It’s the weekend between the Irish Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, but it’s another busy and important one. I have three rides this afternoon at Fairyhouse, but it’s Douvan, in the Tied Cottage Chase tomorrow at Punchestown, who will be focus of most attention.

With Vautour gone, Annie Power out, and Faugheen yet to return, from having a yard of stars, there’s pressure on him now.

But, thankfully, he’s in great order. It’s a Grade 2, so he obviously has the penalties and must concede weight to his three rivals, but on all known form he’s the best horse. He’s in really good form at home, and hopefully this will set him up nicely for the Champion Chase.

It was disappointing last week that Faugheen missed out on the Champion Hurdle, but he seems fine this week. Hopefully he’ll have a clean run at Cheltenham now. He’s going to have to have that because he’ll be going there without a run, and will have to get every bit of work he can take.

Getting back to this afternoon’s action, I start off on Retour En France in a mares’ beginners’ chase. I didn’t shine on her when second in Sligo, as I didn’t make enough use of her and ended up getting beaten in a sprint finish.

She jumped super that day, and hopefully she’ll be as good today. This is probably a better race, but she’s in good order and should run well.

We thought a lot of Pravalaguna before she made her debut at Navan, but we also think a lot of Asthuria, so I don’t know if I’ve made the right decision in the Grade 3 mares’ novice hurdle.

Last week I chose the one with the experience, which was Let’s Dance, and fortunately I got that right, and perhaps I should have done the same this week, and gone with Asthuria. I really don’t know.

They are two good mares, there’s not much between them at home, and a lot will probably depend on jumping. Pravalaguna jumps well, and is in good form, and is probably the quicker mare, while Asthuria is the stronger stayer. It’s a good race, and there’s more than just Willie’s two in it.

Asthuria fell in Thurles in a race which Shattered Love, who also runs in today’s race, ended up winning. Both looked to be travelling well going to the third-last, so it’s hard to say what was going to happen there. I wouldn’t like my decision to put off anybody who thinks Asthuria can win. It’s a tight race, both mares are in good form, and I’m hoping they’ll both go well.

I ride Bleu Berry in the following maiden hurdle. He made his debut over hurdles late last season at Clonmel, but fell at the last when looking beaten. He’s had a long break since, and will have improved for the run. The ground today will be testing enough for him, but he must get started somewhere. I’m hoping he’ll go well, but it’s hard to be confident.

There’s a listed mares’ bumper at the end of the card, and Willie runs two: Miss Sapphire and Redhotfillypeppers. David Dunsdon owns Redhotfillypeppers and hence he’s riding her, so anybody reading into the jockey bookings shouldn’t be. She’s highly regarded, and looked very good when she won at Punchestown. Today’s track and testing ground should suit her, I think she’s a good mare, and might be too good for Miss Sapphire.

Tough decisions about which horses to ride seem to be something of a theme for me at the moment, and I had another one in tomorrow’s opening race at Punchestown, where Willie runs Cilaos Emery and Camelia De Cotte.

Neither could have been more impressive last time. Although it was Tramore, Camelia De Cotte hosed up, and I couldn’t pull her up after the race. But, to be fair to Cilaos Emery, he beat Joey Sasa, who subsequently went to Leopardstown where he won a maiden hurdle, beating subsequent maiden hurdle winner Barra, and he then finished placed behind Let’s Dance in a graded race.

So, bare form suggests Cilaos Emery’s form is stronger than Camelia De Cotte’s, and he has been working well, so I went with him. I think he’s a very good horse.

I’m on The Crafty Butcher in the Pertemps Qualifier. He stayed on strongly on his first run over hurdles for us, and then ran a blinder in the Paddy Power Chase. Three miles, soft ground, a great weight on his back, with just 10-4 – there’s plenty in his favour, and he seems to be in good form. There are probably plenty of dangers in such a competitive handicap hurdle, but the biggest could be his stable-companion, Isleofhopendreams. He ran a blinder in a Pertemps Qualifier at Leopardstown, where he was probably unlucky, as he missed the last. They both have strong chances.

I would probably prefer The Crafty Butcher in a chase as he’s a very good jumper but, unfortunately, jumping won’t be as much of an addition to him in a three-mile hurdle.

The three-and-a-half-mile trip of the Grand National Trial is a big question mark for Sambremont but he’s in brilliant form at home. He didn’t make the cut in the Thyestes, but is in good form and should run a big race – if he stays.

My brother-in-law’s mare, Baie Des Iles, ran well in the Welsh National on her last start, finished second to Bonny Kate in this race last year, has a nice weight here and should go well.

In the bumper, Willie runs Clitandre. He’s a fine, big, staying horse, that goes well enough at home. He wouldn’t be the quickest in the world, but he stays and, as I’ve learnt in the past, they don’t have to be flashy at home to be racehorses.


Keeping to a routine can be difficult for people in quarantine.Life on the inside: 10 ways to start your day right in lockdown

Who needs a gym when you can look in your kitchen cupboards for equipment instead?Don’t have weights for working out? These household objects will do the trick

There are some seriously spectacular shots.Discover America from the air thanks to this breathtaking aerial footage

Dawn Isaac, author of 101 Things for Kids to Do Screen-Free, suggests kids should have designated daily screen-free time, and shares activity ideas.How to get kids off their screens during lockdown

More From The Irish Examiner