROMSCRATCH might be useful to be sent over. If pressed I would prefer the proven form of COUEUR JOYEUX whose second on his debut has been franked and MAN OF CONQUEST may have bumped into a very smart one on his only start.