It’s slim pickings for me at Newbury today with just one ride, Mon Parrain, in a handicap chase.
This time last year I couldn’t wait to partner him in the Topham at Aintree and, of course, he looked all over winner, until we hit the elbow.
Mon Parrain proceeded to die a thousand deaths and left us scratching our heads. Then he went and disappointed on a few occasions subsequently.
He ran well enough on his latest appearance, third to Shakalakaboomboom at Cheltenham in December, and afterwards was operated on for his wind.
I saw him school relatively recently and was struck by how much he seems to have strengthened up. Mon Parrain may have 11-10 to carry now, but we think he is actually well handicapped.
He’s been stopping in his races and the hope is that being done for his wind will have worked the oracle.
I head north tomorrow to Downpatrick for five rides, two for willie Mullins and three for Tony Martin.
Truth to tell you could hardly describe any of them as a stand-out. Sarabad gets the show on the road in a maiden hurdle.
He let us down at Leopardstown and Thurles and his last effort at Thurles can only be described as deplorable.
Sarabad finished tenth that day and unless the far faster ground brings about some dramatic improvement then he is hard to fancy.
Twinlight, in a conditions hurdle, is altogether a smarter horse. He returns to flights, having suffered a bad cut when falling over fences at Thurles in early November.
He has a lot work done, will like the ground and should handle Downpatrick, which is a funny track. My worry, however, is whether he will be quite fit enough against horses who have seen a lot more action of late.
Next is Askmeroe in the three and a half mile Ulster Grand National Handicap Chase. I rode him when he was well beaten at Thurles, but didn’t handle the heavy ground. He will like this ground and it is his time of the year. But I have real doubts about his ability to get the trip. My impression of Askmeroe is that he is a slow two and a half mile horse!
Victrix Gale rounds off a less than inspiring weekend in another handicap chase. She stayed on well enough when fifth at Leopardstown and definitely wants good ground. She has an each-way shout, but is what she is.
I’m looking to Gowran Park today for a badly needed winning nap in the shape of Willie Mullins’ Raise Hell in the bumper.
He’s well named, being a bit of a hell-raiser. An ex-pointer, we thought the five-year-old would win at Navan and couldn’t believe it when he trailed in a poor seventh.
I can’t explain why he performed so poorly, but is working well enough now to tell me I want to be with him.
Loch Ard seems to have come on nicely for his first run for Willie and should prove hard to beat in a maiden hurdle.
Scholars Mate — he’s two from two for Willie — has been off a very long time, 868 days to be precise, but is going well at home and certainly worth a look in a handicap hurdle.
Make a note as well of Laganbank in the novice hurdle, with Fairyhouse and Punchestown in mind. The ground will probably be too testing for him here, but he will take off when meeting a faster surface.
I’m expecting a busy three or four weeks to come, over and back to England. Paul Nicholls is now trailing Nicky Henderson in the trainers’ championship, so I will be doing all I can to help him.
Don’t be overly surprised should I make my way to Exeter on Tuesday and Taunton on Wednesday.
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