So much racing to busy ourselves with on St Stephen’s Day, and, at Leopardstown, Castello Sforza gets the nap to step up on his promising hurdling debut.
A classy sort in bumpers, he made a winning start on the racecourse when beating Sunni May in April of last year, and was then thrown straight in at the deep end for his next start, at the 2016 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. Despite the absence, he ran a superb race to finish fourth, beaten just three lengths behind Ballyandy.
Off another long break, he made his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse and, while his jumping wasn’t up to scratch, he finished a close third behind Runfordave. He should show improvement in that department, granted that experience, and can account for some useful rivals here, though smart flat horse Felix Mendelssohn may be the one to give him most to think about.
Point to point winner Midnight Escape made a promising racecourse debut when third behind Brelade in a decent maiden hurdle, and he gets the nod in the bumper. Starting off over timber and then running in bumpers is a ploy his trainer, Gordon Elliott, has successfully employed with plenty of good horses in the past.
Quite how good this fellow is remains to be seen, but he looked potentially useful last time, and can take this at the expense of interesting newcomer Fly Rory Fly.
In the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle unbeaten hurdler Landofhopeandglory can extend his winning sequence to four by confirming recent form with Bapaume and Mega Fortune. The three look to be above-average and it’s possible to make a case for each, but the selection seemed to take a significant step forward last time, and is likely to improve further.
If the ground turns soft, Mega Fortune could be a danger, and a fast pace would also help bring out the best in him. He and Bapaume must be respected, but there could be no question of Landofhopeandglory’s attitude last time, and he sets a high standard.
In Down Royal, Burgas can get punters off to a flyer by taking the beginners’ chase for Noel Meade. A smart sort over hurdles, he made his chasing debut over a trip which was short of his best, and ran very well in the circumstances. He tried to match strides with long odds-on favourite Yorkhill but the effort told late on as he was readily outpaced by the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner.
While this is a decent race, in which Art Of Payroll sets the standard, the step up to two and a half miles ought to bring out improvement in the selection, and he can take this under Ger Fox.
At the same track, Blairs Cove can take the bumper in the hands of Katie Walsh. Fifth and then third behind subsequent maiden hurdle winners on his two starts in bumper, the four-year-old comes here off a break but a similar showing may be good enough to make it third time lucky. Likely favourite Broken Soul has all but broken his supporters’ hearts, and is opposable once more.
At Limerick, it’s hard to look beyond Bellshill in the Grade 2 Shannon Airport Novice Chase. A classy novice hurdler, he looked good on his debut over fences and can use this race as a stepping stone to better things.
Diamond King was disappointing last time, albeit in a Grade 1, while Haymount may have been impressive on his chasing debut but his disappointments over hurdles are not erased by one performance. It’s quite possible he is just a much better chaser than he was a hurdler, but he requires a career-best effort to beat today’s rivals.
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