He was beaten little more than a length in last year’s Gold Cup, and is favourite for this year’s, so hopefully all will go well this time.
He was six only six when runner-up to Coneygree, and is entitled to have improved.
He made a very good start to this season, winning the John Durkan over a trip which would have been an inadequate test for him.
He’s a Thyestes winner, so it was a very good performance.
Does he have to be an impressive winner today to justify his position at the top of the market for the Gold Cup?
I don’t think to.
It would be a great race to win and we’re going there expecting a big run, but Willie has one eye firmly focused on Cheltenham and I’d expect plenty of improvement between now and then. I’d take a win today, however narrow.
As Noel Fehily has to ride for Harry Fry in the two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle, I’ve picked up a lovely spare ride on Neil Mulholland’s Shantou Village.
I saw him win at Cheltenham last time out, and he looked a thorough stayer. This looks a very good race, but I’m hopeful he can go close.
There has been plenty of talk about Yanworth, so this race should give a good indication of the pecking order amongst the British novices.
Willie runs three at Doncaster, starting with Shaneshill in the two-mile novice chase. He’s two from two over fences in Ireland and, while an easy winner on debut, had to pull out more at Naas last time.
He’s taking on Vaniteux, who is a good horse and may have been unlucky in Kempton at Christmas.
It’s not going to be a cakewalk, but it should give us a good idea whether he should be running over two miles or two and a half at Cheltenham. It’s a race I’ll be watching with real interest.
Morning Run goes in the mares’ hurdle, and the drop back to two miles on this flat track, which suits front runners, should be ideal for her.
She’s better being allowed to gallop over two miles than hung onto over two and a half, so I expect her to leave her Leopardstown run behind.
I was very impressed with Up For Review when he won at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, and hope he can follow up in the three-mile novices’ hurdle.
He jumped like a buck, and galloped good horses into the ground that day.
I assume this is Barters Hill’s first preference (also declared at Cheltenham).
We have an idea how good he is as he beat Bellshill in a bumper at Aintree in April.
He and Up For Review are at the head of the market for the Albert Bartlett and I suppose whichever wins will be a strong favourite for that.
It’s a fascinating race, but I’m going to stay loyal to our horse.
Limini, who is favourite for the mares’ novice hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, runs in Fairyhouse.
She won her maiden at Punchestown, but her jumping was only okay.
She has had plenty of schooling since, and should be much better in that department.
She has plenty of gears and, while two miles and two furlongs on heavy ground is probably as far as she wants to go, will take beating.
In the bumper Good Thyne Tara is a mare we like, and has been working well, but Dermot McLoughlin’s Avellino is a major player.
Her form is working out very well, and we have plenty of respect for her.
I’m back for Punchestown tomorrow, where I have five rides, starting on Robin Thyme for Gordon Elliott.
He has plenty of experience and should go well, but Willie’s Balko Des Flos has the beating of his rivals on bumper form, and should jump better now than on debut.
I chose Myska over Royal Caviar in the listed hurdle because she’s unbeaten, and there could be more to come.
Royal Caviar has the experience but she has the ability, and I hope I’ve picked the right one. For Min’s form, I’d like to see Ball D’Arc run well – but not too well!
The Pertemps Qualifier is a strange race as the top weight is rated 133, but the bottom weight in last year’s Pertemps Final was rated 136.
Of course, you also have to factor in what the British handicapper will do.
I’m on Rossvoss, who should run well, but everyone knows what’s needed to qualify for the final and that makes it ultra-competitive.
Willie runs three in the Tied Cottage: Felix Yonger, Twinlight and Mozoltov.
It looks a very tight race, with Mozoltov all but right on ratings, and certainly not out of it.
Felix Yonger won the Hilly Way Chase on testing ground, but there’s no doubt he’s better on quicker ground.
Days Hotel has to bounce back to form and Draycott Place looks out of his depth but, them aside, it’s the type of race you could look back at and figure out straight away why any of the four won.
I’m just hopeful.
Baie Des Iles won the Conyngham Cup on her first start over fences, and the step up in trip for the Grand National Trial should really suit.
She doesn’t have a lot of weight on her back, and I think she has a massive chance.
I’d love her to win because it would be a great prize for a young trainer like Ross (O’Sullivan) to pick up.
We haven’t exactly been knocking in the winners in bumpers this season, but Battleford should go close. He works well, has strong point to point form, and looks set to run a big race.
Time for courses to take a look at their product
It’s an insult to paying customers to have 35-minute intervals between races at a run-of-the-mill meeting, and that’s something which is becoming increasingly common.
Attendances at Irish race meetings are dropping and they’re blaming a drop in competitive races and this, that and the other, but they should really be looking at their own product.
If you have a seven-race card, with half an hour between races, you’re effectively giving paying customers little more than 37 minutes of action but taking three hours to do so.
And that’s even worse on the flat, where the races are much shorter. Add another five minutes between races, and I can only imagine how boring it must be for people.
If you had a half an hour break during the All-Ireland final, people would go home.
How about running a mixed ten-race programme on a summer evening? You could have five flat and five national hunt races, alternating between codes, and running a race every 15 minutes.
In an hour you would have five races, and a whole card would take little more than two and a quarter hours.
Of course, you’d need two clerks, two sets of stewards, and two sets of valets – effectively scheduling two meetings at one track - but it could be done if the willingness was there to do it.
In boom times, it happened at Point to Point meetings, and yet racing can’t do it.
If you did it, then you would be entertaining people.
It’s not all about the people sitting at home watching it on television, we must remember to entertain the paying customer.