12:50 Maiden Hurdle
Ballyward is in good order. Whatever problem he had that has kept him off the track can’t have been a big one, and he’s a point-to-point winner. He’s not a flashy horse at home, but he jumps and gallops well and keeps going when he needs to: he’s a similar type to Carefully Selected, who routed the rest of the field in the Paddy Power Games bumper on Wednesday at Leopardstown.
Ballyward doesn’t catch your eye, but he does the job. When a lot of these horses have had enough in this one – especially in the frost – this fella will still be galloping.
13:20 Mare’s Hurdle
Let’s Dance won the race last year and was very impressive as a novice. She tipped up in Punchestown in November with me riding her – she was my favourite horse, but not any more. She was in great order this time last year, and came into 2016’s Mare’s Hurdle at Leopardstown on the back of a win in Punchestown, unlike now when she comes into it on the back of a fall. But she’s going well at home, and both the track and the trip suit her. So she’s the one that will take all the beating.
I was very disappointed with Carralea in Thurles. I don’t know why she ran as poorly as she did, but that’s two ordinary runs in quick succession. The first two she had for us were good, but she didn’t bring that form into the second two. She does have a lot of ability, but hasn’t brought it to the track in her most recent outings. All that said, I wouldn’t be shocked if she comes through here.
13:55 Grade 1 Novice Chase
Bon Papa is very lightly raced. We’ve always thought of him as a stayer, but whether he’s battle-hardened enough for this trip – on only his second trip over fences – remains to be seen.
I would much prefer Rathvinden’s profile. With plenty of runs under his belt, including a solid outing in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse earlier this month, he’s hard-fit and has buckets of experience.
But don’t rule out Monalee either, who comes here after beating Any Second Now in a Beginners Chase at Punchestown in November.
Nevertheless, I’d be in Rathvinden’s camp here. I think he has the fitness which could see him serve it up to Monalee. Henry de Bromhead’s charge may end up winning the RSA at Cheltenham, but this is December, and you need to be tough – that’s why I fancy Rathvinden.
14:30 Ryanair Hurdle
I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll be simply a case of ‘how far?’ for Faugheen in this one. Hopefully he’ll strut his stuff, and has been on great form at home. For me, injured as I am, when I see what he can do, even watching him hurts. It’s incredible at times how good he is.
I think he’ll win, and I’m disappointed not to get the opportunity to ride him.
I would expect Cilaos Emery to have improved a good bit from his run at Fairyhouse in early December behind Apple’s Jade, and I can see him chasing Faugheen home.
Minella Encore was workmanlike at best at Fairyhouse a few weeks ago. I thought Patrick Mullins had to be at his strongest to win on him, but hopefully he will have improved for this one and be able to compete for a winner’s bumper – he’ll have to. We think he has, but we may see the biggest improvements for this horse with a trip over time.
12:30 Maiden Hurdle
Caros Des Flos is making his second start after his run in the Al Boum Photo. That form looks pretty strong now and he’ll be hard to beat here.
13:00 Beginners Chase
Kate Appleby Shoes won in the meeting last year. She jumps well, goes well and likes the ground. She pulled up on her last run after I rode her and didn’t like the dry ground in Punchestown, but she absolutely loves it down in Limerick.
13:10 Grade 2 Novice Hurdle
If Fabulous Saga does what he did in Cork on really heavy ground, he looks a very hard horse to follow. His performance in Cork, I can’t remember the last time I saw a horse win a race by 70 lengths. It was incredible to watch, so I think he’ll be very hard to follow on very testing ground in Limerick. Ainsi Va La Vie is a nice mare but I think she’ll struggle to follow him around in that ground.