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 so best move on quick.
I suppose ROHAN’S PRIDE is the starting point having won it 12 months ago by 4¾l but he will be the likely market leader as a consequence and following the booking of Jamie Codd for the first time. MTADA SUPREME was back in third having been sent off 7/4 favourite and there are grounds for a reversal with him being 12lb better off for 6¼l especially as last year’s winner has been off the course for 201 days. In fact, last year’s 1-2-3 are all back as Shin A Vee also takes his chance but he has not run since last May. The 2013 winner Johnie’s Star also returns having been well beaten in ninth last year. HASTY TIMES brings the best recent form to the race having won a point-to-point 33 days ago and he also beat Mtada Supreme by 1½l in February but his rider is expected to put up some overweight. All Fired Up is a potential improver for first-time blinkers.
4:20 EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase
Eighteen 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 is triple-handed this year with the top weight Val De Ferbet whose only defeat in three chase starts was in a Grade 2 when a disappointing last of five but he bounced back to trounce the smart Rule The World next time, Blood Cotil, who was last seen pulling up when fancied for the Grand Annual and he is now up in trip and Tennis Cap who was second in the County Hurdle two springs ago from the front and has his just his third chase start having made all to win at Cork last time but he won’t find it so easy to dominate this field. Blood Cotil is proven over this far and the hurly burly of a high-class 2m handicap chase caught him out and I can see him returning to form over a distance where they won’t go so fast to put him out of his comfort zone and cause him to make a bad mistake like he did at the third fence at Cheltenham from which point is was game over.
Jessica Harrington had a 50/1 winner here on Day 2 and has won the last two runnings and is represented by Mr Fiftyone whose second to Ballyadam Approach at Fairyhouse last month looks good form now as the winner won the 2m handicap chase here on Wednesday. He is no cert to be as effective over this longer trip though judged on his two runs over further than 2m1f. I prefer Shanahan’s Turn who looked like being a high class novice in the first half of the season after he won the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase but he got stuck in soft ground in the Topaz and disappointed again in the Flogas, both Grade 1 races. This is a handicap on better ground and he arrives here fresh. Fine Rightly got the better of Rule The World in a Grade 3 last time and is improving so respected having been second to the subsequent Grade 1 winner Sizing Granite two starts earlier.
The British are represented by the Rebecca Curtis-trained pair of Irish Cavalier, who might be feeling the effects of his good 4¾l fourth to Valseur Lido in a Grade 1 here on Tuesday (but I can see why he is running as he over there already and will go up in the handicap for that run) and Doing Fine who ran well for a long way in the NH Chase, the Tom George-trained Wuff and Thomas Crapper, who was second to Irish Cavalier at the Cheltenham Festival but runs that track well and has been beaten since at Ascot. Doing Fine was still in front heading to the final bend in the Festival four-miler before weakening to finish eighth having jumped a bit big so a mark of 130 looks workable. He will need to be slicker over his obstacles over this shorter trip though. Tom George had a double at last season’s Punchestown Festival and runs Wuff so I respect his chance and I also like the trainer when it comes to novice handicap chases plus Roger Brookhouse likes winners at big meetings and enjoys this particular festival so I think this may have been a plan. He has finished third and second in his two chase starts so far and gets in off a low weight.
WUFF may be a maiden over fences, though just from two starts, but I suspect this has been the plan and he makes each-way appeal. DOING FINE can also go well for the Brits. I fancied him for the NH Chase where he did too much too soon and didn’t get home and this shorter trip can help him. BLOOD COTIL is likely to be happier over 2m4f than the cavalry charge over 2m that is the Grand Annual and I like him most of the Mullins trio but SHANAHAN’S TURN could be the class of the race if back to his best after a break and on better ground and he impressed in the run up to Christmas.
4:55 Hanlon Concrete EBF Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Chase
The second running of this handicap chase for mares and last year’s winner Burn And Turn for Jessica Harrington is back to defend her title off top weight and a 10lb higher mark. Having finished second in the Galway Plate since then, she is deserving of her extra weight and has also won at Limerick in the autumn but has faced three stiff tasks since against Don Cossack, in the Plate at Cheltenham and behind Vroum Vroum Mag. Back to taking on handicappers and fellow mares, she could easily win back-to-back runnings in a weak looking race that has no Mullins representatives despite the high quality novice chasing mares at his disposal.
The Harrington stable may also provide the main threat as Annie Oakley has won her two of her last three starts and has course-winning form to boot. The likely second-favourite behind Burn And Turn however is Lily Waugh who is sent over Anthony Honeyball having finished second in a similar race at the Cheltenham April Meeting two weeks ago though the winner, Pumped Up Kicks, did hack up. Perfect Promise was an 11l third behind Vroum Vroum Mag last time out. Although flattered to finish so close, in the context of this race it was a good run especially as she will be receiving 15lb from Burn And Turn. The Thomas Mullins-trained Elsie is a previous course winner and her fourth to Ballyadam Approach at Fairyhouse last month received a boost when the winner won here on Day 2. Her stable that targets this meeting has also had a winner here this week.
Burn And Turn
Not a strong race and BURN AND TURN looks in pole position dropping back in class attempting to win this contest for the second year running. ELSIE looks like she might have been trained for this race and her latest form was franked so she might be the best each-way option but I fancy Burn And Turn’s stablemate ANNIE OAKLEY to be the main threat.
5:30 Queally Group Celebrating 35 Years In Naas Punchestown Champion Hurdle
Just five declarations which is likely to cut to four runners with Jezki running over 3m 24 hours earlier instead so, to all intents and purposes, this is a match between the Champion Hurdle 1-2 Faugheen and Arctic Fire. To be frank, this is not a strong trends race and as seven reigning Champion Hurdlers have run here with five winning (Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Hurricane Fly (x2) and Jezki) and the other two finished second (Brave Inca and Punjabi), there is a basic argument to keep this simple and not to oppose Faugheen who has the stats as well as current-season form very much in his favour. Nine of the last 16 winners ran in the Champion Hurdle and if you like Arctic Fire’s chance of reversing positions, the runners-up at Cheltenham have returned a win, two second places and a third.
The Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Meeting has had as big an impact as the Champion Hurdle as it has also featured as many as nine of the last 16 winners. Hurricane Fly took this season’s running beating Jezki in a tight finish with Arctic Fire not beaten far in third. The Irish Champion Hurdle has also been a good pointer, not surprisingly, where Hurricane Fly confirmed his superiority over Arctic Fire and Jezki again. No disgrace Arctic Fire finishing second to Hurricane Fly at Leopardsown given the winner is unbeaten in ten starts at the course. The half-mile longer Aintree Hurdle has featured four winners in the last 15 years and Jezki made the most of a final-flight fall from Arctic Fire when everything was still to play for though I thought Arctic Fire looked to going marginally the better.
Dell’Arca and Tiger Roll are effectively making up the numbers. Dell’Arca was last seen finishing seventh in a handicap hurdle at Aintree and Giggisntown clearly want a runner so they drop Tiger Roll back a mile having finished thirteenth in the World Hurdle last time out. Only two winners have not made the frame over hurdles on their most recent start. 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 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. I would argue that that last 16 winners has shown the wellbeing last time out. Tiger Roll is a five-year-old and Quazar, Punjabi and Solwhit have flown the flag successfully for five-year-olds so they certainly perform a deal better here than in the Champion Hurdle. The record of the British has been just okay, no more than that as only Punjabi and Quazar have won for British-trained stables. Five of the last 12 British challengers either won or finished second but that stat once read five of the last six so more recent runners have been letting the side down.
Arctic Fire is a much improved horse this season and Willie Mullins thinks that he will keep improving but he doesn’t have the explosive burst of FAUGHEEN who settles races in half a dozen strides so I am in no rush to take on the unbeaten Champion Hurdler who was value for more than the 1½l he beat Arctic Fire into second at Cheltenham but I wouldn’t be backing him at around 1/3 either.
6:05 Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle
Eight of the last 11 favourites have won so, in line with the Cheltenham Festival equivalent of this race (the Neptune), this has been a punter-friendly race. Just three and four runners respectively for the last two runnings (likely to be six this year with the probable defection of No More Heroes who looked to have had enough for the season on Wednesday) which were both won by Willie Mullins who has trained seven of the last 12 winners. This year he runs Nichols Canyon, Sempre Medici, Outlander and McKinley. When Mikael D’Haguenet won, he was also leading home a 1-2 for Mullins beating Cousin Vinny and it would be no shock if Nichols Canyon and Sempre Medici gave him another 1-2 here. McKinley won a poor Grade 1 and looks in need of a break having run 11 times in the last 11 months.
Of Mullins’ seven winners, three bypassed the Cheltenham Festival, two ran in the Neptune and two contested the Supreme. Maybe more significantly, four of his winners had run at Fairyhouse on their last start and that is where Sempre Medici put up his best performance when winning a Grade 2 over 2m in fine style. The third, Identity Thief, didn’t do much for that form here on Wednesday but the winner won comprehensively and had Phil’s Magic back in seventh and Mullins has commented he is a different horse now to a few weeks ago. The last two winners were stepping up in distance and eight of the last 17 winners ran at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting.
Three of the last nine winners finished first or second in the Neptune in which Nichols Canyon was third three places ahead of Outlander. Both have run again since with Nichols Canyon beating the Neptune second, Parlour Games, in the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree whereas Outlander was put in his place by Shaneshill at Fairyhouse over Easter. Six horses to have finished second or third in the Neptune have run here since it became a Grade 1 race in 1995 and, of those, just Reve De Sivola has won though three have placed again (Karshi, Go-Informal and Pizarro) and Catch Me fell at the final flight when looking like he would finish second in 2007. Alpha Des Obeaux looked booked for second behind Thistlecrack (a good second here on Wednesday) in the Sefton at Aintree and that has been a better guide to this race than Mersey somewhat surprisingly given it takes place over 3m. What’s Up Boys and Asian Maze both took this prize having finished third and first in the Sefton.
With ten of the last 14 winners successful last time out, we should clearly mark up such contenders. A recent run has certainly been beneficial as seven of the last 13 winners had run since the Cheltenham Festival and, of the last 11 winners, only Glencove Marina, who finished third in a Grade 2 novice hurdle beaten less than two lengths, Reve De Sivola, who ran a terrific second in the Neptune and Un Atout who wasn’t disgraced in fourth in a red-hot Supreme were not also successful on their previous outing. Best stick with a horse that arrives here off the back of a win or very good effort in defeat.
SEMPRE MEDICI is a fast-improving horse and might be a bit of value under Paul Townend to beat the Ruby Walsh-ridden NICHOLS CANYON. It is not as if Willie Mullins second or third strings aren’t having a great Punchestown Festival so far with wins for Felix Yonger, Valseur Lido and Killultagh Vic on the opening two days. Either way, I think it is between the pair and a reverse forecast might not be the worst bet. Sempre Medici is more of a stats horse too. Mullins’ other pair of McKinley and Outlander have been poor on their last two starts so Alpha Des Obeaux looks the pick of the Gigginstown trio.
6:40 Star Best For Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle
Nine horses have been declared for this 2m novice hurdle for horses that have not won more than once over timber which has been won by Sizing Europe, Arvika Ligeonneire, Kid Cassidy, Un De Sceaux and Arctic Fire in recent seasons so it usually takes a good one to win it. Favourites have won the last six runnings.
Max Dynamite is narrowly top rated over his stablemate, Aminabad, having finished fourth in the County Hurdle before falling too far out in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse next time to have a good idea what might have happened. Aminabad has disappointed in his two starts since winning a maiden hurdle at Wexford and was last of 12 in the Grade 1 Bumper at this meeting last year. However, four of their rivals don’t have an official rating as yet including Theophilus who Des McDonogh said would be aimed at the Triumph Hurdle after he won a juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas but he has not run since and wasn’t even entered for Cheltenham so he appears to be coming back after a setback.
Alton Bay also arrives here off a break, of 223 days in his case when we raced on the Flat and also doesn’t have a hurdles rating and he beat the consistent Macnicholson at Wexford in August on his last start over timber before finishing second to Rebel Fitz on the level. Tandem also arrives here off a break having not run since he was fifth in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Hurdle when he was expected to be a big hope having been rated as high as 107 on the Flat. Tony Martin’s pair of Pyromaniac and Kinnity Castle complete the home team. Pyromaniac has the more experience having run in the Ladbroke after finishing third to the improving Katie T and had a recent run on the Flat whereas Kinnity Castle is back over timber after winning a bumper last time.
Warren Greatrex sends over Blue Atlantic in first-time blinkers. The yard’s Baby Mix ran a cracker here on Wednesday but his 4yo needs to improve plenty on his 22l fourth to Zarib last time out. Stronger claims for British stables lay with the more experienced Snake Eyes who won snug at Sandown at the Tingle Creek meeting and his only subsequent run saw him finish tenth as favourite in the Boylesports Hurdle. I am not sure he is one for hurly-burly type races as he has not always given his all.
SNAKE EYES is a funny horse who needs to delivered very late but Nicky Henderson has won this race with a similar sort in Kid Cassidy for the same owner and also again 12 months later with Oscara Dara and he has gone well fresh in the past so a 103-day absence could be in his favour as can the smaller field than when he was well fancied for the valuable Boylesports Hurdle last time out. MAX DYNAMITE fell too far out behind Sempre Medici to know how he would have fared in that Grade 2 but he had that rival behind him when he was fourth in the County Hurdle and he is a big player to give Willie Mullins a hat-trick of wins in this race. TANDEM ran too bad to be true in the Royal Bond and has Flat class so he is also much respected if you are prepared to forgive that effort.
7:15 ITBA Fillies Scheme Premier INH Flat Race
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. Willie Mullins has won this with fillies who went on to be real class acts in Glens Melody and Morning Run in two of the last three years but he has not helped us here declaring five of which Bobarlee, Dani Salamanca, Teresa Di Vicenzo and Avichi have their racecourse debut. His Captain Carol has had four runs winning just once so she looks too exposed. Of the unraced fillies not trained by Willie Mullins, Jessica Harrington is double handed with Osez Josephine in a hood for her debut under Nina Carberry and Billys Hope ridden by Katie Harrington.
The best form on offer is probably that of Una’s Pleasure for the John Walsh stable who was second on her only start at Cork to a horse that won its only point-to-point. However, in addition to Captain Carol there are four winners under Rules in opposition, they being the Stuart Crawford pair of Danielle’s Journey and Now Let Go who have similar profiles in that they were placed in both starts before getting off the mark at the third time of asking, the John Kiely-trained Pride Of The Braid who beat 15 rivals at Wexford last month on her second start and The Brock Inn who made it third time lucky when winning at Tramore two weeks ago.
Pride Of The Braid
Teresa Di Vicenzo
Mostly guesswork but I am fan of John Kiely in bumpers and PRIDE OF THE BRAID won well recently so is in form too and has booked Derek O’Connor so she would be the gun-to-the-head selection. TERESA DI VICENZO is owned by Patrick Mullins and she would be a token choice of the stable’s quintet on her debut alongside DANI SALAMANCA who being by Presenting should appreciate no more rain. SNOWBIRD finished second on debut in a point-to-point 20 days ago and horses can learn more from those races than bumpers.
7:45 Racing Post Champion Hunters Chase
Unfortunately we didn’t get the big clash between On The Fringe and Warne at Aintree as the latter-named and defending title holder of that race over the Grand National fences came down at the very first fence three weeks ago but the winner would have taken some beating as he looked as good there as he did when turning the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ into a one-horse race where he had Noble Prince back in eighth.
On The Fringe also bolted up in this race last year by 20l from Vital Plot with Warne back in third having also won this race in 2010 and 2012 so it is hard to see past him now he is better than ever. He does like some cut which he had at Cheltenham and Aintree. Warne is a much better horse than last season’s result implies, it is just that he is at his best at around 2m5f and this trip stretches him. Pearlysteps missed Cheltenham having been fourth in the 2014 Foxhunters’ one place behind On The Fringe but his form has levelled out whereas Enda Bolger’s charge has taken off this season and finally developed into the top class hunter he promised to be when he burst onto the scene as a five-year-old in this race.
On The Fringe
Over 2m5f this would be interesting between ON THE FRINGE and Warne but this trip stretches the runaway 2014 Aintree Fox Hunters’ winner who was beaten 22l by On The Fringe after that impressive success at Aintree in this race last year and they haven’t shortened the course as far as I can see. On The Fringe will be a short price but I have no intention of taking him and he can win this race for the fourth time. Maybe Pearlysteps, who stays well, can be the one to chase the favourite home for forecast backers if On The Fringe’s price doesn’t float your boat.