The more I’ve looked at the race the more puzzling it became and it would be a brave man indeed who would be adamant regarding the likely outcome.
Ever since it became clear Pandorama was going to miss the Hennessy, Paul Nicholls’ Pride Of Dulcote has been favourite.
I suppose that’s a reflection of the lack of quality in the contest, together with Paul’s massive reputation, because Pride Of Dulcote comes here with only two races over fences under his belt.
I rode him to win at Worcester and, quite frankly, I’d jump round that track on my one and a half legs!
He was off then for a long time, until reappearing in the fog at Newbury, where he narrowly beat Punchestowns.
Very little of that was seen, but Nick Scholfield says he jumped well, but for the final fence. Pride Of Dulcote has the ability to win this, after all he was a close second to Weapon’s Amnesty in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009.
But his lack of experience is a major worry. The slower they go the better for him and Nick will have to get the horse into a nice rhythm.
What of the rest? China Rock is entitled to have a shot, on his third to Kauto Star at Down Royal, but I believe is better right-handed.
I know, having won a SunAlliance at Cheltenham on him by a street, that Cooldine has a big engine. He has been disappointing, but I’m not writing him off.
Joncol is a decent horse, but it is hard to say he’s improving and this is likely to be very revealing.
Kempes had a chance when parting company two out with Tony McCoy in the Lexus and has a real life here as well.
Money Trix is tough and honest and will be staying on when the majority have cried enough. He’ll be placed, but probably won’t win. Bottom line is that your guess is as good as mine.
Paul Nicholls brings Indian Daudaie across with Pride Of Dulcote for the juvenile hurdle. He only ran last Saturday, third at Cheltenham.
Paul likes the horse, but tells me he would prefer if the race was a week later, although believing the ground and track will suit.
Willie Mullins runs two very decent sorts in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, Zaidpour and Cottrelsbooley.
Zaidpour looked a real star in the making, before disappointing behind First Lieutenant at Leopardstown at Christmas.
Cottrelsbooley is a grand horse, who jumps and gallops. This is a cracking contest and you would have to respect the likes of Shot From The Hip and Hidden Universe as well.
If the Zaidpour who won two races so impressively, prior to that defeat at Leopardstown, turns up then I think he’ll win, but the lad who ran last time will struggle.
Mikael D’Haguenet, way below par at Leopardstown, is on a retrieving mission in the Moriarty Chase.
He schooled well at Punchestown last Sunday and I saw him work nicely at Willie’s on Tuesday morning.
If Mikael can get back to the horse he was, and still can be, then he will win. Magnanimity, who beat Jessies Dream on merit at Leopardstown, in my opinion, is the one to fear.
Willie can take the bumper with Champagne Agent. He ran solidly first time at Leopardstown and there was lots to admire in his work on Tuesday.
Willie has a couple of live ones at Naas today, headed by Lios A Choill in a maiden hurdle. He was going to win easily when falling at the last at Thurles and can make amends.
Samain, a horse I have watched working numerous times, is one I like and think he will add to his Punchestown success in the bumper.
Paul Nicholls’ quietest part of the season, traditionally, is January and into February and he doesn’t have a whole lot at Sandown today.
The Grade 1 novice chase is a cracker and if you fancy a punt have a bit each-way on Paul’s Rebel Du Maquis. He jumps for fun and Sandown is made for him.