2:35 Boomerang Animal Bedding Cross Country Chase
Sizing Australia’s season has basically been geared around trying to win this race for the third year running. We saw with Uncle Junior winning the La Touche Cup aged 14 that golden oldies can still do it in this sphere but he was well treated at the weights whereas Sizing Australia has to give weight away to all his rivals. He had Theroadtrocroker back in third last year and has to give him 5lb this time at the age 13 but he shaped nicely to finish fourth over hurdles 17 days ago in his prep race and there have been stronger runnings of this 3m cross country chase. Josies Orders was running well on his banks debut for Enda Bolger until he unseated his rider two out having just moved into fifth and this wouldn’t be as competitive a race.
Wish Ye Didn’t
It is not difficult seeing SIZING AUSTRALIA give weight away all round and win this race for a third year running after a good prep run over hurdles last month but I liked the way JOSIES ORDERS was shaping in the La Touche Cup two days ago until his exit two out and it’s not unusual for winners over this course at this meeting to have run earlier in the week. He also now has Nina Carberry on board who is mustard around this course. Are Ya Right Chief was ninth in the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Handicap and might be a little underpriced representing Willie Mullins so the final short list berth is given to WISH YE DIDN’T who was a heavily backed winner of the opening race here on Tuesday. That was a very poor race but she could be called the winner a long way out and as it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her develop into a horse Enda Bolger could rake to Cheltenham, she can be at home in this company.
3:10 Ladbrokes Ireland Handicap Chase
Twenty-two 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 is solely represented by Urano who is having just his fourth chase start. He made a winning chase debut but was then outclassed in a Grade 2 and beaten at odds-on next time. I didn’t think that Walsh was that vigorous on him when he couldn’t get near Very Wood two starts ago which made me think he might be interesting for a handicap especially as his owner is a big punter so he is interesting here and moving up in trip. Thunder And Roses has top weight after winning the Irish Grand National but you have to wonder whether that hard race will have left some sort of mark on him and the third, Sizing Coal, and whether 26 days is long enough from which to recover. Portrait King ran well for a long way in the Grand National so similar comments apply to the former Eider winner. This year’s Eider went the way of Milborough but he only got as far as the eighth in the Scottish Grand National in which Man With Van was well tipped up but pulled up.
The five-timer seeking Embracing Change and Tony Martin’s last-time-out winner, Heathfield, currently head the betting. Embracing Change has been given three months to freshen up after beating Portrait King here more comfortably than the 1½l winning margin suggests but his winning run can come to a halt off a 13lb higher mark. Heathfield has not finished out of the first two on his last four starts and he stayed on well over 3m to win at Naas last time out in a manner that suggested he will enjoy this longer trip. Rogue Angel is interesting now that Mouse Morris has hit form and he ran well for a long way in last season’s NH Chase only beaten 4½l so the trip will be no bother to him. He didn’t get very far last time out in the Irish Grand National and a mark of 130 is very workable given what some of last season’s NH Chase principals are now rated.
This might be ROGUE ANGEL’s day now his yard are going very well after their horses were wrong all winter so ignore those efforts. He is weighted to go close on last season’s efforts and rates as the best each-way shot of the race. URANO caught the eye when seemingly tenderly handled two starts ago so he was always on my short list for when he went handicapping and it would be no surprise to see him improve for the extra distance too. HEATHFIELD is in the right hands for a progressive handicapper and I prefer him to Embracing Change of the pair who head the market. GROODY HILL has pulled up on his last two starts and hasn’t won since 2011 but he is only 1lb higher than when a good third in the Troytown in November over 3m when never really on terms and has long appealed as a horse who could be one for marathons.
3:50 Irish Stallions Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle
Willie Mullins has won both runnings since this race was promoted from a Grade 3 to a Grade 1 with Glens Melody and Annie Power and last season’s easy winner will be long odds-on to follow up now that the Cheltenham winner, Glens Melody, has retired and the runner-up, Polly Peachum, won at Sandown last week so neither take her on. She still would have be long odds-on of course having been all set to beat them hands down at Cheltenham when I felt she might be vulnerable on her seasonal debut coming off a setback but the presence of the progressive Katie T adds some interest as the Boylesports Hurdle winner also won in very breezy fashion in her prep race on the Flat 16 days ago and I can see her being a dual-purpose mare over the next couple of years. Analifet has been in better form of late than her earlier-season efforts notably when fifth in the County Hurdle and then third to Dedigout when one place ahead of Jennies Jewel having previously been beaten into second by Rock On The Moor who was disappointing in the Grade 1 mares’ novice hurdle at Fairyhouse.
It’s a similar scenario to Douvan and Sizing John on Day 1 in that the unopposable form favourite is far too short for most punters, the clear second-favourite will be odds-on in a market without the favourite market and the forecast won’t pay much either so it is hard to see an angle into having a bet. As much as I like Katie T as an individual, I can’t bring myself to oppose ANNIE POWER who is in another league on official ratings (24lb superior) and she looked as good as ever last time out on her seasonal debut, maybe even the best I have seen her given the way she travelled through the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham, until she took off too early maybe mistaking the shadow of the hurdle as the actual hurdle. The only niggle for long odds-on backers, of which I am not one, is that she was supposed to head to Aintree but Mullins wasn’t absolutely 100% happy with her and he has chosen the easier mares’ only route with her again.
4:25 AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle
It usually pays to look to Graded-race form in the top juvenile hurdles and 13 of the last 17 winners (and 9 of the last 11) contested the Triumph Hurdle and eight of those recorded a top four finish in the season’s number one juvenile hurdle. Although the Triumph is responsible for four of today’s field, none finished in the first four; Petite Parisienne (5th), Stars Over The Sea (7th), Matorico (10th) and Pain Au Chocolat (12th). As for the other key guides, over the last seven years four winners contested the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle run at Leopardstown on Irish Hennessy Day. This season’s event was won by Petite Parisienne who beat Kalkir and Prussian Eagle.
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 Triumph in 2013 and 2014 so I am not surprised that they hold the edge even in an away game winning nine of the last 17 runnings. Considering the Brits very rarely bring over any more than two runners, that is a very strong return. That record is even more impressive when we consider there was no British representation at all in 2009 and 2013. The main British hope is the Fred Winter winner, Qualando, after which Paul Nicholls stated that he would be put away for the season, something he often says about horses straight after they run at the Cheltenham Festival and then he changes his mind. I can’t blame him for changing his mind in this instance with the leading juveniles, most of which are trained by Nicky Henderson, not turning up so there is a big pot up for grabs.
Qualando was the least fancied of the Nicholls trio according to the betting but I received a message from someone who spoke directly with the trainer during that morning who told him Qualando was the one and his post-race remarks seem to confirm that so I don’t see it as a surprise result and that tells me he is up to Grade 1 juvenile standard. The Triumph also-rans of Stars Over The Sea (Pipe), Matorico (O’Neill) and Pain Au Chocolat (King) also represent the Brits.
As with the Triumph Hurdle, this is a good race for the leading fancies to the extent that only one of the last 14 winners started at bigger than 15/2 and in addition to Petite Parisienne, who has since finished second to Bitofapuzzle in the Grade 1 Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and Qualando, it looks like only Buiseness Sivola will fall into that SP bracket for Mullins and Walsh arriving here off a 3l defeat of Prussian Eagle at Fairyhouse last month. I suppose there could be a head of steam behind Fiscal Focus who looked so promising when he made a winning debut at the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and then connections took the bizarre decision to run this 4yo in the Irish Champion Hurdle on his second hurdling start where he was stuffed and taken out of the Triumph and we have not seen him since.
Pain Au Chocolat
Paul Nicholls’ remarkable run of Saturday’s continued when Just A Par won the Bet365 Gold Cup and I think his QUALANDO can complete his brilliant season by taking this Grade 1. He strikes me as a horse that will keep on improving and the stable’s other Fred Winter winners and placed horses of late, who were also very much chasing types, have gone on to bigger and better things. I prefer Buisness Siviola to Petite Parisienne of the Mullins pair as she looked like a horse who had just come to herself when successful at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting and there could be more to come whereas we kind of know where we are with the Triumph fifth. However, FISCAL FOCUS still has the Flat class and potential to be a smart hurdler and has been freshened up since he took on Hurricane Fly and Jezki in a bizarre piece of placing, so I prefer him to both at the likely prices. PAIN AU CHOCOLAT was the stable preferred in the Triumph but politics meant the stable jockey was on Karezak but it didn’t matter in the end as both ran down the field. I was disappointed with Pain Au Chocolat’s run as I know Alan King was sweet on him so, if it was a case of him having an off day, he could be the best each-way play having beaten the Triumph fourth, Devilment, two starts earlier.
5:00 Palmerston 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. That man again, Willie Mullins, has had more than his fair share of successes winning three times in the last nine years but the stats are against his top weight Ballycasey. They are also against Grand Jesture who was left standing at the start of the Bet365 Gold Cup last weekend when a leading fancy and who was second in this race 12 months ago and the Mouse Morris/Gigginstown classy but frustrating pair of First Lieutenant and Rule The World as they are the top four in the weights carrying 11st 5lb+.
I am a fan of backing horses that ran in the NH Chase for big handicaps later in the spring and the third, The Job Is Right, makes appeal especially as he didn’t have a hard race in the Irish Grand National when he came down at the first fence. He would have finished second in the Thyestes but for a last-fence exit in a race working out well. Owega Star will do well to recover in time from completing the Grand National in thirteenth but Bless The Wings makes appeal on his Kim Muir second having not taken to the Aintree fences in the Topham.
British stables are very well represented headed by Chartreux who won this race last year for Tom George and he is off just a 3lb higher mark this time but he wouldn’t be entering the race in the same kind of form. Best of the raiders could be Ballyculla for Warren Greatrex who supplied a runner-up in another handicap chase earlier at the meeting given that he also contested the NH Chase and finished seventh and has a low weight here. Knock A Hand would probably prefer softer ground.
The Job Is Right
Bless The Wings
Being a big fan of the NH Chase as a guide to staying handicaps I am loathed to leave both THE JOB IS RIGHT and BALLYCULLA off the short list. Preference would be for the first-named who also ran so well in Thyestes, another race I like to help pinpoint future winners of good races. GRAND JESTURE would be defying a biggish weight if successful but I fancied him at Sandown last week when I don’t think the Starter even saw him and he was left standing at the back and he was second in this race last year, albeit off a 17lb lower mark, so feel I have to give him another chance. BLESS THE WINGS finished strongly to finish second in the Kim Muir so this looks his kind of race.
5:35 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 seven 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 seven runnings including recording 1-2s in 2010 and 2012 and last season’s runner-up, Bally Longford who split the British-trained pair of Deep Trouble and Un Temps Pour Tout. This year he runs Arbre De Vie (Walsh) who was fourth in the Albert Bartlett and that race might take some recovering from, Daneking who was a good third at Aintree last month, Measureofmydreams who was eighth in the Albert Bartlett, Ask Vic who was second to Martello Tower in the autumn but has been off the track for 146 days, Clondaw Warrior who has been contesting top 2m handicap hurdles and was second to Some Article here earlier in the week and Pleasant Company who was third here earlier this week.
Rock The World was well backed to win the Boylesports Hurdle where he was only eighteenth but Jessica Harrington, who targets this meeting, has not run him since so I think he may well have been trained for this race since January. She also runs the consistent Macnicholson who finished second earlier in the week. Tony Martin tried to win a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival with Mydor but he couldn’t get a run and was a good third at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting and he can go well as can last year’s runner-up, Bally Longford, who is now with Henry de Bromhead and is only off a 2lb higher mark. Jimmy Two Times won the novice handicap final at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting and is another to throw into the mix.
There is also a good British challenge headed by the Plate runner-up Monetaire who is back to hurdles and, even more interestingly for the Pipe yard, fitted with first-time blinkers. He is off 135 here compared to a chase rating of 143. The Saint James ran well to finish second at Aintree last month with Donald McCain’s Stonebrook right behind him and this stiffer track may suit the Jonjo O’Neill-trained 4yo more. Nicky Henderson sends over Hammersly Lake and Full Shift but it takes some imagination to see them winning.
Rock The World
This is a super-competitive handicap. ROCK THE WORLD interests me most in the belief his trainer has mapped this race out for him since he was well backed but ultimately disappointed in the Boylesports where he was my main fancy. I want my money back! MONETAIRE appeals most of the British and David Pipe’s runners in new headgear always need looking at and he is well handicapped compared to his chase rating. Maybe the in-form DANEKING and ASK VIC, whose second to Martello Tower looks good form now and he returns form an absence of five months, are most interesting of the Mullins sextet as he goes after a fifth win in eight years and also won it in 2006. Henry de Bromhead may have had this race in mind for a while for BALLY LONGFORD having finished second in it last year for Mullins.
6:10 K Club, Spa And Ryder Cup Venue (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race
Virtually total guesswork being a maiden bumper race and only three of the 20 declarations have run and they were in point-to-points. Mind you, Nambour (Willie and Patrick Mullins) and Everyday Everyhour won their only start between the flags.
It has been a very good week for Willie Mullins including in the bumpers and NAMBOUR is likely to be a very popular order in the Gigginstown silks having won his only point-to-point and being the stable’s only runner. EVERYDAY EVERYHOUR is also owned by Gigginstown and just scraped home at long odds-on on his point-to-point debut. Mags Mullins won this race with this season’s Albert Bartlett winner, Martello Tower, two years ago and she runs a newcomer in LAKE VIEW LAD. Thomas Mullins has run some of his best bumper horses at this meeting in the past so maybe INDIAN COURT is quite well regarded.