The shape of the race has changed a little bit, with the inclusion of Uxizandre and Special Tiara, and the absence of Ar Mad. It’s a good while since Uxizandre has run, and you’d imagine we have a fitness edge over him, but there was only a short head between Un De Sceaux and Special Tiara in last season’s Champion Chase.
We’re happy with Un De Sceaux, but he was in Ascot last week, he came home, rode out a couple of days and did a bit of work which told us he was in good form. But he has now travelled back to Cheltenham, and who knows what effect that will have on him.
The ground will be a little better here than it would have been had it got the go-ahead at Ascot, but they have frost covers on here, and it makes the ground very dead, so it’ll be slower than people think. It’ll be tacky, holding ground. You’d imagine he’ll take all the beating.
I ride West Approach, for Colin Tizzard, in the Cleeve Hurdle. He unseated at the last when he was only going to finish third or fourth in the Long Walk Hurdle, which leaves him with something to find with Unowhatimeanharry and Ballyoptic.
He travelled up there going to the second-last, but didn’t look good enough from there home. Today is a new day, and with the ground a bit better than it was at Ascot at Christmas, he might have an each-way chance.
Willie runs Alelchi Inois in the Cross-Country Chase. The trip will suit him and the jumping shouldn’t pose a problem, but he has plenty of weight and would want the ground a bit better. But it could give him a good sight of the place for the Festival in March.
Vroum Vroum Mag goes to Doncaster, where she should take beating. She is dropping back in trip, and has 11lbs in hand of her nearest rivals on official ratings, and I expect her to win.
Willie has plenty of runners this afternoon in Naas, and Ivan Grozny should go very close in the Limestone Lad Hurdle, where he is well-in on official ratings.
There’s no particular reason he hasn’t run in a while, it’s just that he’s a two-miler and his rating of 153 leaves him a bit off Champion Hurdle class. Willie was just waiting for a race to suit, and this looks an ideal opportunity for him.
David Mullins, who rides him, won on him at Aintree, the horse has been in great form at home, won his maiden hurdle here, and should be difficult to beat.
Augustin makes his hurdling debut in the third race. He’s a tough horse, will love the trip, and has been working well. His jumping is very good, and I think he’s going well enough to go very close today.
The Woodlands Park Novice Chase looks a very good race, and Willie runs Haymount and Briar Hill. Haymount had a cracking run at Christmas in Limerick, behind Bellshill, having beaten Coney Island on his chasing debut. There’ll be plenty of pace in this race, from Balko Des Flos, who helped force a ferocious pace when he won in Fairyhouse.
But I also think there’s a big race in Briar Hill. He was travelling well for me until he fell in Leopardstown, but it was too early to say what was going to happen. They both have a chance, but Haymount is probably just the stronger of Willie’s two, and he can give us a guide as to where we stand with Bellshill.
It’ll great to have Faugheen back on the track in tomorrow’s Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. It’s a year since he ran, when he put up a performance in this race which was worth a rating of 176. Now, you have to be realistic, and realise it’s going to be very hard to run to that sort of mark on his first run after a year off, but he is in great form.
Nichols Canyon didn’t show up at Christmas, for some reason or other, but he has been working well at home since. Petit Mouchoir was a very good winner of that race at Christmas, and both of those like to get on with their job. I’m sure it will be a strong gallop, but if Faugheen turns up in the form we know he can produce, they’ll all have to raise their game to beat him.
Whatever way you look at this race, the others have a fitness-edge and Faugheen is going to improve between here and March. It would be great if he could win tomorrow, but it’s just great to have him back.
Melon, who has been something of a talking horse, runs in the opening maiden hurdle. His schooling has gone well, and if he can run as fast as he’s able to talk, he’ll take a bit of beating.
I chose Let’s Dance over Montalbano and Kemboy in the Grade 2 novice hurdle, and I really don’t know if I’ve picked the right one. As I said here a few weeks ago, there are going to be plenty of clashes, and this is just another. She has a lot of experience, has a high rating, and I think she has proved she’s up to running at this level.
Kemboy is in great form, and has improved a good bit since his win in Limerick, and Montalbano has also come on since his win at Christmas, but Let’s Dance is in good form and gets that very vital weight allowance.
It’s Willie versus Henry De Bromhead in the Arkle. There’s no Min, but Willie runs Royal Caviar and Bleu Et Rouge, and Henry’s two, Identity Thief and Some Plan, make up the four-runner field.
Royal Caviar absolutely bolted in on his chasing debut at Christmas time, and looks a good bit better over fences than he was over hurdles. That said, his last run over hurdles was very good.
Bleu Et Rouge ran on very well to win at Leopardstown, while Some Plan was good at Naas, where he won the race American Tom fell in. Identity Thief is on a bit of a recovery mission, and so Bleu Et Rouge, who was a good novice hurdler, might prove hard to beat, as he has improved a good bit since his chasing debut.
Two into one doesn’t go!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I think it’s ridiculous to have two €100,000 handicap chases in the one week. The Leopardstown Chase, over two miles and five furlongs, was run on Sunday, and the Thyestes, over three miles, just four days later. Why they have to be scheduled so close together beats me. I can’t understand why the Leopardstown Chase isn’t run at their last meeting, in March, when the weights are out for the English National, and you could also have the weights out for the Irish National. You have the Troytown, the Paddy Power, and then these two in the same week. Surely they could be scheduled more evenly.