So, while I would like to be on Champagne Fever for his final prep before Cheltenham, the cold, hard facts are that the Red Mills Chase (2.10) is a Grade 2 worth €42,500 and the Betfair Ascot Chase (3.50) is a Grade 1 valued at £150,000. I’ve never been any different. The big race is what entices me so I’m going to Ascot.
I was disgusted with Ballycasey at Christmas when he ran no race. He ran so badly it couldn’t be true. His work since has been a lot better. I look down through the race and see Ma Filleule is getting the allowances but wants further.
Ptit Zig is only a novice. I just thought that if Ballycasey came back to the form he was in this time last year, when he beat Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough in the Moriarty Chase, he would be bang in the mix.
The trip (2m 5f) looks ideal. He’s a Grade 1 winner at this distance. Maybe he didn’t get home in the RSA Chase last year before finishing second to Carlingford Lough at Punchestown. He won a two mile beginners and he won over two-and-a-half at Gowran.
If he reproduces his Moriarty form he’ll be bang there with a big shout. He’s by Presenting so the ground shouldn’t inconvenience him either.
I have two other rides, starting with Minella Present in the handicap hurdle (3.15). Neil Mulholland is having a great year with The Young Master, despite the controversial disqualification. I don’t think I have ridden for him too often but he rang Jennifer yesterday morning wondering if I would ride the horse.
It’s a £45,000 handicap hurdle and he thinks he has a chance. I’m amazed there are only seven runners. If you had that sort of prize-money on offer for a handicap hurdle in Ireland on a Saturday, there’d be a lot more.
Colin Tizzard supplies me with Thistlecrack (4.20) in the novice hurdle. I know Joe Tizzard since I started working for Paul Nicholls. Thistlecrack won a bumper and a novice hurdle and looks to have a chance in an open affair.
The focus at Gowran will be on Champagne Fever and he should win. On any given day he should be able to beat these horses but the fact that Bright New Dawn only ran two weeks ago and Texas Jack a week ago, gives him a big advantage.
He has been working well since he fell in Thurles. We still don’t know what his best trip might be but knowing Willie, he’ll wait and see what turns up in the Ryanair and the Champion Chase before he commits to either.
Upazo runs the beginners’ chase (1.40). He was third in the Tolworth Hurdle last year when it was rerouted to Kempton but disappointed in his last few runs of the season. He seems to be in really good form now though and is schooling well. If he brings his homework to the track he’ll be hard to beat.
Abbyssial makes his belated seasonal debut (3.20) not having been seen in public since disappointing in Auteuil last June. He had no major physical issue, just a few minor things that held him up but he’s working really well now.
There’s no doubt, in the Spring of last year he was a better horse than Kitten Rock after beating him comprehensively in Punchestown.
But Kitten Rock has three runs under his belt so he does hold a major race-fitness advantage. I can see Abbyssial going up in trip after tomorrow but two miles is an ideal starting point.
Whiteout schools well and seems to work well but I don’t know a whole pile about her really, so I would advise a watching brief in the maiden hurdle (3.55) while in the bumper, (4.55) Kate Appleby Shoes has been banging on the door. Her form is as good now as when she was second in Fairyhouse. If that’s good enough, she’ll win.
Onto Navan on Sunday. Willie runs three in the Boyne Hurdle (2.15) and I’m on Briar Hill. He was disappointing in the Galmoy, which was won by Dedigout who resumes rivalry. I thought he’d improved at Christmas but he then ran very flat.
The heavy fall he had at Cheltenham clearly left a mark on him and he had a long time off afterwards. He seems to be working better at home now. John Codd, who rides him at home, is happy with him so hopefully he can show that improvement on the track. If he runs a big race, he’ll put himself in the frame for the World Hurdle.
Back In Focus has been off for almost two years. He has a lot of work done, but will definitely improve for the run. After a reversal on an even-money shot up north on Wednesday, hopefully Tony Martin and I can get back on the winning track with I Shot The Sheriff (2.50). Tony thinks he’s a decent enough horse with a chance.
Urano steps up to Grade 2 company over fences. He absolutely bolted up in Cork on his debut in a very weak affair. Stepping up in distance will suit him. It’s an open race but I have a lot of respect for Very Wood. I know he’s as in-and-out as the weather but, on a going day, he’ll be hard to beat.
Willie runs Arkwrisht in the bumper. He seems to have improved since his debut. I rode work against him the other morning and he worked very well. If he brings that to the track, he’ll be hard to beat.