The featured image this year is of former Arkle winner Footpad, a regular in this post in recent years, having won £650,000 in his career to date, and now sold to race in the United States.
As was the case last year, the going is of more interest this year than the standard good to soft. According to the latest Turftrax going report (14:00 on Monday) it is soft, good to soft in places on both the chase and hurdle courses and soft, heavy in places on the cross country. However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of the main courses are soft, with the good to soft confined to the end of the back straight. This should suit most horses but the preferences will be for those with winning form on similar ground, while disfavouring those who want properly good ground. 5mm of rain is forecast on Monday afternoon which should mean that it will be unchanged for Tuesday. It’s expected to dry out during the week.
19.30 Monday update. There has been much more rain than forecast, with more predicted for tomorrow morning. It must now be likely to be soft all over on Tuesday.
This year I’m delighted that my very good friend, racing sage and former Quatre Heures co-owner Gerry Rooney has kindly allowed me to add his day one selections. As usual, he’s picked a few at long odds (he’s got some very good form at this!).
13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Asterion Forlonges (11/4f) is unbeaten, including his only two hurdle races, and is the current Timeform top rated (167p). He has a tendency to jump right, which obviously isn’t ideal, but he seems to be able to correct himself quickly and obviously has abundant talent.
Shishkin (in the same ownership) is second favourite at 100/30 and has not looked back since falling on his hurdles debut. He’s a fast finisher, ideally placed to pick off runners up the hill.
Abacadabras (13/2) is the most highly tried of the leading contenders and impressed when second to Envoi Allen, before winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown.
Chantry House (7/1) has also impressed, winning over course and distance on his hurdles debut, before winning again in a decent novices’ hurdle at Newbury. This one could easily improve further to be in the mix.
Of the remainder, Fiddlerontheroof (7/1) and Elixir D’ainay (25/1) are of interest but probably not quite up to the standard of the market leaders.
My selections: Asterion Forlonges** (now 3/1) win and Chantry House* (7/1) each way (look out for the offers – as many as the first seven!)
Gerry’s selection: Chantry House (7/1)
14:10 Arkle Novices’ Chase
This is the first race in which I have a firm view. Current favourite and winner of the Irish Arkle, Notebook (3/1) is headstrong and could find things a bit too consistently fast for him. Cash Back (7/1) was second in that race. He has a tendency to jump to the right. Of the British runners I prefer Maire Banrigh (12/1) to Brewin’upastorm (11/2). The former does not have the likely profile of an Arkle winner but is unbeaten over fences (Huntingdon, Doncaster, Warwick and Stratford) and will definitely stay.
My idea of the winner is Fakir D’oudairies (9/2) (167p). Another who will be suited by the ground, he won the Grade 1 Drinmore over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse and was second to Notebook at the Dublin Racing Festival. I think that this one is the most talented in the field and, as a 5-y-o experienced chaser, has room for rapid improvement.
My selections: Fakir D’oudairies*** (9/2) win and Maire Banrigh** (12/1) each way.
Gerry’s selection: Fakir D’oudairies (9/2)
14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase
I don’t have a strong view about this race. I think that Vinndication is the right favourite at 13/2 and should relish both ground and trip. However, he’s carrying top weight and was only 5th of 10 in his only previous outing at Cheltenham (in last year’s JLT).
A lot of people like The Conditional (8/1) off only 10st 6lbs, mainly because of his second in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury but that wasn’t a top class renewal and I’m not convinced.
My very marginal preference is for Kildisart (10/1) who has been campaigned at a high level, runs off 11st 3lbs, and won well in a similar race at last year’s Grand National meeting. First time cheekpieces may help.
My selection: Kildisart* (10/1) each way
Gerry’s selection: Cogry (28/1)
15:30 Champion Hurdle
There has been much discussion about how this is a below par renewal and it’s fair to say that the field would not look out of place in a decent handicap. However, that makes for a very interesting race with lots of cases to be made.
I’m against current favourite Epatante (3/1). She was an easy 5 lengths winner of the recognised trial, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on soft ground, and gets the 7lbs mares’ allowance. However, she was 9th of 22 on her only previous outing at Cheltenham (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle) when going off at 15/8f.
I’m even more against second favourite Pentland Hills (13/2). Although he won last year’s Triumph and Aintree 4-y-o hurdles, the transition from four to five can be problematic for some and he’s been underwhelming this season. He was fifth in the International Hurdle here last December and was beaten last time out by Ballyandy at Haydock. He’s had a wind operation since then but there are too many question marks for me.
Cilaos Emery (15/2) has reverted to hurdles after failing to shine as a chaser. He’s been supplemented for this race at a cost of 22,500 euros, is trained by Willie Mullins and definitely has the ability to win. I think that he’ll be a much shorter price before the off.
Supasundae (11/1) is now 10 years old but has consistently run well against the best, will definitely stay and has winning Grade 1 form. I see him running into a place.
Of the remainder, Darver Star (12/1) is a big improver, Sharjah (14/1) probably won’t like the ground, Coeur Sublime (16/1) is good but not top notch and Call Me Lord (20/1) is another that’s just below top grade.
Ballyandy (20/1) is an ultra reliable horse who, in my view, is seriously overpriced. Third to Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle, beat Pentland Hills in the Haydock trial, proven on soft, a strong finisher and has run well at Cheltenham, he ticks the boxes for me.
My selections: Cilaos Emery* (15/2) win and Ballyandy** (20/1) each way.
Gerry’s selection: Ballyandy (20/1)
16:10 Mares’ Hurdle
The banker of the day is Benie Des Dieux (3/5). She has won all eight completed starts for Willie Mullins with her only defeat coming in this race last year when falling at the last and looking all over the winner.
Honeysuckle (11/4) is her stiffest test yet against her own sex but has a sticky jumping style and lost serious ground over the hurdles, although to her credit overcoming that to win the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out.
My selection: Benie Des Dieux***** (3/5)
Gerry’s selection: Benie Des Dieux (3/5)
16:50 Novices’ Handicap Chase
This is a race that could easily turn up a long odds winner, but which one? Since I’ve no idea I’m just going to take a look at two towards the head of the market as possibles.
Galvin (8/1) runs for Gordon Elliott and is ridden by Davy Russell. He was sixth in last year’s Ballymore but was always likely to shape up more as a chaser. He’s been kept largely under the radar, performing creditably in a beginners’ and a novices’ chase when treated “gently” and has been kept away since his last outing in November. Regular followers of Gordon Elliott will recognise the profile!
Espoir De Guye (8/1) has progressed very nicely for Venetia Williams since moving from France. He’s on a three-timer and, unsurprisingly for the trainer, has winning form on soft and heavy ground.
My selection: Galvin* (8/1)
Gerry’s selection: Trainwreck (12/1)
17:30 National Hunt Amateurs’ Chase
Much discussed after last year’s attritional renewal which has led to changes in the conditions, this is an excellent way to finish day one.
Carefully Selected (9/4) has been aimed for this race by Willie Mullins and is, by some way, the classiest horse in the field. He was placed in Grade 1 bumpers and hurdles and has an unblemished record over fences, including a Grade 3 novices’ chase last time out at Naas. He’ll stay, will have no problem with the ground and has the significant benefit of Patrick Mullins on board. His only blemish is that he does have a tendency to clatter the odd one but he’s clever and it’s not stopped him so far.
I’d like to find some opposition but I can’t see past the favourite.
My selection: Carefully Selected**** (9/4)
Gerry’s selection: Lord Du Mesnil (13/2)
13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Many people’s idea of the banker of the week is Envoi Allen (11/8) and I’m one of them. There are no chinks in his armour. He won all four of his bumpers, including last year’s Champion Bumper, and all three hurdle races this season, including two Grade 1s. He’s running over his ideal distance of 2m 4f (having been considered for the Supreme) and is rated 168P by Timeform.
I expected him to be a much shorter price and he’s currently drifting slightly but, subject to any late news, that’s fine with me.
Of the remainder, Sporting John (7/2) is very progressive. Beware of the names in this race! The Big Getaway (Mullins/Townend) and The Big Breakaway (Tizzard/Power) are both next in the market at 13/2 and, of them, I prefer the latter.
Selection: Envoi Allen***** win.
14:10 RSA Novices’ Chase
Ante post favourite for this race at the start of the season, for me, Battleoverdoyen (12/1) has been slightly underwhelming in his recent outings, putting in workmanlike, albeit winning, performances, before falling last time out in the Grade 1 Flogas Novices’ Chase.
Another who fell last time out (here) is the highly touted Champ (7/2jf), second in last year’s Ballymore. He treats his fences with disdain and I’m far from confident that he’ll deliver a clear round at this highest level.
Last year’s winner of the Albert Bartlett is Minella Indo (7/2jf). Widely tipped at the preview nights, he’s been seen in two fairly low profile beginners’ chases (second and first) and this is a massive step up in chase company. He’s 14lbs behind Champ on Timeform ratings, albeit with “a big P”, but has it all to prove.
Although also in a beginners’ chase, Allaho (9/2) for Mullins and Townend was a really impressive winner last time out at Fairyhouse and looks to have loads of potential for improvement.
Copperhead for Colin Tizzard is another that has attracted tipster support and has recently shortened in the market to join Allaho at 9/2.
Selection: Allaho** win.
14:50 Coral Cup
Take your pick! Although I have no strong views, two to consider from the field are Birchdale (10/1) and Eglantine Du Seuil (20/1), the latter having won last year’s Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at 50/1, thereby demonstrating aptitude at the course.
Selection: Eglantine Du Seuil* each way.
15:30 Champion Chase
Will Altior (3/1) take part after his minor setback at the weekend? It doesn’t make a great deal of difference to me because he wasn’t going to be my selection in any event. From being the very best jumps horse in training I take the view that he peaked about 18 months ago, notwithstanding that that he’s seeking a hat-trick.
Defi Du Seuil (7/4f) is a grand horse and has a very strong chance of winning this race. He won last year’s JLT and has won all his subsequent races (two Grade 1s and a Grade 2) – except – when he was beaten by Chacun Pour Soi at last year’s Punchestown Festival. There’s everything to like about him.
So, on to Chacun Pour Soi (5/2). He’s been very lightly raced and had a 1219 days’ break when moving from Emmanuel Clayeux to Willie Mullins. However, perseverance has paid off and I think that he’s one of the very best National Hunt horses currently racing. I’m pleased to see that Timeform agrees and have him top rated at 187p. I could not have been more impressed with his last time out win, beating Min at the Dublin Racing Festival in a very fast time. All over the winner to me.
Outside the top three it’s 20/1 bar.
Selection: Chacun Pour Soi***** win
16:10 Cross Country Chase
There are some well-known names behind the market leaders in this race, including Might Bite (14/1) and Yanworth (16/1). However, if you’re not a keen follower of racing and you’re attracted by the familiarity of the names, beware, they’re here because connections have run out of other ideas.
Although it may seem like sacrilege, I’m opposing Tiger Roll (11/10), although heart over head I’d love to see him win easily as an ideal prep for the Grand National. There have been no negative vibes about him, quite the opposite, and his fifth in the Boyne Hurdle was a perfectly respectable return.
However… he faces a seriously good opponent in the shape of Easysland (100/30) for David Cottin and cross country specialist jockey Jonathan Plouganou. He’s on a seven-timer and comfortably won the cross country here last December. I watched his subsequent race at Pau (on TV) when he won as easily as you like. J P McManus was clearly also impressed because he bought him between those races, no doubt with this in mind.
Selection: Easysland*** win
16:50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
I’ve never been a fan of this race since it was introduced a few years ago and, to be honest, I’ve paid little attention to it. Subject to that, I think that current favourite Aramax (6/1) and Blacko (16/1) are quite closely matched so, on prices alone, I’ll opt for the latter.
Selection: Blacko* win
17:30 Champion Bumper
It’s the bumper and therefore time for another Willie Mullins hotpot, but this time I think that he’s the real deal. If you wanted to see the ideal prep race it was delivered in the shape of Appreciate It’s (2/1) mightily impressive win in the Future Stars Bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival on 1 February (a race won last year by Envoi Allen). If you can, see if you can find a reply of the race finish and you’ll see what I mean. For the places, David Pipe has a strong hand with Panic Attack – a big money purchase from Willie Mullins’ yard – and Israel Champ (both 11/1).
Selection – Appreciate It***** win
Summary and a Lucky 31(!) (with updated prices)
- Supreme – Asterion Forlonges** (3/1)
- Arkle – Fakir D’oudairies*** (9/2)
- Ultima – Kildisart* (10/1)
- Champion Hurdle – Cilaos Emery* (15/2)
- Mares’ Hurdle – Benie Des Dieux***** (3/5)
- Novices’ Chase – Galvin* (8/1)
- NH Chase – Carefully Selected**** (9/4)
- Ballymore – Envoi Allen***** (11/8)
- RSA – Allaho** (9/2)
- Coral Cup – Eglantine Du Seuil* (20/1 each way)
- Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi***** (5/2)
- Cross Country – Easysland*** (100/30)
- Fred Winter – Blacko* (16/1)
- Champion Bumper – Appreciate It***** (2/1)
So, not content with a Lucky 15, I’ve opted for a Lucky 31! Five selections, 31 bets at £1.00 each = £31 and they are:
- Benie Des Dieux
- Carefully Selected
- Envoi Allen
- Chacun Pour Soi
- Appreciate It
…to deliver £468.17. (A Lucky 15 (£15) without Carefully Selected will currently deliver £120.18 with a full house.)