This week the entries for Leopardstown at Christmas were unveiled and one of the more interesting races promise to be the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase on St Stephen’s Day.
It is a contest that has attracted 31 possibilities, but even from this range most punters will already have it narrowed down to just two, Identity Thief and Min.
We really need them to meet, barring injury there seems no good reason why they won’t, and it will very much reveal which one of ours has the best chance of beating current Cheltenham Arkle favourite, Altior.
Nicky Henderson’s charge has hardly broken sweat to land his two races over fences and is a major recruit to that game.
As long as he took to fences it was always on the cards, considering he slammed Min by seven lengths in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Remember all the Min-mania, inspired by bookmakers’ PR merchants, on the lead-in to the festival, with the best comment of all that punters would be running out of safe places to put their Min ante-post dockets.
Indeed, in the middle of January the best price you could get about Willie Mullins’ inmate was 6-4, with some two months to run to Cheltenham. He was, of course, returned at 15-8 on the day.
Min went to Cheltenham on the back of two bloodless successes in Ireland and it was no great surprise that he was badly found out when it really mattered.
To my eyes, he curled up when challenged by Altior and there didn’t appear to be any real reason to think might take particularly high order over fences.
I’ve changed my mind, having watched him make his debut in a beginners’ chase at Navan last month.
This contest had been won in brilliant style the previous two years by Mullins’ Douvan and Vautour and was the precursor to much better down the road for both.
I thought Min was as impressive as them, making all the running and jumping superbly to score by ten lengths with any amount in hand.
When he was running over flights, Min was a bit of a tearaway, but shaped as far more amenable when faced with larger obstacles. I simply felt he was working with Ruby Walsh, rather than trying to fight him.
Identity Thief was a better hurdler than Min and is now two from two over fences. But I believe Min will have the legs on him at Leopardstown and, if that’s the case, the hope is the hype will at least be kept to an acceptable level.
AT the moment, Willie Mullins is having his share of winners, but you would have to say things are not going anywhere near as smoothly as he would wish.
For instance, one wonders what is the state of play when it comes to Faugheen and Annie Power? I know their owner, Rich Ricci, was on At The Races last weekend reassuring everyone that all was essentially fine with the pair, bur the rumours do persist.
They have been, as expected, entered in the Grade 1 Ryanair hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, but if either Vroum Vroum Mag or Nichols Canyon are asked by Mullins to turn up instead then the rumour mill is likely to hit over-drive.
While on the subject of Vroum Vroum Mag there is no getting away from the fact that she was rather disappointing in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last Sunday.
The word regarding her homework was positive and she was basically backed as if defeat was out of the question.
But to fail to cope with the three years younger Apple’s Jade, even if only by a short head, was a fair way removed from what was anticipated.
She was unbeaten in ten races for Mullins prior to Sunday and I had a look back at them all earlier in the week.
Hindsight is wonderful, but I have a feeling most of us were guilty of simply over-rating her.
She was beautifully placed by Mullins, over fences and hurdles, and though clearly a serious mare may well be found wanting at the highest level.
THE Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse last Sunday, won by Joseph O’Brien’s Landofhopeandglory, looked sure to tell us who the best three-year-old in Ireland was and, perhaps, it did just that.
But I’m not so sure. There just wasn’t enough pace through the contest for it to be a definitive test and it might pay to keep an open mind.
Willie Mullins’ French-import import, Bapaume, ran a cracker from the front to take second and being none too clever at the last was no help.
And I wouldn’t write off the third either, Gordon Elliott’s Mega Fortune.
He seemed to be caught flat-footed when the tempo was raised early in the straight, but was going on powerfully at the end. A stronger gallop, and maybe a softer surface, could see him in a far more favourable light!
LAST Wednesday week the Racing Post carried a story that took a bit of swallowing about the supposed gamble on Willie Mullins’ Douvan for the upcoming Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on the Saturday, despite the fact Mullins categorically stated no decision had been made as to whether that horse or Un De Sceaux would do duty for the stable. He finally decided on Un De Sceaux and we all know how that worked out.
According to Boylesports spokesman, Leon Blanche, all the “right faces’’ were anxious to be on Douvan and they took good money on him.
That Wednesday night a punter requested €50 each-way a horse called Big Ben for the Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse the following Sunday at 12-1 from Boylesports . They offered him €2.60 each-way.
He politely declined, while struggling to keep in the laughing.
The horse didn’t meet the engagement and had the punter been facilitated would have lost his hundred quid.
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