Irish Saint can stake Triumph Hurdle claim

A week ago I said here that the only way Sanctuaire could beat Sprinter Sacre in the Victor Chandler at Ascot, which was postponed and subsequently rescheduled to Cheltenham this afternoon, was if Nicky Henderson’s headman forgot to load their horse into the box.

Irish Saint can stake Triumph Hurdle claim

Well, I haven’t changed my mind, although I’ll be doing everything I can today to beat Sprinter Sacre. Nicky’s seven-year-old is a terrific horse and again hardly broke sweat to score at Sandown on his latest appearance.

I rode Sanctuare to finish third that day and there is simply no escaping the fact Sprinter Sacre beat us nineteen and a half lengths.

Sanctuaire then went to Kempton and won in fine style. He switched off quite beautifully, jumped well, almost fell asleep in the middle of the race and then powered clear up the straight to score in a canter.

I hope he strips in a similar mood now, but no matter how good Sanctuaire is I believe, barring accidents, he will be racing for second. For once I’d love to be totally wrong.

I think my best ride comes aboard Irish Saint (pictured) in the first, a Grade 2 hurdle for juveniles. He won at Auteuil, prior to making his debut for Paul Nicholls at Kempton.

I rode him then and we won by 18 lengths. He jumped well, picked up well in the straight and struck me as a very nice horse.

Between Paul and Willie Mullins I currently have three or four possibilities for the Triumph Hurdle and hope that Irish Saint can begin to clear the picture somewhat.

Pacha Du Polder has a good swing in the weights with Bold Sir Brian, in a handicap chase, for a beating of 16 lengths at Sandown, but I’m not confident of reversing placings.

I’m on record here as saying that Bold Sir Brian might be a Gold Cup horse. He impressed me when winning at Carlisle, I was watching on televison, and even more so close up last time.

It’s more than possible, after this race, that I won’t be the only one talking about him as a possible Cheltenham candidate.

Paul may yet allow Tidal Bay to take his chance in the Argento Chase. The horse was lame on Thurday morning, but has improved and it is probably 50-50 as to whether he will run or not.

Everyone knows Tidal Bay is a real character but I hope he shows because he represents a good old challenge.

Kauto Stone faces a stiff task against Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky in the Cleeve Hurdle. He was very disappointing behind Long Run in the King George at Kempton and has to make huge improvement on that effort to take a hand now.

Oscar Whisky is a class act, but failed to stay at Cheltenham in March and, I think, won’t stay here either. Reve De Sivola has endless stamina and is the one to beat, as far as I’m concerned.

I’d expect Dildar to go close in the concluding handicap hurdle. We just got beaten at Kempton, when he tired on the run in.

That was his first outing for a good while — he is bound to come on and has a life — even off a mark 6lbs higher.

Tomorrow, I head to Leopardstown and there is no escaping I’m entitled to make the journey with a degree of optimism.

Hurrficane Fly, in the Irish Champion Hurdle, promises to be the obvious highlight. He has done all that has been asked of him this season and continues in good nick at home.

It is great for the public that Nicky Henderson sends Binocular across to take him on. This will be his first run of the campaign, but he arrives on the back of taking fourth to Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Hurricane Fly, however, who was nowhere near his best, was a place and a length in front of him then, so I cannot think of any reason why Binocular should beat us now.

I start on Urano in a maiden hurdle and, although 22 are set to face the starter, this does look a match between my horse and Some Article and Tony McCoy.

Urano has been beaten by two smart sorts in Ned Buntline at Leopardstown and Ally Cascade at Thurles and chances are is meeting another one here.

My lad is in good form and working well and I hope to come out on the right side of what may well be a lively tussle.

Zuzka has made unbelievable improvement of late and I’m looking foward to riding her in the Listed race over flights for mares.

She sluiced in at Leopardstown at Christmas for Patrick Mullins and it is hard to see Willie’s other horse, Glens Melody, who was third that day and is 5lbs worse in now, making a race of it.

Another I’m particularly looking forward to riding is Pont Alexandre in the Grade 2 novice hurdle. The ex-French horse created a big impression on his debut in Ireland when winning by 13 lengths for me at Navan.

More is required now, on the basis that this is a good race. I think, though, that Pont Alexandre may well be a very, very special horse.

I ride Living Next Door and Galloping Gander in handicaps for Tony Martin, but neither is exactly a betting proposition.

Rupert Lamb, in a beginners chase for Willie, is more interesting. Willie feels the trip will suit and thinks he will, at worst, go close.

Picture: Getty

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