There’s a real hint of the Christmas blues about Irish racing this weekend, with small fields essentially the order of the day at both Cork this afternoon and Naas tomorrow.
The huge amount of racing of late has certainly hit Cork, which often accommodates buckets of runners.
I will be at Cork for just two rides, starting with Valyssa Monterg in the first, a rated novice hurdle.
I could have gone with Willie Mullins’ other candidate, Bosman Rule, but he is struggling for some form and it was an easy choice.
Valyssa Monterg, an ex-French mare, disappointed us on her debut in this country at Thurles, when I probably gave her too much to do anyway.
She came on for that to win at Tramore for me and, we think, has gone forward again. But, despite there being only six runners, it looks tricky and she will have to have improved to win.
My other mount is Urano in the beginners chase. This will be his initial outing over fences and his first for 247 days.
That said I will be disappointed if he doesn’t at least go close, on the basis his hurdle rating more than entitles him to be competitive.
The two and a half mile trip will suit, he is in good form at home and has schooled really well.
Tomorrow, I make the short journey to Naas for four rides, with Blood Cotil getting the show on the road in a two-mile novice chase.
He was second to Wounded Warrior last time and I felt, heading to the track, that the two and a half miles was what he wanted.
But Gigginstown had Empire Of Dirt and Wounded Warrior in that race and the first named made it a true test of stamina.
The way the race panned out suited Wounded Warrior and he was far too strong for Blood Cotil in the closing stages.
Prior to that, also at Navan, my lad was second to Gilgamboa and the form looks all the better now, considering the manner in which Gilgamboa subsequently won at Limerick.
That particular Navan contest was run over two miles, the same as tomorrow’s race, and I am now more inclined to the view that it is Blood Cotil’s trip.
The feature event is a Grade 1 novice hurdle and this should be very informative. Willie runs three Gigginstown horses and, with Bryan Cooper picking Tell Us More, I’m on Killer Crow.
My fellow ran poorly enough at Roscommon, but was back on song when winning at Naas. This, however, is a big step up for him.
I’m hoping for the best with Killer Crow, but if I had the choice would be aboard Tell Us More as well.
Basically, Tell Us More is just a good horse and definitely one of the best novice hurdlers in Willie’s yard.
It will be interesting to see him taking on Gordon Elliott’s Free Expression, who is clearly useful and arrives on the back of winning at Naas and Navan. I have to be with Tell Us More.
I team up with an old friend, Sir Harry Cash, for Eric McNamara in a handicap chase. I’ve won twice on the horse, over fences here and hurdles at Limerick.
He ran well enough when fourth to Page Turner at Limerick on his latest appearance, although that will only be eight days ago.
But at Punchestown on Wednesday, Michael Hourigan’s The Job Is Right, a creditable fourth in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown only four days earlier, came out and beat one of Willie’s, As De Ferbet, so it can be done.
I get the leg up on Florishwells d’Ete in the beginners chase for mares, with Tony McCoy taking the ride on J P McManus’ other runner, Whatwillwecallher.
I give Florishwells d’Ete a really good chance, She might have only managed a remote fifth behind Clarcam at Navan, but jumped nicely and will be a lot fitter now.
I was obviously thrilled with Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown and people should not underestimate how close to disaster he was when jumping that shadow at the first.
To my mind he realised he wasn’t going to make it to the back of the flight and actually took off again in mid air.
As a result, it was far from his best jumping display and it took him a while to find a real rhythm.
I was delighted with the reception we got and, you’d image, the Irish Champion Hurdle, back at Leopardstown, will be the next target for the Hurricane.
I was equally pleased with the display produced by Faugheen at Kempton. This is a horse with a lot of pace and a good turn of foot.
I was quite prepared to make the running, but that wasn’t necessary and so was more than happy to take a lead.
I accept full responsibility for the mistake he made at the last. At that stage the name of the game was getting to the other side, with the race won.
If Faugheen had thrown a spectacular leap, it would have made for a great picture. But, if he had fallen, then no one would have been paid.
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