It was great break but we’re back into the thick of things, with Fairyhouse this weekend, and the Aintree and Punchestown festivals just down the road.
With Fairyhouse coming so soon after Cheltenham, the big guns are back in their stables, but Outlander, who will be sent out again to contest the Ryanair Gold Cup tomorrow, is the pick of our runners this weekend.
He was involved in that mix-up at the start and was probably beginning to feel the pinch when he fell at the fourth-last in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. That was understandable, given the ground he lost at the start, so hopefully he’ll be able to show his true colours.
It is a bit of a worry that he is being turned out just 10 days after that run, but he certainly has the class to run a big race.
I’m on McKinley, who was under pressure before unseating Bryan Cooper at the water jump in the novices’ handicap chase at Cheltenham.
I did think he would run better at Cheltenham than on his previous outings this season, but this smaller field might suit. He has very good hurdling form, but needs to produced that over fences to worry some of these.
Vedettariat won well last time but has to improve a lot to win a race of this nature. Kerry Lee’s horse, Kylemore Lough, is probably the one we all have to beat.
I’m on Beau Mome in the opener and we’ve probably said enough about him in the past. He continues to disappoint on the track. Last time out he jumped terribly - he thought he was a unicorn, but discovered he doesn’t have wings. I just hope he’s more in sync with what he has to do tomorrow. Tayto Park is probably the one to beat, but he, too, is proving hard to win with.
Willie runs four in the Grade One Mares’ Novice Hurdle, and I’m on Asthuria, who is making her debut for us. She is still a maiden and this is a tough ask but she has been in training a long time, and goes well at home.
The logic behind running in this race is that if she wins a Grade One that would be great and we could look towards Punchestown and, perhaps, going back to France, but if she gets beaten we can preserve her novice status for next season.
Myska was very good in the first half of the season, but disappointed at Punchestown last time. She goes well enough at home, but if she can get back to the form of her Taunton win, over Jessber’s Dream, she’d have a great chance.
Monbeg Rose was good when winning her maiden but was disappointing on her last couple of outings. She needs to bounce back. Miss Me Now won nicely at Limerick last time, where she quickened up well, but she needs to improve again to win in this company.
Willie has three in the two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle and, with Bryan Cooper preferring Nambour, I’m on Fire In Soul.
Nambour was no match for Acapella Bourgeois last time and, despite being better off at the weights, might struggle to reverse the form. Haymount got off the mark last time, at Gowran. Drying ground would help him, but he needs to improve.
Fire In Soul surprised us when winning on debut at Clonmel as he hadn’t been showing a whole lot at home. But he bolted in that day and that gives encouragement that he can improve again. While each of Willie’s would have to post a career-best effort to win, I wouldn’t be surprised if he went very close.
I ride Guitar Pete for Sandra Hughes in the novices’ handicap chase. I couldn’t tell you whether or not he is well handicapped but I know he was a smart sort over hurdles, has plenty of experience and will appreciate decent ground.
Willie has one runner in Cork this afternoon, and it’s Classic Place in the bumper. He won a point to point, and goes well enough at home, but I don’t know an awful lot about him. As said before, if we were winning bumpers with the regularity we once did, you could be more confident.
The feature race of the weekend is the Irish Grand National, which takes place on Monday, and I’m on Bless The Wings for Gordon Elliott. His third-placed finish in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham showed him to be in good form.
I don’t know how much it may have taken out of him, but if in peak form he would have each-way claims as he has won over course and distance and has a handy weight.
But, Cheltenham was all about the mares, and I think the Irish National may also be. Bonny Kate and Baie Des Iles finished first and second, respectively, in the Grand National Trial at Punchestown, and are mares very much in form.
I’m going to be biased and say that if I don’t win, I hope Baie Des Iles wins for Katie and Ross, but Noel Meade’s mare is also improving rapidly, jumps well, and will give a bold show.