Having Faugheen and Min ruled out of Cheltenham this week hot on the heels of the news about Annie Power was tough to take.
Does it make it any easier that it happened four weeks out from Cheltenham rather than on the eve of the Festival? No, it doesn’t.
Was it easier to take with Faugheen because he hadn’t raced in 12 months whereas Min had raced twice already this season and was moving nicely through the gears? No.
I’d look at it the other way. Min still had to beat Altior and others in the Arkle Chase before he could be called a champion.
Faugheen on the other hand was already a proven champ at Cheltenham and Punchestown. He’d been there, done that and we’ll always believe he can do it again.
The one consolation is that these are relatively minor injuries and hopefully all three will be back later in the season.
I’ve just three rides at Thurles on Thursday starting with Dicosimo pulled up at Gowran Park on Thyestes Day last month having run much too free behind Great Field. Hopefully he can settle better on Thursday and finish out his race. On his two runs this season, he’s hard to fancy.
Sharps Choice has run well in a couple of bumpers without winning and has schooled well at home. He’ll probably have to put in a career best to win over hurdles at the first time of asking.
Both Livelovelaugh and Aussie Reigns run here and I’ve chosen Livelovelaugh even though Aussie Reigns is rated a 1lb higher. There’s not a huge amount between but given Livelovelaugh is a National hunt horse, I’m banking on him handling the ground better than former Flat inmate Aussie Reigns.
Weekend Watch, Newbury, Saturday
It’s a massive weekend coming up with Newbury and Leopardstown likely to throw up more answers – or possibly raise more questions – a little over four weeks out from the Festival.
Recent Haydock winner Bristol De Mai faces a different challenge if he takes on Gold Cup second favourite Native River in the Grade 2 Denman Chase on Saturday. Both are improvers and it will be an informative contest.
Bristol De Mai was very good at Haydock but he was well weighted that day. He’s not short of speed but Native River is a very stronger stayer. I’d expect Native River, who is never flashy, just to come out on top. However, if Bristol De Mai is to be considered a live Gold Cup contender, he’ll have to run him very close.
Renneti is entered for the Betfair Hurdle on the same card, but he’ll have to shoulder top weight if Willie Mullins decides to send him across the Irish Sea.
He ran well behind Jezki and is in good form at home, but anytime you have a top-weight in a handicap you automatically fear the horses underneath you anyway.
There’s plenty of unexposed runners in this valuable contest like Champion bumper winner Ballyandy, Paul Nicholls’ Movewiththetimes and Nicky Henderson’s Consul de Thaix who has been second to Brain Power twice. They’ve all good form too.
In the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase, Altior steps out of novice company over fences for the first time to possibly face seasoned campaigners like Fox Norton, Dodging Bullets and Garde La Victoire.
If Altior is the ‘good thing’ he appears to be in the Arkle, then he’s going to have to take care of these.
Weekend Watch, Leopardstown, Sunday
We’ll have no runners in the handicaps at Leopardstown on Sunday but the intention is to let Bapaume and Meri Devie run in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle over 2m to stake their claim for a Triumph Hurdle place.
Both will work again before I’ll make a decision on who I’ll ride at final declaration time on Friday morning,
They’re two decent juveniles and traditionally, this has been a very good race and the best of the Irish juveniles are likely to turn up. Joseph O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov was fourth in this contest last year and went on to win at the Festival. If there’s a clear-cut winner, they’ll go to Cheltenham fancying themselves to run a big race.
While I’ve a 50/50 chance of picking the right one here, we’ve seven entries in the Grade 1 2m 2f Deloitte Novice Hurdle and while all of them won’t run – the majority might.
Difficult to call it
It can be very difficult to call it right with the novices, because they can improve so much from run to run. And I’ve gotten it wrong before …
Saturnas is top rated and probably sets the standard of our horses anyway after his Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Christmas, where I rode Riven Light to be fourth. He didn’t jump well that day but ran better than his finishing position suggests and was probably caught out by the step up from maiden company to a Grade 1 and will improve from that experience.
We still think a fair amount of Invitation Only but he may have to step up in trip to show his best, while Bunk Off and Chateau Conti were both good winners of maiden hurdles at Leopardstown and Cork respectively and should run well if they line up.
Bellshill is an intended runner in the 2m 5f Flogas Novice S’chase where he could face stablemate Bleu Et Rouge owned by JP McManus.
Bleu Et Rouge has schooled really well since unseating Barry Geraghty in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown a fortnight ago, while the step up in trip should suit Bellshill who previously improved as a novice when he went up in distance.
It could be easier to think that it’s all about the up and comers in the Irish Gold Cup but the veteran Carlingford Lough is going for his hat-trick here and there’s no doubt that this is the day he peaks.
The ground will have a major bearing on the result. On soft ground I’d fancy Don Poli but on drier ground Zabana could improve on his seventh place finish in the Lexus Chase while recent Thurles winner Sizing John looks the dark horse in the race. He beat Sub Lieutenant when stepping up to 2m 4f and if he handles the step up to 3m, he could improve again.
One thing’s for sure, whoever triumphs will be a deserving winner.