Friday January 27th 5.30pm
All fans of National Hunt racing have a real feast laid before them this weekend with outstanding cards at Cheltenham, Doncaster, Leopardstown and Naas. Plenty of important races in their own right such as the Irish Champion Hurdle, the Cleeve hurdle, the SkyBet chase and the Cotswold Chase but nearly every race has some relevance to the Spring festivals especially Cheltenham in March.
One factor that will need serious monitoring is the going.
Cheltenham:- Chase and hurdle Good to soft. Cross country Good, good to soft in places. Overnight rain (3 to 5 mm), followed by a mostly dry day. Chase and hurdle courses and vulnerable parts of the cross country course protected with frost covers.
Doncaster:- Chase Good Hurdle Good. Forecast Friday temp high +3 by midday to increase to +6 overnight. 80% chance of rain overnight into Saturday.
Naas:- Yeilding (Yielding to Soft in places)
Leopardstown:- Hurdle Good (Good to yielding in places) Chase Good
So here is a race by race guide to who and what I will be looking out for.
Cheltenham 12.00 A Grade 2 4yo Triumph hurdle trial and to everyone’s surprise both JP McManus owned starlets, Defi du Seuil and Charli Parcs are declared to run. Barry Geraghty has “chosen” to ride Charli Parcs and Richard Johnson is on Defi du Seuil, no surprise as he’s trained by Philip Hobbs and the champion has ridden him in two of his four wins already. It is expected that one will run in the Triumph at the Festival and the other in the Supreme but you would have to remember that Joseph O’Brien trains a bunch of ex-Coolmore 4yo’s also for JP, the likes of Housesofparliament, Landofhopeandglory, Sword Fighter, Bhutan etc. Fascinating.
Alan King does well in this division and at this meeting. So can Rainbow Dreamer bustle up the JP pair or is he more Fred Winter (2m 4yo handicap at Cheltenham) material?
Cheltenham 12.35 A 2m 4f+ novices handicap chase and could have relevance to the last race on the Tuesday of the Festival, a 0-140 2m 5f novices handicap chase. The mark of 140 is important and with 12 of the 14 already on OR134+ this race may have more relevance on the Kim Muir (3m Hcp Chase) or something like the Betbright Chase at Kempton, so I’m looking for those staying on.
In the longer term many of these runners could be possibles for that run of big pot 2m 5f races at Cheltenham in the Autumn such as the Bet Victor and the Caspian Caviar etc. Notebook at the ready!
Cheltenham 1.10 ITV4 Here is one of those previously mentioned big pot 2m 5f races. You could make a case for most of them and unless Saphir du Rheu out classes them it will be really hard to find a winner. Many of these could run in the Brown Advisory Plate, the 2m 5f handicap chase on Festival Thursday, unless something hacks up and puts themselves in the picture for the RyanAir Chase, same day, same trip but Championship level weights contest.
Doncaster 1.25 ITV4 The Grade 2 3m River Don novice hurdle is a recognised Alfred Bartlett (championship 3m novice hurdle, Cheltenham Thursday) trial and this is a none too shabby field full of promise. Messrs Henderson, Nicholls and Hobbs run their unbeaten staying novices Give me a Copper, Constantine Bay and Strong Pursuit. No idea but so much potential going to post here for all ten runners. Better sharpen the pencil!
Naas 1.30 Grade 3 2m hurdle where more contenders for a Champion hurdle ticket line up, whilst avoiding Faugheen!! SupaSundae, Ivan Grozny and Sutton Place all have a big prize in them this season.
Cheltenham 1.45 ITV4 The Clarence House is the 2m chase transferred from the abandoned Ascot card and as Douvan dominates this division it’s a case of could Special Tiara or Top Gamble get a Festival place. Un de Sceaux is odds on and he has three Cheltenham options, as a substitute for Douvan, up in trip for the RyanAir or not at all!! It will be good to see Uxizandre back on course after 688 days off, indeed since he won the RyanAir in 2015 with a brave front running performance and was Sir AP McCoys last Festival winner!
Cheltenham 2.15 ITV4 Thistlecrack, Gold Cup favourite and long odds on here. Can Many Clouds or Smad Place find a chink in Thistlecrack’s jumping. The open ditches will be the main focus.
Naas 2.35 A Grade 3 mile novice chase where Anibale Fly will try to make up for his dismal run at Kempton over Christmas. In A Genie in a Bottle, Balko des Flos, Briar Hill, Martello Tower and Haymount he has serious opposition. Keep the 4m NH chase (Cheltenham Festival Tuesday) whilst watching, especially for the last named!
Cheltenham 2.50 ITV4 Cross Country Race. I can’t bet, just watch. Please note this is a handicap! Cantlow should win but Cause of Causes will be monitored closely, if he lines up.
Doncaster 3.05 ITV4 This Grade 2 Mares race has more sub plots than a Dick Francis novel! Vroum Vroum Mag should hack up BUT this is 2m on Good ground on a flat track! Is she a sub for Annie Power and goes for the Mares at Cheltenham or is she a sub for Faugheen and AP and goes in the Champion hurdle, what about Limini? Can’t wait to hear what Ruby Walsh has to say before and after! Gutted I had her down for the Stayers. The Nicholls trained Coillte Lass is an improver.
Cheltenham 3.25 ITV4 Absolute humdinger of a Grade 2 2m 5f novice hurdle and obviously a trial for the Neptune at the Festival over the same course and distance. BUT some of these have already got a handicap mark that could make them serious players in the Festival handicaps. In that golden band of OR137-142 are Elegant Escape, Keep in Line and Wholestone. Win this and you’re single figures for the Neptune, run on strongly and the Alfred Bartlett (3m novice hurdle) comes into play. Be in contention but beaten two out and a whole range of handicaps are on the agenda!! Big notebook at the ready!
Doncaster 3.40 ITV4 The SkyBet chase is a big pot race in its own right. 3m handicap on Good ground. Good Luck. Could be contenders for that Tuesday Cheltenham 3m handicap, more likely to serve up some hints for Aintree in April.
Cheltenham 4.00 ITV4 Fifteen go to post for the Grade 2 3m Cleeve hurdle including the 5/2 favourite for the Festival Stayers hurdle, Unowhatimeanharry, who is unbeaten in seven. But the size of this field indicates that not everybody is convinced with “Harry”! So can the likes of Ballyoptic, West Approach, Cole Harden (Cheltenham winner 2015) or even Kotkikova rattle Harry’s cage? Some trainers have used this race to give a chaser a spin here which won’t affect his chase mark with an eye on the 3m Chase, third race on Cheltenham Tuesday. No idea what young Mr Fry is up to with Whataknight but I’m watching!
Cheltenham 4.35 This is a belter of a C2 2m Cheltenham handicap hurdle. All runners currently rated OR127-132 if they won would get in a Festival handicap and that is a big incentive! Wait for Me was fourth in the County hurdle (2m Festival handicap) last march and is on OR138, not sure he would want much more. If the rain has arrived by 4pm, as I expect, take a long look at Le Rocher for whom Festival ground would be too quick. Beware David Pipe has a horse running on UK debut, Max do Brazil, off a French handicap mark of OR128.
Leopardstown 1.30 He does exist! Melon, this seasons talking horse, is due to line up in this 2m maiden hurdle. Harold Kirk, procurer of most of Willie Mullins/Rich Ricci best talent, put him up as “the one he was most looking forward to seeing”. Unraced but currently 10/1 third favourite for the Supreme hurdle at Cheltenham.
Leopardstown 2.00 A Grade 2 2m 4f novice hurdle and a stepping stone trial to Grade 1 staying novice hurdling at any Festival. Mullins runs three, with special interest to me Montalbano and the mare Let’s Dance. Plenty of solid yardsticks with the likes of Joey Sasa and Monalee. Contrast and compare with the Cheltenham 3.25 Saturday.
Leopardstown 2.30 The Grade 1 Irish Arkle chase, 2m for novices, but no Min. Racing Post @RacingPost Willie Mullins says “Min has banged a knee. Not serious & had even declared him initially this morn, but decided to err on side of caution.” Only four go to post and my bank manager will have his eagle eye on a fit again Identity Thief.
Leopardstown 3.30 At last, the return of the mighty Faugheen, fingers crossed, after over a year off the track. Nicholls Canyon and Petit Mouchoir will ensure he needs to be on his metal.
WOW! Reviewing that lot is going to be some task but loads of fun!
Now onto Saturdays Lucky 15. Give me an hour!