The admirable Un De Sceaux can run the opposition ragged in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham this afternoon, writes Pat Keane.
The 10-year-old is simply an amazing horse. His consistency speaks for itself and is quite remarkable, with 20 wins in 26 races.
A big plus for him is that the rain has arrived in plentiful supply and he is just very hard to beat when the surface is soft, or worse.
Un De Sceaux has been successful three times at Cheltenham, twice at the Festival. Three years ago, he won the Arkle Trophy by six lengths.
Then in 2016, on good ground, he proved no match for Nicky Henderson’s brilliant Sprinter Sacre in the two-mile Queen Mother Champion Chase, finishing second, beaten three and a half lengths.
Un De Sceaux was back again last year, on ground that was too quick for him, but stepping up almost five furlongs in trip, in the Ryanair.
It was fascinating to watch the then nine-year-old action, as Ruby Walsh tried to restrain him in the early part of the contest.
But Un De Sceaux was having none of it and arrived absolutely tanking up the straight, telling Walsh it was his way or the highway.
The canny Walsh was more than equal to the battle, though, made no attempt to fight his partner and allowed him to stride on.
What followed was poetry in motion, as the pair got onto the exact same wavelength and were never going to be beaten.
Sub Lieutenant did close somewhat in the straight, but, crossing the line, Un De Sceaux was still comfortably ahead by a length and a half.
He has been lightly raced by Willie Mullins this season and clearly another Ryanair was always the only prize that really counted.
Un De Sceaux began his campaign at Cork on December 10, in testing conditions, and made all of the running to beat English challenger, Top Gamble, by 25 lengths.
He reappeared at Ascot in January, when giving every indication of a growing maturity, settling behind the pace for Paul Townend.
When Townend produced him to lead before the second last, Un De Sceaux put the contest to bed in a matter of strides to score by an easy seven lengths.
Not seen since then, 54 days ago, he is going to strip a particularly fresh horse. In any case, you’d imagine, plenty of use will be made of Un De Sceaux on this occasion and there will be no hiding place!
We also place our faith in Mullins and the highly-rated Laurina in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Backing at very tight odds at Cheltenham is obviously not to be overly recommended, but there are times when it is more than warranted. This is one such occasion.
The daughter of Spanish Moon didn’t arrive from France with any great reputation, having failed to score in two outings.
But Laurina has been a revelation in both her runs in Ireland and, so highly rated is she in the Mullins camp, that defeat will come as a major shock.
She began her time in Ireland at unfashionable Tramore in the middle of December, winning a very modest maiden hurdle by 15 lengths.
Mullins then gave her a break of about six weeks and Laurina reappeared in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse in late January.
Going off the 13-8 favourite those odds, in hindsight, arguably represented the best value of the season.
The five-year-old was always travelling beautifully within herself and it was just a question of what she found when let down by Paul Townend.
We soon had our answer, as Townend asked her to lead after the penultimate flight. In a few strides, Laurina shot clear to take a decent contest going away by 11 lengths.
The ground rode heavy at Tramore and Fairyhouse, that is not an issue, so anything less than a decisive win will be disappointing.
Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae would have been the choice on good ground in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle.
He does, admittedly, have plenty of form on soft ground, including beating the now disappointing Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last time.
But Supasundae has never won beyond two miles and five furlongs and stamina doubts force us to reluctantly look elsewhere.
The nod falls on the Jedd O’Keeffe-trained Sam Spinner, who goes from strength to strength and is likely to relish every yard of the punishing three miles.
Second on his seasonal debut at Chepstow, he subsequently bolted in on heavy ground at Haydock, in a Grade Three.
O’Keeffe then moved him into Grade One company in December at Ascot and he graduated in some style.
Partnered as usual by Joe Colliver, Sam Spinner made every yard of the running to beat L’Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry.
It seems certain Colliver will adopt the same tactics now and chances are that whatever beats Sam Spinner will win!
2.50 - Un De Sceaux
3.30 - Sam Spinner
4.50 - Laurina
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