I was originally due to ride Rubi Ball, who is now out for the season, in the Hennessy at Leopardstown tomorrow and so instead will team up with an old friend, Tidal Bay, for another old friend, Paul Nicholls.
People sometimes ask if I am still on good terms with Paul and the answer is an emphatic yes. I’d say I talk to him maybe a couple of times a month, we achieved a lot together and you don’t forget about that overnight.
It will be just my third ride for Paul since I decided to leave behind the constant grind of travelling over and back to England, and am very much looking forward to it.
Tidal Bay is a grand old warrior and, though now a 13-year-old, there is no evidence is in decline.
He proved that last time with a cracking effort when third in the Welsh National at Chepstow, conceding the first two home no less than 26lbs.
The more rain that falls the better for him. He jumps fine, although has his own way of doing things in that department.
I’m obviously hoping he can repeat last year’s last-gasp success in this race, but it does look wide open.
I believe six of the seven runners can win and the only surprise, at least as far as I’m concerned, would be if Roi Du Mee proved good enough.
First Lieutenant is probably the form horse, on his second to Bobs Worth in the Lexus, while Last Instalment made a fine return at Thurles.
Dessie Hughes, not given to blowing his own trumpet too loud, has been making positive noises regarding Lyreen Legend and that has to be a consideration as well.
I begin my day on Ivan Gozny, who puts his Triumph Hurdle credentials on the line in the opener.
Aidan O’Brien’s Plinth beat us a head at Leopardstown at Christmas and, realistically, you would think they are the big two again.
Ivan Grozny went on to score by 12 lengths at Naas and I was impressed, although mindful of the fact the form hasn’t been working out.
My worry with this fellow is that he has a lot of speed and have no doubt will be far better when meeting good ground.
I’d say he has continued to improve, however, but I’m sure Plinth will have come on plenty as well for his first run over flights.
Willie Mullins has decided to take on The Tullow Tank with Vautour in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
I was a little disappointed with Vautour when he won for Paul Townend at Punchestown.
He only beat Western Boy by three parts of a length, but may have been taking on a really good horse and the inside track was no help to him.
Look, there is no point dressing it up, I would have loved to see Vautour kicking 15 lengths clear, but it wasn’t to be.
Is he good enough to beat The Tullow Tank, I just don’t know. I mean that horse is already twice a Grade 1 winner and if we had him at Closutton would be heading to Leopardstown with our chests out. At worst, I think Vautour will rattle him, all the same.
Willie decided yesterday morning not to run Champagne Fever in the Moriarty Chase and to go with Ballycasey.
There are only three runners now, but this is a cracking contest and the tactics are going to be interesting.
I’d imagine one horse who won’t make it anyway is Carlingford Lough, so it will be left to myself and Bryan Cooper, on Don Cossack.
Ballycasey lacks the experience of the other two, but I’m still anticipating a big performance.
He gave himself a bit of a knock when winning over two miles and a furlong on his debut over fences at Navan, but is back in good shape.
Ballycasey scored by eight lengths that day, over a trip that was way too short.
He is taking high order in the betting for Cheltenham, more on reputation than anything else, but think will give his prospects a decent boost.
My only other ride is High Importance for Tony Martin in a handicap hurdle. All I’ll say is that if he couldn’t win at Tipperary in the summer, it is hard enough to envisage him doing the business at Leopardstown on Hennessy day.
I head to Naas today for two rides, Tarla and Abbey Lane, and they both have solid claims. Tarla goes in a mares’ chase, her first outing since winning at Limerick 265 days ago. She is very good when on song, although a drier surface would be more in her favour. I know she’s been absent for a while, but has been around Willie’s for a long time, so fitness should not be a problem.
Robert Tyner’s Byerley Babe is the danger and she is certainly race-fit, having produced a fine effort at Thurles on her latest appearance.
The handicapper says Tarla has 8lbs in hand of Byerley Babe and I hope he’s right and that will swing things in my favour.
Abbey Lane runs in a beginners chase, on the back of taking a fall at Limerick at Christmas. That surprised us, because he is a very good jumper and has schooled well in the meantime.
My minor concern is that two miles may just be on the short side. I know he had the speed to win the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown last season, so is clearly not slow and I do think he will win.
The bumper is fascinating, with Willie running Milsean and Gordon Elliott, No More Heroes, both owned by Gigginstown and two highly promising youngsters.
Milsean is a horse with loads of bone and, while I’m sure will win races over hurdles, is a pure chaser in the making.
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