Well-treated Blazer could be tailor-made for Newbury's Betfair Hurdle

Connections of heavily-backed favourite Blazer are taking nothing for granted as the recent Leopardstown scorer bids to follow-up in today’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Well-treated Blazer could be tailor-made for Newbury's Betfair Hurdle

The Willie Mullins-trained French recruit was bought as a prospective chaser at the start of the season, but following a short-priced defeat at Punchestown and a fairly abysmal showing at Leopardstown over Christmas, there has been a change of approach since the turn of the year.

Switched back to the smaller obstacles on his return to Foxrock last weekend, the five-year-old carried the colours of leading owner JP McManus to an emphatic success and with Blazer well-treated at the weights, connections have been tempted into running him just seven days later in this lucrative event.

Frank Berry, McManus’ racing manager, said: “He was quite impressive at Leopardstown, but that was a much lesser race than the one he’s running in on Saturday.

“Willie is happy with him. It’s not ideal to be running again so quickly, but he gets in with a 5lb penalty and we’ll let him take his chance.

“He wouldn’t normally get in the race with his rating, but quite a few have dropped out, probably because of the ground.”

Blazer would have to carry another 7lb were he to run off his revised mark, but the Irish champion trainer’s son and assistant, Patrick Mullins, feels it is not as straightforward as the ratings might suggest.

“Blazer was excellent in Leopardstown and won very well. It’s coming back quick, which isn’t ideal,” said Mullins.

“I know Clondaw Warrior won on the Flat in the summer (of 2014) off a mark of 52 and got beaten with a 5lb penalty later in the week. He’s now rated over 100, so it’s not quite as simple as being well-in and it’s going to be difficult for him to travel to England as well.

“But he definitely looks well handicapped off the mark he’s on, it’s a huge prize - it’s the richest handicap hurdle in Europe - so he probably has to take his chance.”

Blazer is one of five runners for the Mullins team, with Dicosimo, Kalkir, Ivan Grozny and Buiseness Sivola also travelling from County Carlow.

Kalkir was runner-up in the similarly competitive Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, while Dicosimo bolted up in a Listed event at Limerick over Christmas.

Mullins said: “Jacques Ricou gave Kalkir a fantastic ride in Leopardstown. The winner (Henry Higgins) won very easy, but I think he should be able to come on from it.

“He’s a five-year-old and it’s a difficult year for horses, coming out of the juvenile ranks, but we know now he handles big-field handicaps, so he has to have a big chance.

“Dicosimo is a big, tall, leggy, quite narrow horse. He’ll make a fine chaser next year, I think.

“He deserves his chance, but I think with the weight he’s carrying and being a five-year-old, it will take a big performance for him to win.”

McManus also has a formidable hand, with retained rider Barry Geraghty siding with Blazer over another major contender for the owner in the form of the Paul Nicholls-trained Modus.

Noel Meade’s Waxies Dargle and Jonjo O’Neill’s pair of Champagne At Tara and Matorico also carry the famous green and gold silks.

Berry said: “Paul is very happy with the other horse (Modus), but he would probably prefer better ground, which is why Barry has decided to ride Blazer, I think.

“He’s got in the race and there isn’t a lot else for him, so it will be interesting to see how he copes with it.

“The others probably deserve to be the prices they are. We’re claiming a bit of weight off Waxies Dargle to try to help him.

“You’re always hoping they come back into a bit of form and it’s nice to have a few runners in a race like this.”

Modus won his first two starts over hurdles before being beaten into third when bidding to complete the hat-trick at Taunton in late December. Nicholls said: “Modus has been one of the favourites for the Betfair Hurdle for a while. He was a good bumper horse - second in last year’s Champion Bumper and third at Punchestown.

“We bought him in the summer and sold him to JP. He won at Taunton first time out and then he won at Newbury, beating Charmix who won by 17 lengths next time. Last time, he was third over Christmas but the ground at Taunton that day got heavier, heavier and heavier - basically it was unraceable.

“He was very keen to start with but has settled now. He always loved his jumping, is a much more mature horse now and is getting better all the time. We like him a lot.

“The Betfair Hurdle is a good race for a novice as hopefully you might be well handicapped, but in a year’s time you might not be.

“Whatever he does on Saturday, I think he will be better on some better ground later on.”

Philip Hobbs fires three bullets, with top-weight Cheltenian joined by Sternrubin, a winner on his last three starts and War Sound, who has been off the track since scoring at Haydock last May. The latter could earn himself a tilt at Champion Hurdle glory if he can make a successful return.

“The ridiculous thing is he (War Sound) is rated 148 and he’s only had five runs in his life, winning three of them,” Hobbs told At The Races.

“If he was to win the Betfair Hurdle very well, then maybe he could take his place in the Champion Hurdle.

“Hopefully he’ll be a top hurdler and chaser. He’s a big strong horse, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t make a nice chaser. The man we bought him off thought he would make a three-mile chaser, but I think he’s quite a nice two-mile hurdler.”

Affaire D’Honneur is a fascinating runner for one of the rising stars of the training ranks in Harry Whittington.

Having shown ability in France, the five-year-old ran a race full of promise when touched off on his British debut at Kempton in December.

Whittington said: “We think there’s quite a bit of improvement there.When he arrived from France he had a temperature and then he developed a skin rash, so it was touch and go whether we’d get him to Kempton or not.

“He came right about 10 days before the race, so we let him take his chance and he ran a cracker, but we felt he was only half the horse he would be a few weeks later.”

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