Willie Mullins’ decision not to send any horses to England means it’s a weekend at home for me, at Naas today and Fairyhouse tomorrow.
There’s an old saying that a good start is half the battle and I hope to give punters a flyer by taking the first at Naas, a maiden hurdle, on Ivan Grozny.
Successful twice on the flat in France, he made a fine start in this country at Leopardstown at Christmas.
I rode him that day and we just got chinned close home by Plinth and Tony McCoy. My lad was a bit deliberate in his jumping down the back, but pinged the last and then we looked to have it in the bag.
Plinth seemed to have our measure going to the flight, but wasn’t clever at all. He rallied back, however, and managed to grab us.
Anyway, it was a good first run over jumps by Ivan Grozny and he’s been in fine form at home in the meantime.
I’d say he will definitely improve for better ground, but still have to be reasonably optimistic will take this.
Willie runs two in a Grade 3 hurdle and I’ve gone with Upsie, in preference to Mourad. The latter returned with a modest sixth behind Boston Bob at Punchestown and would need to improve.
That said, Upsie was disappointing at Leopardstown when only fourth behind Theatre Bird. She stopped to a walk in the straight, so let’s hope can leave that behind.
Tony Martin has booked me for Captain Hox in a maiden hurdle. He thinks he has a good chance, but his form seems moderate, although it does look a bad race for Naas on a Saturday.
At Fairyhouse tomorrow the plan will be the same as today, to get away to the perfect start by winning the first, another maiden hurdle, on Daneking.
He’s certainly not one of Willie’s stars, but shapes as if more than good enough to take a contest of this nature.
Daneking ran a fine race at Leopardstown, third to Western Boy and Kylestyle, and the form could not be working out any better.
Western Boy went on to run Vautour to three parts of a length at Punchestown last Saturday, while Kylestyle bolted in at Thurles on Thursday.
Willie has two in the Grade 3 hurdle for mares and I’ve gone with Vicky de L’Oasis, in front of Gitane du Berlais.
I rode Vicky at Newbury last time and she performed way below expectations in finishing a well beaten third.
I can offer no explanation for such a poor effort, but think she is far better than that and, hopefully, will prove it now.
Gitane Du Berlais won by eight lengths at Aintree for Paul Townend and, realistically, there is little or nothing between the pair. Gitane, however, is only a four-year-old and it is always hard for horses of that age at this time of the year.
I’m on Turban, ahead of Cadspeed, in a handicap chase. Turban was beaten over hurdles by Waaheb at Cork, but is a good jumper and returning to fences won’t do him any harm. A strongly run race is what he wants and is likely to get that.
Cadspeed is out of the handicap, which is unfortunate, because he ran really well at Navan on his latest appearance.
I ride Fernhurst Lad for Tony Martin in another handicap chase. You’d have to say that his prospects aren’t particularly good, having finished a poor ninth at Navan last time.
Tony, however, says he is a big horse, who is hard to get fit, so obviously we are not entirely without hope.
Willie introduces a newcomer, Most Peculiar, in the bumper and he should go well. He has turned a corner since November and appears to be improving all of the time.
I must mention Un De Sceaux, who was again so impressive when winning in a canter at Navan last Sunday. What I love about this horse is the way he behaves in the middle of a race.
He just sustains a relentless gallop and then is able to keep it up it right to the line. Truth to tell, I just don’t have a clue as to how good he is.
How far can he go, I just don’t know. But here’s the thing, I’m of the opinion Un De Sceaux will manage to stay any trip.
Aklan came back from a long break to win a maiden hurdle at Navan. He jumped better as the contest progressed and has a future.
Whether he is good enough for Cheltenham remains to be seen, but I’m sure Willie will give him another outing in the coming weeks and that will reveal a lot more.
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