As has become fairly traditional for me at this stage, Willie has left me on the side-lines the weekend before Cheltenham. I asked him during the week if he wanted me to ride something the weekend and he looked at me as if I had three heads, so that was the end of that conversation. Horse-wise, Cheltenham preparations have gone as well as we could have hoped. Schooling has gone well, the work has gone well, and we’re happy with all the horses going to Cheltenham. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. They’re either all flying or all going as bad as each other, but we’ll find out next week.
There has been a lot of pressure on in the last week, but if the preparation doesn’t go right you have no chance come the big day. I hope the forecast is right, and it keeps raining as I’ve always been of the belief that National Hunt racing is a winter sport and is safest played out in winter conditions.
I’m under no illusion that, while I have many good rides next week, there aren’t as many standout rides as in other years, and winners are going to be hard to come by.
Before that, it is quite a busy weekend for the stable, with plenty of runners at Gowran and Naas and also the runners starting to travel to Cheltenham. The first batch of runners – about 14 runners for Tuesday - were scheduled to leave Closutton early this morning to head for the ferry, long before everyone else was in for work. Everything workwise is done at this stage and I suppose the last of the decisions will depend on rainfall.
We have plenty of runners today in Gowran, starting with three in the maiden hurdle. Vend D’automne won a bumper in Ballinrobe but there’s a slight irony to the fact that we’ve been whingeing all winter about not getting enough rain and yet I’m not sure this fellow wants it. He has only come to form of late but may find conditions too testing.
Voix Des Tiep will love the ground. He was second to The Big Dog here on Thyestes Day but Paul has gone for Queens Boulevard, who will be more at home on this ground than she was at Naas on her first run over hurdles.
I’m sure it was a tough call for Paul, and I wouldn’t know which way to push somebody. Although he has gone for Queens Boulevard, it wouldn’t shock me if Voix Des Tiep proved the better.
Dolciano Dici runs in the handicap chase and he has been crying out for soft ground. Doctor Phoenix ran a good race behind Cadmium at Naas and Avenir D’une Vie is much better off at the weights with him. Ex Patriot was second to Cilaos Emery in a soft-ground beginners’ chase here and I thought he did well to win on good ground in Thurles, and he’s the one I thought would take most beating. But Dolciano Dici will appreciate the conditions and hopefully will give a good account.
Willie runs three in the beginners’ chase. Allblak Des Places has to improve on what he did the last day, but I thought Burrows Saint made a very encouraging debut over fences and has improved for it. He finished just behind C’est Jersey. They were both a long way behind Duc Des Genievres but with that run under his belt I think he’ll be the fittest of ours.
Catwills is having his first run for us. He hasn’t run for more than three years, and it’s great to get him on the track. He goes nicely but after a thousand-day lay-off it’s hard to see him winning.
Billaway, who runs in the Tetratema Hunters Chase, ran encouragingly enough behind Ucello Conti at Navan the last day and has improved for the run. He lacks experience against these rivals but it’s another run for him and hopefully he’ll win a maiden hunter chase down the line.
Our first runner tomorrow at Naas is Defy Du Mee in the maiden hurdle. If he comes back to his run at Fairyhouse he has a chance. He should handle the ground and he stays well. Liam Gilligan rides our other runner, Face The Facts. You can put a line through his last run, and I think a repeat of his run in Naas, when he finished second, could be good enough here.
We run Chacun Pour Soi in the beginners’ chase and a bit like Catwills he’s a long time off the track. I think they were bought together but between one thing and another, and niggly issues along the way, they’ve both taken about three years to get to the track. Their owner, Rich Ricci, must have thought Lazarus had risen when he saw these two were entered.
Mister Blue Sky runs in the listed novice hurdle. He was very impressive at Wexford but picked up an injury afterwards and missed a good bit of time. We ran out of time to get him to Cheltenham and he will improve for his run tomorrow. He’ll need this to have him right for Fairyhouse and Punchestown.
The Grade 3 Novice Chase is a tidy little race. Jetz won last weekend and is turned out again quickly. Robin Des Foret hasn’t run since falling at Cork and has had a break over the winter. He’ll improve for the run. Camelia De Cotte has done nothing wrong – she’s won five over fences now – but Kaiser Black is the best opposition she has faced.
When she stepped out of mares’ company she got well beaten and won her two races back in mares’ company so she could be susceptible here. If Kaiser Black reproduces his Leopardstown run, he will be hard to beat.
Sayar runs in the two-mile-three handicap hurdle. He was very disappointing at Leopardstown, where he made a very bad mistake at the second hurdle. He never got back into a rhythm or regained his confidence, but he has schooled better since. That said, he’s probably best watched. Court Simon could be hard to beat. Willie runs three in the Leinster National. There’s plenty of pressure on Pairofbrowneyes as he has to finish in the first four to qualify for the English National.
He won this race last year, but it was transferred to Gowran Park and run over a furlong shorter. You have to finish in the first four over two miles seven and a half furlongs or further to be able to run in the Aintree National and at the moment he doesn’t qualify. He has improved a good bit since his run in the Thyestes and will love the ground.
Isleofhopendreams is following a pretty similar path to last year. He pulled up on his first two starts last year before finishing second in the National trial at Punchestown. He pulled up on his first two starts this year, but hopefully there’s a good bit of improvement in him.
Bellow Mome ran a nice race for a long way in the Thyestes on what was his first start for a long time. He could improve a lot for that, but it’s hard to stick your neck out for any of our three. Wishmoor was a little unlucky in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown when a loose horse interfered with him, but he should go well again today. While there are 15 runners, it’s not a big field for this type of race, and that could suit De Name Escapes Me.