A new year, a new day and a new dawn. A microphone awaits me instead of a saddle and, even though the build-up to today seems to have dragged equally as long as if I was riding, the lack of pressure and the ease with which I have slept is a new but very welcome feeling for me.
Today kicks off in the same way as it always does, with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and with the ground likely to be good to soft we should be set fair for some great racing.
Asterion Forlonge, Elixir D’ainay and Berkshire Royal represent Willie Mullins in an open but competitive first race.
Berkshire is having his first start over hurdles and faces a huge task. Elixir, on the other hand, could be a bit of a dark horse even if Asterion would appear to be the obvious number one. He was too keen over 2m6f at the Dublin Racing Festival but drops back to the minimum trip here in an attempt to use his stamina. Don’t forget he chased home the exceptional Envoi Allen in the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle in Naas in January.
Asterion Forlonge was a good winner at the Dublin Racing Festival but his tendency to jump to his right could play against him here. While he stays very well, giving away ground by jumping out the opposite way in which the track goes could be a big inconvenience.
Mrs Joe Donnelly, who owns Asterion, also has Shiskin, trained by Nicky Henderson. I believe him to be a big player based on some impressive displays at Newbury and Huntingdon in weekend races. However, the value each-way bet could be Abacadabras, whose form is rock-solid and, with the way he likes to be ridden - from off the pace - he will be staying on strongly at the end. He could run them all down by the line.
The early stages of the Arkle Novice Chase could be crucial for the Irish challengers. Cash Back, Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies all like to race close to or on the pace. However, only one can make the running and how they jump the first four fences could be vital.
I say first four fences because that’s how far this race goes in a relative straight line before a bend is turned and the race takes its shape. Rachael Blackmore, Paul Townend and Mark Walsh will all remember how Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir fared when they set a blistering pace in the this race two years ago, and both Cash Back and Notebook have to prove to me that they can handle the preliminaries too, so Fakir would look the safer option right now.
The Ultima Handicap Chase looks wide open and I don’t really have a strong fancy, so I am going to concentrate on the Champion Hurdle.
I am tired of hearing people say how bad a race this is. It’s not. There may not be a superstar but there are a lot of good horses in here and I challenge anyone who would not like to own, train or ride any of the horses involved.
Willie Mullins runs Sharjah and Cilaos Emery. Sharjah is a three-time Grade 1-winning hurdler but might like dryer ground, and Cilaos has been supplemented for this race, just like Annie Power was. But, like Cash Back and Notebook, he needs to show he can handle the occasion. His previous trip here did not bring about his strongest performance.
Cornerstone Lad, Petit Mouchoir and Not So Sleepy look certain to ensure that this is a truly run contest, which will really suit Epatante.
She jumped poorly here last year and, having watched her progress through this season, I think she has really brushed up on how she hurdles.
At a price for an each-way tip I am going to suggest Supasundae as I feel he will stay going longer than a lot of the others. And, every single person I have met with any connection to the yard - from Jessie’s grandsons to former employees of hers – is telling me how well he has been going at home.
My trust, though, is Robert Power allowing him to find his feet and get into the pace that suits the horse, not the actual pace of the race.
The Mares’ Hurdle looks a match: Benie Des Dieux versus Honeysuckle. Two brilliant mares going head to head at the biggest venue on the biggest stage. My heart will always be with Benie, but I feel on this occasion that my head is there too.
The trip will suit both mares and, even though she is older than Honeysuckle, I feel Benie is in better form than she was this time last year, which should make very hard to beat.
I respect Henry de Bromhead’s mare and have admired and followed her career from Thurles 16 months ago, when I first noticed her, to Fairyhouse and Leopardstown, but I fear for her unbeaten record today. Benie is actually my nap of the meeting.
Like the Ultima, I don’t have a very strong opinion on the novice handicap chase, but I would not put anybody off having something small on Lord Schnitzel at a huge price. I do, however, have a strong opinion on the National Hunt Chase, which is now being run over three miles and six furlongs, and with a smaller field than in years gone by.
I have been tipping and advising Carefully Selected for this race for quite a while and I am most certainly not going to change my opinion. People will probably question some of his jumping, but I think the bigger field will help Patrick Mullins to make him concentrate.
He was second in a Champion Bumper here two years ago and I just think from the back of the last he will be too quick for the opposition.
4.10 - Benie des Dieux
1.30 - Abracadabras
5.30 - Carefully Selected