3:40 Murray Spelman Handicap Hurdle
A next to impossible 25-runner handicap hurdle over 2m to kick off Day 3 for moderate handicappers rated no higher than just 123 so very good luck if you want to get involved. Needless to say I haven’t gone through each runner with fine tooth comb (I’ve not heard of over half of them!) so I’ll personally pass on a bet but offer the following token horses for a shortlist with some pretty flimsy reasoning and wait for better opportunities later on the card.
ARGENTINO represents Willie Mullins, Gigginstown and Bryan Cooper which will enough for some punters and he was closing when he fell last time out though was unlikely to win under Danny Mullins. Cooper was on board when he quickened up well to win two starts earlier. MASTER APPEAL won 17 days ago in a maiden hurdle at Tramore having finished eighth when Argentino won three starts earlier so he has improved plenty since then, mainly for better ground according to John Kiely who now gives him his first run in a handicap. PEPPARPOT has been running well on the Flat this year winning once and finishing second twice and he has his first start over hurdles since August 2013 where he won a Cork maiden so he would appear to have as good a chance as any. DANDRIDGE would be my final guess. Arthur Moore’s charge didn’t find as much as expected when beaten 1½l into third at Leopardstown last time out on soft ground but his best effort came on a decent surface winning and finishing second at Galway.
4:15 Three.ie Handicap Chase
Eighteen have been declared for this 2m handicap chase so it is every bit as competitive as the Grand Annual and Red Rum and Ned Buntline tackled both of those events finishing a slightly unlucky fourth at Cheltenham before falling at Aintree, much to McCoy’s disgust, which suggests that he felt he was going well at the time of his departure four out. As with those two contests, he should be suited by the sure-fire fast pace with so many runners and Paul Carberry now takes the ride and his style suits this tricky customer best. Though competitive, this is a less classy race than those contests at the other two spring festivals so if you liked him at Cheltenham and Aintree, you have to like him here. The top weight, Mount Colah, has his chance if you overlook him being pulled up in the Grand Annual which I think you can after he made a mistake and was hampered at a later fence. Prior to that pulled up effort he had won his previous two starts.
Willie Mullins has won two of the last seven runnings and is solely represented by the novice Upazo who won at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting so he has plenty in his favour (yard, in form and novice in a handicap). Rated 142 at his best over hurdles, he is off 135 here. Jackonslady also arrives here off a last-time-out win when beating three rivals at Naas but this 10-year-old looks exposed so Ludo Et Emergo appeals more of those successful on their most recent start having stayed on well to win at Limerick so a fast pace can help him. Usa also won last time out in just a four-runner novice chase but he is a second-season chaser so open to less improvement than Upazo.
Bold Henry, One Term and Grey Gold are the British raiders. Bold Henry was only 14th in the Grand Annual on his last start having not gone on since winning at Cheltenham earlier in the season, One Term failed to complete in four successive starts before winning at Stratford last time and Grey Gold disappointed at Newton Abbot 26 days ago after running second to Sire De Grugy at Chepstow so all three have unconvincing profiles.
Ludo Et Emergo
UPAZO has a lot going for him being an in-form novice for Willie Mullins and I especially like novices in 2m handicaps in the spring but I doubt that the market will miss him. NED BUNTLINE looked like he would take a hand at Aintree until he fell at the cross fence after he was hampered when fourth in the Grand Annual so he is worth a chance and especially if you backed him for either of those races in this less classy affair with Paul Carberry’s quiet riding style expecting to suit him having not ridden since he guided him into second in last season’s Grand Annual. I like his each-way chance. LUDO ET EMERGO is in form and should appreciate the fast gallop so he can go well too.
4:50 FBD Cross Country Chase for the La Touche Cup
Some punters won’t touch these races given the added risk of what can go wrong regards taking the wrong course but, overall, I feel they offer backers a real chance and all but three of the last 20 winners were sent off at no bigger than 7/1.
Having trained 11 of the last 16 winners, inevitably much of the focus will be on Enda Bolger and his leading light at present in this sphere is Quantitativeeasing who was travelling like a winner until carried out in the Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Handicap. Bolger also runs Josies Orders. That contest at the Festival was eventually won by Rivage D’Or with Uncle Junior and Dogora not beaten far in third and fourth and has featured a highly-significant seven winners of this prize in the last nine years. At present it is fast ground on the cross country chase will won’t be in Uncle Junior’s favour. Rivage D’Or’s win can be marked up as that was his cross-country debut but he does have to give weight all round here off 12st 3lb in this conditions event and he only had 10st 10lb at Cheltenham.
Keep On Track finished second in this race last year where he had Uncle Junior and Quantitativeeasing back in third and fourth but he was trained by the banks king Enda Bolger then and is now with Ian Ferguson. Ballyboker Bridge won a poor running of the P P Hogan in January when Quantitativeeasing disappointed back in fourth at odds-on and has won three of his last four starts for Peter Maher who trained Big Shu to win this race so he is interesting arriving here fresh. The Philip Hobbs-trained Duke Of Lucca (5th) was sent off favourite last year and, bar Famfoni and Galapiat Du Mesnil who both finished second in the early part of the century, the Brits have not has a lot else to shout about and Rose Of The Moon is unlikely to alter that.
I think that QUANTITATIVEEASING would have won at Cheltenham had be not been carried out and he now meets the winner Rivage D’Or on 16lb better terms so is very much the one to beat in my eyes. I have slated him many times in the past for losing touch too early and running on too late, like in this race last year, but I have never seen him travel as sweetly as he did than at the Cheltenham Festival last month so the master cross-country trainer looks to have him in top form this spring. BALLYBOKER BRIDGE has been kept back for this race by his trainer that knows the time of day in this sphere after winning an admittedly poor P P Hogan, but he has time on his side being an eight-year-old. DOGORA can fare best of those that ran at Cheltenham and reverse form with Rivage D’Or at these weights being 10lb off with the winner and also reverse with Uncle Junior who would want it softer.
5:30 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle
Here we go again as Hurricane Fly and Jezki take each other once more but this time it should be much more fascinating as both are trying 3m for the first time and they have more than just a couple of opponents. The class of the two former Champion Hurdlers means that they head the market but I don’t see any reason why either shouldn’t stay. Here’s the stats though. Not only have ten of the last 13 winners won over 3m+ but nine of those winners have managed that feat in Grade 1 events where, in theory, the stamina argument becomes even more important given they should attract a better class horse and, in turn, a better gallop placing more emphasis on staying prowess.
Two of those exceptions were trained by Willie Mullins. Hurricane Fly won over 2m3½f on heavy ground as just a four-year-old and it looked like he would be aimed at the World Hurdle before he beat Jezki in the Morgiana Hurdle which rather forced their hand to continue down to the 2m route beating the reigning champion at the time so that’s the argument why he will stay. As for Jezki, he has won two Grade 1s over 2m4f (Hatton’s Grace and Aintree Hurdle) and his brother, Jetson, won this race last year so I would say he shouldn’t have a problem with 3m either. Hurricane Fly got the better of Jezki for the fourth time this season when they finished third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle and is the fresher as he bypassed Aintree whereas Jezki was sent to the Aintree Hurdle and looked to be coming off marginally second best to Arctic Fire when his big rival fell at the final flight. Hurricane Fly has the better turn of foot of the two and that could be the difference again though Jezki has a new jockey in Mark Walsh and that could make a difference in his favour as I never thought McCoy and Jezki truly clicked together. His new jockey would be more similar to Geraghty’s riding style who was 5-5 on him. It should be fascinating but it is certainly no two-horse race.
Quevega couldn’t reel back Jetson when attempting to win five renewals of this race last season before her retirement so couldn’t become the tenth winning favourite in 14 years. Jetson has twice finished second to Lieutenant Colonel in Grade 1s this season but both were found out in the World Hurdle suggesting that the Irish stayers are a moderate lot this season which makes it even more surprising there is not one single British-trained contender and especially as the Brits have won eight of the last 18 runnings. Amazingly, only one of the last 15 winners ran in the World Hurdle. Lieutenant Colonel didn’t help himself at Cheltenham by racing too keenly ut Bryan Cooper rides Dedigout instead of the Gigginstown runners who has won three Grade 2s on testing ground on his last three starts beating Monksland in the Galmoy, Zaidpour in the Boyne and then Thousand Stars at Fairyhouse at Easter so every drop of rain that falls will be in his favour. That was a good run by the 11-year-old Thousand Stars however on his first run since June and doubtless he’ll be off to France again in the coming
The other five runners look out of the depth but his has been a race in which exposed handicappers have caused a shock more than once. Take last year as Jetson’s Cheltenham Festival target before his surprise 20/1 victory here was the Pertemps Network Final, a handicap that has featured three recent winners of this prize who all finished unplaced at Cheltenham. Eleven of the last 12 winners contested races at the Cheltenham Festival notably Quevega whose four wins in this race followed three similarly-emphatic wins in the Mares Hurdle. The only winner in the last decade not to run at the Cheltenham Festival was Fiveforthree. Zabana is the handicapper that could be the one to get into the shake up having finished a close second to the exciting Aux Ptit Soins in the Coral Cup last time out. I Shot The Sheriff beat Ttebbob into second in a good quality 2m6f handicap hurdle at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting earlier this month.
Trying 3m for the first time is statistically against HURRICANE FLY and Jezki but in their favour is that the Irish staying hurdle division is weak this season and there are no British runners. I have been disappointed with Jezki this season and thought he would probably have finished second but for Arctic Fire’s fall at Aintree and fancy Hurricane Fly can beat him for the fifth time this season at a meeting where he has won five times before. DEDIGOUT is a big player if the ground turns soft and Bryan Cooper elects to ride this three-time Grade 2 winner this season over the dual Grade 1 winner this season, Lieutenant Colonel. Cooper has chosen the wrong one on many occasions this season but I think he has got this one correct. I thought that Jetson pinched last season’s race to an extent and this is a deeper renewal so he has it all to do to regain his title and if there is to be a shock in a race where handicappers have improved or taken advantage of others being over the top for the season, then ZABANA appeals most as an each-way option at bigger prices after his excellent second to Aux Ptit Soins in the Coral Cup. That winner could be top class and the fourth has since won at Aintree.
6:05 Donohue Marquees Handicap Hurdle
If the first handicap hurdle on the card over 2m was next to impossible, this 25-runner three-miler isn’t much easier, if any, but again there is no real quality with a top weight rated 130 which is Wicked Spice who Nicky Richards has sent over attempting to follow up his win at Ayr 13 days ago and I like the booking of Ger Fox taking off 5lb. Only only one of the last ten winners has carried over 11st 4lb though, which includes two of Willie Mullins’ quartet, Avant Tout and Killer Crow. His other pair are Pleasant Company who races bang off 11st 4lb and Sambremont who may be the pick of his squad being a novice open to improvement moving up to 3m for the first time. He was a little disappointing last time but was previously fourth in a weak Grade 2. Also on 11st 4lb is the other British contender, Phare Isles, for the Ben Case yard who won the big 2m handicap hurdle at this meeting last year who is chasing a hat-trick after wins at Huntingdon and Market Rasen, but he is a 43-raced over hurdles ten-year-old (won just three) and this would be a much more competitive race than those he has been winning of late.
GUESS AGAIN is intriguing close the bottom of the weights. He looked very dangerous up until two out in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on Saturday until fading into fifth beaten 6¾l by Just A Par and if that hasn’t taken too much out of him then he is potentially thrown in off 115 over hurdles given he ran so well off 137 over fences at the weekend and has clearly improved for the switch to Tony Martin. His only other run for Martin was when he fell in the Kim Muir when going well which was his first run since the summer for David Pipe. ROGUE TRADER is a progressive young horse who races in the Magnier silks having won three of his five starts so is sure to be well fancied and the extra half-mile could eke out more improvement. The latter comment also applies to SAMBREMONT who is my idea of the pick of the Mullins quartet. AENGUS was beaten when he unseated his rider last time but he is a lightly-raced novice for Noel Meade who was only a 6½l third to Alvisio Ville at the Leopardstown Christmas Meeting and then won at Naas so he is a potential improver.
6:40 Ryanair Novice Chase
I was correct that Don Poli was the right Mullins odds-on shot to take on this week but unfortunately I didn’t select the right horse to take him on with. Particularly annoying that it was Valseur Lido who won having been with him for the RSA only to see him switch to the JLT. Mullins was clearly right that 3m+ was his trip but I couldn’t back him at this meeting after his Fairyhouse shocker. Un De Sceaux, however, is not a Mullins odds-on shot I want to take on. Only two of the last 20 winners have started at bigger than 6/1 and the impressive Arkle winner should emulate Captain Chris, Moscow Flyer, Tiutchev and Ventana Canyon by completing the Arkle-Ryanair double. Three Arkle winners have been beaten here so the score is 4-3 but they were not 1/6 shots as Un De Sceaux is forecast to be so, if we want a be, it will have to be in the without-favourite market.
Upgraded from Grade 2 status into a Grade 1 affair in 1998, the Brits have started to target the race more as a consequence and have a fine record since that elevation in race status and Gods Own became their sixth winner meaning that they have been successful more times than not on the last 11 occasions when they have been represented. Melodic Rendezvous and Just Cameron represent the British this season and connections of the first-named, who was second to Champagne Fever in the Grade 1 bumper at this meeting three years ago, will be hoping for rain but he doesn’t look 100% comfortable over fences to my eyes and Un De Sceaux’s fast gallop and slick jumping is likely to have him in trouble.
Just Cameron is worth a shy at a big race having won his last three starts including two defeats of Duke Of Navan who has franked that form with an impressive win at the Scottish Grand National Meeting. Both British-trained runners are a little older than you associate with top class 2m novice chasers as Melodic Rendezvous is nine and Just Cameron a year younger. However, nine winners of this race were are aged eight or older since this race was first run in 1992 which could not compare any more differently to the Arkle where the only two winners aged older than seven since 1988 had the class to be crowned the Champion Chaser the following season (Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe). Perhaps older horses hold their form better at this stage of the season?
The Ryanair Gold Cup (formerly the Powers Gold Cup) at Fairyhouse over 2m4f during Easter has featured two of the last seven winners (Big Zeb and Barker) and for much of that contest it looked like the Arkle seventh Smashing would cause an upset but he was caught on the run-in and finished a 2¾l third behind Gilgamboa. He showed lots of zip that day so maybe this drop back to 2m can see him in an even better light. Apart from the Arkle, he also saw the back of Un De Sceaux when he was a 12l second to him in December when he tried to put it up to the favourite.
Ted Veale was a bit disappointing in both 2m handicap chases at Cheltenham and Aintree and is back to taking on novices and he has an experience advantage being a second-season chaser. A horse who mixes chases with hurdling, I’m not sure he has been well campaigned since he bolted up in the County Hurdle. The field is completed by Real Steel dropping back to 2m who has not run since he was a poor last of four in a Grade 2 at Naas in February. However, Mouse Morris has his string in much better order now so if he can be got back to the form that saw him finish third in the Grade 1 Drinmore behind Valseur Lido, he has a shout of finishing second as he doesn’t look like he lacks for pace. He did jump out to his right that day though and has not raced on a right-handed course since.
Un De Sceaux
With UN DE SCEAUX being an unbackable price for most punters, the best option is betting without the favourite and SMASHING appeals most on his Grade 1 third over 2m4f last time out where he led 3 out but was caught half way up the running so this shorter trip could be in his favour. Melodic Rendezvous is a quality hurdler but has not taken to fences as many hoped and he may struggle to lay up unless the ground softens so Just Cameron can fare the better of the British raiders. Ted Veale will probably be ridden to pick up place prize money and see what happens but Real Steel has Grade 1 placed form as well and represents a yard back to form so he could return to form if he can jump straight, unlike the last time he raced right-handed.
7:15 Orchid Transport Mares Novice Hurdle
This is the third running of this mares’ novice hurdle. Willie Mullins is so strong in this division over the last few years and he took the inaugural running with an odds-on favourite and is three-handed this time with Uranna, Lyrical Theatre and Whiteout. Uranna was only ¾l behind Lyrical Theatre when they finished fourth and third behind Bitofapuzzle in the Grade 1 mares’ novice hurdle at Fairyhouse three weeks ago so there is little to choose between the pair. I felt that Lyrical Theatre was given too much to do that day being held up in last place so fancy her to confirm placings. Uranna had previously won a Listed Mares Hurdle at Sandown and Lyrical Theatre had finished second in a couple of Grade 3s.
The four-year-old, Whiteout, receives a 10lb age allowance but after winning a maiden hurdle in February, she needs to step up markedly on her sixth of nine in a Grade 3 at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting. The other two four-year-olds, Kabjoy and Scooping, also look to have it to do.
Warren Greatrex sends over Hannah’s Princess who was second of 17 in the always-competitive EBF Mares Novices’ Hurdle Finale at Newbury and she looks the main threat to the Mullins duo though Melbourne Lady is rated only 5lb off the top-rated Lyrical Theatre buy she has questions to answer having been pulled up in a Grade 3 last time out.
LYRICAL THEATRE can confirm Grade 1 finishing positions with URANNA and especially if not ridden too far out of her ground like when they met earlier this month but she still just had the edge that day and it is not difficult seeing that form line being too good for the rest so the Mullins 1-2 forecast has to also be a serious option. Hannah’s Princess would be the one most likely to shake up the most obvious pair.
7:45 Kildare Post INH Flat Race
A bumper for horses aged between 4-7 that have won no more than once under Rules which is having its fifth running and all eight contenders have run of which all bar Beau Et Sublime have won so this is likely to throw up a decent horse or two.
Jessica Harrington has won two of the four runnings and is represented by Sandymount Duke but he has beaten three times in his four starts so looks exposed. Willie Mullins won it two years ago and is double-handed with Up For Review who did too much too soon in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Yorkhill whose only bumper run resulted in a win at Gowran Park last month having won a point-to-point. Both are owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie. Henry de Bromhead won the other renewal of this race in 2012 and runs Solatenif who won his bumper last summer but his best form was a close-up third behind Vigil at the Leopardstown Christmas Meeting last time out.
Nicky Henderson sends over two contenders who both won their only start with Nina Carberry on OK Corral for Susan Magnier and who won at Kempton in February. As the owner likes a bumper runner at this meeting I dare say this has been the plan since. Henderson’s other contender is Newsworthy who is ridden by Jamie Codd and his trainer was talking up this Michael Buckley-owned contender at a recent preview, for what that is worth, who also won his only start in a Kempton bumper in February. Whereas Ok Corral was 5/1 for his debut, Newsworthy was 8/11 for his. Alamein completes the octet for Mouse Morris and he got off the mark at the fourth time of asking last time out at Thurles six weeks ago. The stable had been struggling until recently and he was second to the brilliant Forgotten Rules on his debut at this meeting last year.
Newsworthy won his bumper readily at Kempton on soft ground and his breeding suggests he should better on a faster surface and he is preferred to his stablemate Ok Corral. Up For Review has disappointed me twice since he impressed at the Leopardstown Christmas Meeting so I would go with the lesser-exposed YORKHILL if choosing between the Mullins pair. Now that ALAMEIN’s stable are in form (even Baily Green almost won a Grade 1 on Tuesday) he could be an interesting each-way proposition if the dead eight stand their ground having won six weeks ago and finishing second of 18 at this meeting last year only finding the current Ascot Gold Cup favourite too good.