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Who will succeed Constitution Hill?
Constitution Hill burst onto the scene with an impressive win in last year’s Tolworth to give Nicky Henderson a record sixth win in the Grade 1 novices’ hurdle and the trainer would have had good prospects of making it seven with the unbeaten mare Luccia, but she has now been ruled out after an unsatisfactory scope.
The leading contenders on form are now Authorised Speed for Gary Moore and the Paul Nicholls-trained Tahmuras.
Authorised Speed was fifth in the Champion Bumper last season and has made a fine start to his hurdling career, winning at Lingfield and surviving a bad mistake at the last to follow up at Sandown in December in the race in which Constitution Hill made his debut last season prior to the Tolworth.
Tahmuras has progressed to win his last three starts, most recently showing plenty of speed when landing a listed novice hurdle at Haydock in November.
Arctic Bresil and L’Astroboy both have the Timeform ‘large P’ symbol attached to their ratings indicating they’re expected to make considerable improvement.
Expensive purchase from points Arctic Bresil (by Constitution Hill’s sire Blue Bresil) looked an excellent prospect for Henry de Bromhead when comfortably beating a big field of maidens on his debut over hurdles at Cork, while L’Astroboy has won both his starts at Ffos Las, beating Tahmuras in a bumper and landing a maiden hurdle last time, in the style of a very promising horse for Evan Williams.
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Plenty of old favourites in the Veterans’ Handicap Chase
While the two big races of the weekend might be for novice hurdlers, some popular old-timers get a shot at a big prize in the final of the Veterans’ series at Sandown. This looks a wide-open handicap at this stage but one with leading claims is the likeable David Pipe-trained stayer Ramses de Teillee who went with all his old zest on his return from another wind op when winning one of the qualifiers at Warwick in November and still looks on a good mark judged on his old form.
Snow Leopardess was pulled up in that contest on her first outing since doing the same in the Grand National but she showed she retains plenty of ability and enthusiasm when eighth in the Becher Chase last time, a race she’d won twelve months earlier.
Saint Xavier was well backed when beating Up Helly Aa King in a Haydock qualifier in November when they had the subsequent Welsh Grand National winner The Two Amigos behind them in third, while Coo Star Sivola was further back but entitled to need the run after a lengthy absence on his first start for Venetia Williams and is down to a career-low mark.
Wishing And Hoping was second to Dingo Dollar in the qualifier at Aintree in October and Sir Ivan has finished third in the last two editions of this race.
Prime Venture won this in heavy ground last year so won’t mind any further rain and isn’t badly handicapped for a repeat bid after a couple of runs over hurdles this term. Former Eider winner Crosspark was runner-up in this two years ago, and while he’s thirteen now, he should be all the better for his first run after a lengthy absence at Haydock last time.
The other one to mention is Ballyandy who’s on a lower mark over fences than he is over hurdles and should be suited the return to further after plugging on for third over two and half miles at Cheltenham on his latest start.
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Mullins and Elliott dominate Naas Grade 1
The big race in Ireland at the weekend is also a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, the Lawlor’s of Naas, with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott having won all bar two of the last thirteen renewals between them.
Elliott has won four of the last six editions and the pick of his three entries is Irish Point, the winner of the top three-year-olds’ bumper in France who made a smooth transition to hurdling when winning at Cork on his stable debut in November. Irish Point was then pitched straight into Grade 1 company and very nearly pulled off a surprise win in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse when only collared late on to go down by a head to Marine Nationale.
Mullins has four entries to choose from with not a great deal to separate three of them, Champ Kiely, Gaelic Warrior and Grangeclare West on form. Champ Kiely was fourth in the Royal Bond and Fred Winter runner-up Gaelic Warrior got off the mark over hurdles by a massive margin at Tramore last month but the exciting Grangeclare West looks the most interesting of the trio. He changed hands for a lot of money after winning his point and has looked a fine prospect in winning a bumper at Punchestown and a maiden hurdle at Navan, sauntering clear to beat a big field by upwards of 13 lengths last time.
Mullins and Elliott might not have things all their own way however, as J. P. McManus has a couple of useful entries in Dawn Rising, winner of the Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan in November for Joseph O’Brien, and Inothewayurthinkin who made it two out of two on heavy ground for Gavin Cromwell when beating Imagine and Spanish Harlem – possible rivals again here – in a novice at Gowran last time.
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