There are just three and a half weeks to go to the Cheltenham Festival and all the horses are in full work, writes Ruby Walsh.
The screw is starting to be turned and, with what we’ve been through with so many already this season, I hope the wheels don’t fall off any more.
One of our Cheltenham hopefuls, Limini, who won last year’s Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Festival, was entered this weekend but wasn’t declared. She could, instead, run against Apple’s Jade next Wednesday at Punchestown. What a highlight for midweek race-goers that would be.
She’s in good nick, seems well in herself, and fingers crossed they will both turn up next Wednesday, and we’ll see where we stand with Limini. It’s midterm next week, so any parents looking for something to do to entertain their kids, could do a lot worse than turn up at Punchestown, or Thurles on Thursday, where the Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle is the highlight, and always a great race.
Back to this afternoon, at Gowran Park, where I have three rides, the first of which is Bachasson in the beginners’ chase. His last run, at Punchestown, was a step forward from his first run over fences, at Thurles, but the concern with him would be very testing ground, which we’re likely to have today.
He was just in front of Mall Dini last time, when they were second and third respectively behind Edwulf, and a reproduction of that effort would put him bang there.
I thought General Principle was travelling well enough when falling at the third-last at this track on Thyestes day, while Jett’s runner-up finish behind Yorkhill is the best chase form in the race, though he might also want better ground.
For a beginners’ chase in February there’s plenty of strength in it, but hopefully Bachasson can improve from his run at Punchestown and, provided he doesn’t get bogged down in the ground, should go very close.
Ballycasey, in the Red Mills Chase, looks to be my best chance of the weekend. He ran a blinder in last year’s Thyestes Chase, on testing ground. He jumped and travelled, and led the field into the straight before probably not staying, and ran a similar race in the Kerry National, also on testing ground.
Today’s trip should be ideal but I have it in the back of my mind that he ran a shocker in this race last year, when a modest third, of four runners, behind Smashing.
He never looked like getting involved in that race, but, he seems to be in good form at home. He’s coming off the back of a decent run in Navan, and won at this track before that. He seems fresh and well, and ratings suggest he should collect. I just hope he doesn’t repeat last year’s effort.
I’m on Dandy Mag in the maiden, and he’s a handy little horse which has schooled well at home. Again, the one concern would be the conditions, as he may not have the size and scope for this sort of ground. We are happy with him, though, and he must have a decent chance.
Willie runs Blixt in the bumper. The other half-sister to Hurricane Fly which we had didn’t manage to win a bumper, but we’d be hopeful this filly can do so. She hasn’t set the place alight with her homework, but we expect her to be a good bit better on the track than at home, and she should run a good race.
Over in Ascot this afternoon, Cue Card is on a little bit of a recovery mission as I felt he was tame enough in the King George - he wasn’t the Cue Card we’ve seen numerous times in the past. Connections have taken him out of the Ryanair Chase, and nailed their colours to the Gold Cup mast, and if he’s going to be competitive in that race, against his stablemates, Thistlecrack and Native River, he will have to win, and win well today.
It’ll be interesting to see how Taquin De Seuil runs against him, to give the Irish horses some line on where they stand in the Gold Cup. He ran in the Lexus, where he was beaten 11 lengths, but the ground was probably a bit dry for him at Leopardstown. If we’re going to have any hopes of an Irish horse winning the Gold Cup, he must get pretty close to Cue Card.
I’ll be in Navan for two rides tomorrow, the first of which is Renneti in the Boyne Hurdle. I had the choice of him or Thomas Hobson, but both will struggle to beat Sutton Place. They’ll both like the testing conditions, but, being rated in the mid-to-high 140s, they’re in no-man’s land: they’d be carrying top weight in handicaps, and not high-enough rated to be fancied strongly in these conditions races.
Renneti behaved himself the last day, and ran a really good race when second to Jezki and just in front of Tombstone. That was over two miles, and I think the step up in trip will suit him, and I’d be hoping he could give Sutton Place something to think about.
Haymount was pretty disappointing the last day in Naas, behind Anibale Fly, and faces a stiff enough task to reverse the form in the Ten Up Novice Chase. He is rated a couple of pounds higher than Bellow Mome, and that’s why I’ve gone with him, but, again, both face a stiff task to beat Anibale Fly.
Acapella Bourgeois and Velocity Boy both like to be handy, which should ensure it will be a good test, but I thought Anibale Fly was a good winner in Naas the last day, and I think he will collect again.
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