So, how was your Valentine’s Day everyone? Was there champagne involved? Did you cuddle up on the sofa whilst watching a classic movie? And, at the end of it all, did your significant other boldly proclaim that it was probably the worst Valentine’s Day they have ever had to endure?
Rumour has it that that is how it went down in the Michael O’Leary household. But fear not Mrs O’Leary, because the Ryanair supremo has been known to get it wrong when it comes to making such bold statements in the past. Indeed, one need only think back to the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and what O’Leary said after his Champagne Classic had won the Martin Pipe: “I think that was miraculous as he’s probably the worst horse we own.”
Champagne Classic went on to prove categorically that he is not the worst horse owned by Gigginstown when also winning his next start in a Grade 1 at Punchestown, and he has the chance to climb the rankings higher still when lining up in Sunday’s Ten Up Novices’ Chase (3.25pm) at Navan.
An encouraging third on his chasing bow in a Grade 3 over C&D, having been off the track for 641 days following his Punchestown win, the way he moved through the race suggests that he’s still got a big future in this sphere, and he is fancied to find the necessary improvement to reverse the placings with the second on that occasion, Chris’s Dream.
Rachael Blackmore has gained many not-so-secret admirers with her performances on the track this winter, and she is fancied to get her supporters off to the perfect start when riding Raya Time in the opening maiden hurdle at 1.50pm.
Admittedly, he proved a let-down when sent off a short price at Fairyhouse last time, but the ability is definitely there, as he showed when third on his penultimate outing at Leopardstown, and it could be worth giving him another chance; he is well clear on Timeform’s weight-adjusted ratings and could have more to offer if settling better.
For those of you who have ever suffered the misfortune of being dumped on Valentine’s Day, there is at least an opportunity to make some money out of your misery when the appropriately-named Off You Go lines up in the Boyne Hurdle at 2.20pm.
Charles Byrnes’ charge progressed again to repeat his 2018 success in a competitive handicap at Leopardstown last time, and looks sure to be suited by the return to this longer trip given how strong he was at the finish; he can take the step up to graded company in his stride with a defeat of last-time-out Punchestown winner Bachasson.
Finally, Valentine’s Day is also a popular day for wedding proposals. It seemed like such an occasion would never arrive for Ucello Conti, who had been forever the bridesmaid and never the bride in his first 13 starts under Rules for Gordon Elliott, finishing placed in countless big handicaps but never quite managing to get his head in front.
All that changed, however, on his hunter chase debut at Thurles last month, and he would appear to hold sound claims of maintaining his unbeaten record in this sphere at 4.00pm; he is the clear form pick and already has a point-to-point win over chief rival Sydney Paget to his name.
Navan 15.25 – Champagne Classic @ 6/4
Navan 13.50 – Raya Time @ 11/10
Navan 14.20 – Off You Go @ 11/8
Navan 16.00 – Ucello Conti @ 11/10
*All prices correct at time of posting