Martin Malone

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Month: January 2018

It’s the best time of the year

Six weeks today is the first day of the Cheltenham Festival and things are shaping up nicely. I’m looking forward to settling down and watching Racing UK’s Half Term Report later this evening but, before that, my attention is all on the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival which effectively gathers a few of the prep races and adds a few to create a bonanza of top racing including Cheltenham auditions. However, with 1.5 million euros in prize money over two days at Leopardstown, this stands in its own right as the fourth major NH festival of the season and I’m sure it will be immediately established as one of the highlights of the year.

I’m delighted to say that the flights, accommodation and tickets are booked and I can’t wait. So here is a quick glance over the entries. I’m not up to speed with trainer plans but Willie Mullins has been clear that he is a big supporter of the initiative and, for once, we’ll know about his plans for Cheltenham with several of his key players needing to prove themselves.

At this stage we just have the entries but let’s take them at face value and make a start on a shortlist.

Saturday

1.10 Lacy & Partners Novices’ Hurdle 2m 6f (Grade 1)

There is every chance that the star of the weekend will make his bow in the shape of Samcro***** (1/2). I haven’t heard a bad word about him and many see him as the Cheltenham banker. There is no serious opposition and this should be a penalty kick.

1.45 Dublin Steeplechase 2m 1f (Grade 2)

This is a three way call between Min (9/4), Yorkhill (5/4) and Simply Ned (6/1). Min was rightly disqualified in his last outing, with Simply Ned being awarded the race. The point is that Min was too keen early on and therefore flat out up the home straight and that’s what caused the DQ. Simply Ned is a proper candidate for this one. The question is how Yorkhill will perform over a little over two miles. 8/12 over 3 miles in that strange Leopardstown Christmas Chase (formerly the Lexus) and beaten by Road to Respect at Fairyhouse over 2m 4f, he beat Top Notch over the same distance in the JLT at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. He’s headstrong but then so was Un de Sceaux over varying distances before settling over 2m to 2m 4f and maybe this one will follow. I’m going to disregard Min’s last performance but, even so, my choice is Yorkhill** to set himself up nicely for a crack at the Ryanair (yes, the Ryanair, here I am going again for a less obvious Cheltenham race selection!).  Closutton’s jockey selection will be interesting.

2.20 Frank Ward Irish Arkle Novices’ Chase 2m 1f (Grade 1)

For me, this is the race of the meeting and features my current favourite horse of the season (ahead even of Samcro) in the shape of Footpad***** (8/13). I’ve sung his praises in previous posts and I think that he’s the best new chaser of at least this season and possibly several. His jumping is foot perfect and he’s got a decent turn of foot to boot. I really believe that he’s a star champion chaser in the making. Petit Mouchoir (another favourite of mine) provides the main opposition but I’ll be amazed if Footpad doesn’t take this one.

2.55 Coral Sandyford Handicap Chase 2m 1f (Grade B)

With 29 entries and 8/1 the field it’s too early to take a view on this one.

3.30 Irish Champion Hurdle 2m (Grade 1)

Well, this is the dilemma of the weekend. It’s all about Faugheen* (13/8). You have to take a view and no-one including WP (I genuinely believe that) knows. The hard headed view is that if a horse flops after a long injury absence he probably won’t bounce back and I have to approach the race on that basis. I could be completely wrong but, at best, I think that he won’t be the same Faugheen and could struggle to win this. I must therefore look elsewhere and I certainly won’t be with Defi du Seuil who is following the well worn path of a juvenile struggling in his next season. Melon, on the other hand and a 7-y-o, looks like a developing horse and is a serious candidate but, for value, I’ll be having a little wager on Mick Jazz* at an appealing 8/1 to follow up on his win in the Christmas meeting’s 2m highlight in which Faugheen was pulled up. Horses can’t talk and there was a reason why the machine flopped which, by all accounts, has not been identified let alone dealt with.

4.05 Coral Hurdle 2m (Grade B)

37 entries and another to watch for declarations and market moves. Having seen the entries I might well wait until shortly before the race and watch the market moves. If I’ve had a few drinks in the 1888 Restaurant I’ll probably support Ivanovich Gorbatov into another hole. He’s my Irish equivalent of Singlefarmpayment for others!

4.40 Goffs Future Stars Bumper 2m (Grade 2)

I tend to avoid bumpers because you have to be a serious aficionado to sort them out (and to be honest I don’t have the time). I was a little thrown by this one because it wasn’t listed in the Racing Post cards but now it’s here let’s take a look. WP has three, GE has four, JP O’B has two and Jessica has one, unraced, but another Sizing horse in the shape of Sizing Pottsie (what an odd name). Rhinestone (by Montjeu) is a former Magnier horse with AP, now with JP, and has beaten nine opponents on heavy in a minor event at Thurles last month. Carefully Selected (by Well Chosen) won on soft for WP at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting at 3/1JF and could be decent. Empire Burleque (by Cape Cross) beat a WP/Ricci favourite on heavy last February. Noel Meade’s Village Mystic has not been seen since January 16 and, before that, February 2015 and is therefore disregarded. Blackbow* (by Stowaway) won a decent bumper at Leopardstown, is with WP, and looks to me the selection as matters stand. As with an earlier race, jockey selection will be informative and I would like to see Patrick Mullins on this one.

 

Sunday early views will follow tomorrow evening.

WP stable tour – 15 January 2018

Here’s is some excellent insight into Willie Mullins’ plans for the Dublin Racing Festival and beyond:

http://www.attheraces.com/stable-tours/willie-mullins

 

Cheltenham Festival first thoughts

Now that most bookies are non runner no bet (NRNB – make sure you have that if you’re betting) and some of the entries are in, it’s time to take a look at how the land lies for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Regular readers will know that I often reserve my bets until race day, particularly when it comes to short price favourites but we need to start somewhere.

I highly recommend Lydia Hislop’s “Road to Cheltenham” which is now well established as the authoritative guide to the National Hunt Olympics. There’s no need to pay for desktop readers of the form when this is free, very well-informed and, self-evidently, a journalistic tour de force.

I’m astonished that Shantou Flyer (100/1) has been entered for the Gold Cup. Good luck to my former CLB partner Carl Hinchy. This has to be the definition of keeping the faith!

This season has been, even more than usual, one which has been characterised by the failures of big names. It started with Our Duke at Down Royal and has continued unabated, reaching its zenith (to date) at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. Many of the Irish trainers have pinpointed the new Dublin Racing Festival on 3 and 4 February as their target for collective redemptions and I’ll be there to see how it plays out. As you’ll gather from the early selections made below I have serious reservations about most of them and I’m more interested in seeing a few newcomers stamping their credentials (a good reason for looking at the markets now).

My shortlist is fairly easy, comprising horses that have obvious top level ability and they are:

Footpad (7/4 – Arkle)

I am a francophile (if you haven’t been racing at Pompadour you need to put it in your bucket list!). The Munir/Souede buying policy has borne fruit well and truly this season and their interest in French racing has, in my humble view, never been better deployed than giving this one regular returns to his hurdles (small fences) debut at Auteuil. It’s made him one of the most natural jumpers I’ve seen in a long time and he’s got loads of speed as well as winning form over 2m 3 1/2f. The perfect profile.

Buveur d’Air (4/6 – Champion Hurdle)

His only serious opponent would have been Faugheen but, even if WP’s successor to Hurricane Fly makes it to the Dublin Racing Festival and wins, he’s 10 and, for me, would still be under a cloud. Apart from him, Buveur leads the market at 8/1 bar and that’s a fair measure.

Samcro (2/1 – Ballymore Hurdle)

You have to assume that this is where he will run, which is a fairly safe bet in itself (I expect that Next Destination will turn up in the Albert Bartlett). Some people knock maiden hurdles form in Ireland but, although this one brings a vastly superior and unbeaten record to the table, I have to remember (you’ll have to indulge me here) the progress of Quatre Heures (a horse in which I was lucky enough to have an interest about 10 years ago). QH progressed nicely, via Leopardstown, Naas and Navan. Although Cheltenham didn’t suit him in the Supreme, he went on to win a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival. What marked him out as a contender was his 5th of 20 in a similar race to Samcro’s first outing over hurdles (a low level maiden at Punchestown last October). He’s gone on to win the Grade 3 Monkstown at Navan and it’s his dominant running style that really appeals, more than the margins of victory. I think that this 6-y-o might turn out to be a genuine star.

Apples Shakira (4/1 – Triumph Hurdle)

This one could not have been more impressive in her two outings this season. Obviously, like others, I’m taken with the fact that she’s a sibling of Apples Jade but, putting that aside, her wins at Cheltenham suggest that she really is a class apart. The obvious question is how she might perform in a big field but I’m happy to take the view that, subject to any late winter/early spring springers, she’ll dominate the 2014/2018 4-y-o crop.

As always, don’t follow me blind because I’ve no doubt that I’ll have dozens of changes of mind (well, that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?) and, above all, good luck!!

Tuesday 13 March

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Espoir d’Allen (8/1)

Arkle Novices’ Chase

Footpad (7/4)

Ultima Handicap Chase

No bet yet

Champion Hurdle

Buveur d’Air (4/6)

Mares’ Hurdle

Apples Jade (8/11)

National Hunt Chase

Black Corton (20/1)

Close Brothers Chase

No bet yet

Wednesday 14 March

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Samcro (9/4)

Coral Cup

No bet yet

RSA Chase

Presenting Percy (7/1)

Champion Chase

Altior (11/8)

Cross Country

Cause of Causes (4/1)

Fred Winter

No bet yet

Champion Bumper

No bet yet

Thursday 15 March

JLT Novices’ Chase

Brain Power (16/1)

Pertemps Final

No bet yet

Ryanair Chase

Un de Sceaux (9/2)

Stayers’ Hurdle

Sam Spinner (4/1)

Brown Advisory Plate

Clan des Obeaux (16/1)

Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Countister (12/1)

Kim Muir Chase

No bet yet

Friday 16 March

Triumph Hurdle

Apples Shakira (4/1)

County Hurdle

No bet yet

Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Next Destination (8/1)

Gold Cup

Coney Island (11/1)

Foxhunters’ Chase

Caid du Berlais (14/1)

Martin Pipe Hurdle

No bet yet

Grand Annual

Copaine de Classe (25/1)

 

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