It’s here again, and with some unexpected rain before we get going. There was 10-12mm of rain on Sunday evening.

(Credit Turftrax (@TurfTrax))

The going is soft, good to soft in places and the going stick reading on the old course (in use on Tuesday and Wednesday) is 5.6. The reading is taken from at least 30 samples around the course and ranges from 0 (flooded) to 15 (rock hard). It’s worth noting that, for national hunt, the relevant averages are 5.2 (heavy), 6.0 (soft), 6.8 (good to soft) and 7.7 (good). There is therefore a decent cut in the ground, albeit on a very good surface, particularly as a result of the January meetings having been abandoned. The forecast for the week is mostly dry but there’s a 60% chance of rain on Tuesday, 10% on Wednesday, 20% on Thursday and 20% on Friday. We should therefore be looking for horses with form on soft and good to soft and be cautious about horses which appear to prefer good ground.

Tuesday

13:20 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m)

1. Appreciate It (162p) 3112-111 (evens)****

Second in last year’s Champion Bumper, this long-standing favourite is hard to oppose. Won his maiden hurdle on heavy last November and has followed up with Grade 1 wins at the Leopardstown Christmas and Dublin Racing Festival meetings. No obvious drawbacks and should be staying on at the end.

7. Metier (161p) 111 (11/2)**

Was a decent flat horse and is unbeaten over hurdles (heavy, good to soft, soft), most recently winning the Grade 1 Tolworth impressively on 2 January (although not the strongest field).

2. Ballyadam (158) 31-1142 (7/1)**

Beaten comfortably enough by Appreciate It last time out and trainer Henry de Bromhead has acknowledged that he would have to improve significantly to turn the tables on the favourite.

It’s hard to see any of the others taking the honours. Beware of any non-runners for each way purposes because we have the straight eight (5-7 runners first two only/fewer than 5 win only).

13:55 Arkle Novices’ Chase (1m 7f 199y)

I would have backed Energumene had he not been pulled out lame a few days ago.

6. Shishkin (182p) 1/F111-111 (8/15)*****

This horse is now quite simply unopposable and would still be good value at even shorter odds. The others are a clear level lower and many have question marks about them. A champion chaser in the making.

Allmankind (5/1) is a tearaway who frequently disrespects the fences but has speed and stamina. Backing this one will be a heart in the mouth roller coaster ride.

Captain Guinness (8/1) probably has more to offer but has just fallen short at the highest level, including a fall last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Franco De Port (12/1) was 20/1 a few days ago and also has room for improvement. A possible for a place but consider the forecast bearing in mind that there are only 6 runners.

The others have no realistic chance.

14:30 Ultima Handicap Chase (3m 1f)

This is the first real betting option, although Happygolucky is quite short at 7/2. I prefer Aye Right*** (6/1) for small trainer Harriet Graham but with the benefit of Richard Johnson on board. He was third in the Charlie Hall Chase and was an excellent second in the Ladbrokes Trophy (behind current Grand National favourite Cloth Cap), following up with another decent second in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Of the others, Cepage and Ok Corral (both 25/1) both provide decent each way value (first four as long as there are no defectors but look for bookie offers for up to the first six).

15:05 Champion Hurdle (2m 87y)

6. Goshen (174) 111U-01 (5/1)*****

You are either a believer or a non-believer when it comes to this horse and I am in the former category. He was going to be one of the best Triumph winners in many a year at last year’s Festival when unseating in the most unfortunate circumstances after the last. He suffered a fibrillating heart when bombing out in the International Hurdle but was a most taking winner of the Kingwell Hurdle last month. I think that they know how to run him and he’ll either win or be unplaced.

10. Honeysuckle (178) 1111-11 (7/4)****

This mare made it a perfect 10 from 10 when easily winning last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle (for the second time), where she beat Abacadabras, Sharjah and Saldier, none of whom are likely to reverse the form here. Her winning form includes on soft and heavy. She was last year’s winner of the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival but this is by some way her stiffest test yet.

9. Epatante (175+) 9/111-12 (4/1)***

This defending champion would undoubtedly have been a short priced favourite to repeat the feat were it not for a very disappointing run in the Christmas Hurdle. She was headstrong, unsettled, fluffed a number of hurdles and was comprehensively beaten by Silver Streak. She was subsequently reported to have a back problem and must be treated with considerable caution on her first outing since then.

It’s hard to look beyond the first three in the betting, not least because several of them have raced against each other on several occasions. One of note is James Du Berlais (33/1) for Munir/Souede and Willie Mullins who is having his first outing since moving from France, last time out a close send in the Grande Course De Haies Des 4 Ans last November. It’s a tall order but the high level form (12-121212) has to be respected and is perhaps worth a few quid each way.

15:40 Mares’ Hurdle (2m 3f 200y)

Concertista (11/8f) was an easy 12 lengths winner of the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and should win this. However, I’m going to take a chance with Roksana*** (11/4) who is tough and battle-hardened and was fourth in this race last year. Dame De Compagnie set out on a chasing career this season, having won last year’s Coral Cup, beating Black Tears. She may shine back over hurdles but I think that the front two in the market will provide too tough a challenge. Of the remainder, last year’s Martin Pipe winner Indefatigable could provide a bit of each way value at 25/1.

16:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2m 87y)

Current favourite Houx Gris (9/2) was a €200,000 purchase for the current owners, having beaten Homme Public (14/1) at Auteuil. However, a 22 1/2l third behind Adagio and Nassalam in the Finale at Chepstow was not the most auspicious UK debut and I prefer Saint Sam*** (11/2) for Mullins/Townend, after his impressive second to Quilixios in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile on soft to heavy at the Dublin Racing Festival. This one could easily have taken his chance in the Triumph but must carry 11st 8lbs. Of the others Homme Public is attractive for a place at 14/1.

16:50 National Hunt Chase (3m 5f 201y)

As you may have seen, I was all over Royale Pagaille for this race at 2/1 until connections made the courageous decision to declare him for the Gold Cup, in which he is a current 8/1 chance.

As soon as Paul Nicholls saw that Royale Pagaille was a defector, he opted for this race for Next Destination (5/2f) in place of the Brown Advisory (formerly the RSA Chase on Wednesday). I had selected Escaria Ten** (9/2) for the Ultima and now that he turns up here I won’t desert him. Of the others, if you ignore his last outing on heavy ground when pulled up here last November, Soldier Of Love could run into a place at an appealing 40/1.

Wednesday

13:20 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f)

2. Bob Olinger (157p) 1-211 (15/8)*****

If you read my last post you’ll know that this is one of my horses of the week and is a confident selection. His win in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas in January was mightily impressive and he looks like a top performer in the making. It’s not so much who he’s beaten but how he’s done it that has really caught the eye.

3. Bravemansgame (160p) 36-2111 (11/4)***

This is a much-touted horse and one of the big hopes of the week for Paul Nicholls. He has won his last three outings including a 10 lengths’ defeat of Star Gate and The Glancing Queen in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury last time. However, the Challow has lost its sparkle in recent years (£23,800 to the winner) and I’m not sure that he’s really been proven at this level.

5. Gaillard Du Mesnil (159p) 21222-211 (11/4)***

An admirably consistent horse for Mullins/Townend/Donnelly and a fair enough winner of the Nathaniel Lacey on soft to heavy at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. Could well improve further but I can’t see him beating Bob Olinger.

Of the remainder Keskonrisk (16/1) was a respectable third to Appreciate It at Leopardstown last December and may well run into a place on this first attempt beyond 2 miles.

13:55 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (3m 80y)

So here comes another of my top 5 for the week and there really is no need to look beyond Monkfish***** (1/2f), arguably the best National Hunt horse in training, let alone as a novice. I’ve seen slow-motion videos of this horse in action and he is a treat to behold. Just a watching brief at the price but could well turn out to be the performance of the week.

14:30 Coral Cup (2m 5f)

Good luck!! It’s currently 7/1 the field so we need to look for a bit of value in the cavalry charge (28 runners at the time of writing and reserves who may come into play).

Look out for the weights because this is often taken by one towards the bottom of the handicap. With that in mind, here are a few to look at:

  • Dysart Diamond (25/1) – 10st 8lbs
  • Witness Protection (25/1) – 10st 1lb
  • Encore Champs (28/1) – 10st (RESERVE)
  • Breffniboy (40/1) – 10st 1lb (RESERVE)

15:05 Champion Chase (1m 7f 199y)

1. Chacun Pour Soi (187p) 1/121-111 10/11f*****

Another of the five for the week, hopefully his time has now come, having been withdrawn on the day of the race last year with a foot abscess. He has clearly had his issues with 1219, 239 and 270 days’ breaks during his career but he has had three outings since last December, with facile victories in a Grade 2 and two Grade 1s. Dare I say it, the current 10/11 looks like very good value indeed, not least with the defection of Altior.

It’s currently 8/1 bar behind the favourite and that’s about right. Nube Negra (8/1) beat a below par Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase but is surely not in the same league as the favourite. Politologue (10/1) is the defending champion but it’s hard to imagine that he would have beaten Chacun Pour Soi had he participated. Put The Kettle On (10/1) was a 16/1 winner of last year’s Arkle but was a one-paced third to Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown last December.

Notebook (28/1) could run into a place if having a good day.

15:40 Cross Country Chase (3m 6f 37y)

If you forgive his below-par run here when 4th last November Easysland (11/10) is the right favourite at the right price. However, of the many short odds horses this week, I think that he’s one of the most vulnerable. It’s hard to argue with the form (11/111114) but I think that former Welsh National winner Potters Corner (6/1) may well have been well-primed for this race and it would be great to see him win for Christian Williams.

16:15 Grand Annual Chase (1m 7f 199y)

This race has produced 66/1 and 28/1 winners in the last five years and it can pay to look down the card. With that in mind I’ve picked out Sky Pirate (15/2), Ibleo (12/1), Bun Doran (28/1) and Not That Fuisse (25/1). I’ll probably follow the market on the day before making my final pick.

16:50 Champion Bumper (2m 87y)

Sir Gerhard (9/4) was the long time ante post favourite for this race, having been bought for £400,000 by Cheveley Park and easily winning his only two races to date. (He is among the horses transferred to Willie Mullins after the recent Gordon Elliott debacle.)

However, then came along Kilcruit***** (pronounced Kilcrut as Ruby and Willie will be quick to remind you). A Mullins horse through and through, as the title to this video says, “Have you ever seen a graded race won as easily as this?”

I watched this one live (on TV of course) and immediately made a note to myself that this one had to be the selection for the Festival Bumper. Even WP was lost for words after the race. Hopefully a decent 2/1 winner to round off the second day.

Good luck!

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