La Bague Au Roi was a really good winner at Leopardstown during the Dublin Racing Festival. She beat the best of the Irish that day having beaten Topofthegame (who went on to win the RSA at Cheltenham) before that at Kempton. Connections decided to skip Cheltenham, so she comes in here reasonably fresh, is a sound jumper and should take all the beating. Her trainer Warren Greatrex has campaigned her really well, she’s won two Grade One races this season and it would be a terrific way to see her round off the season with a third Grade One win.
She looks the stand-out selection on Thursday as the other races seemed closely matched.
Some of the juveniles that clashed at Aintree run again here, with the Triumph winner Pentland Hills facing off with Supreme Hurdle fourth Fakir D’oudairies and that one’s stablemate Band of Outlaws, who won the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle.
My view is that Pentland Hills is a Grade One winner and that was on just his second start over hurdles. He should improve again for that run. Fakir D’oudairies was fourth in a Grade One to Klassical Dream and both of them have better form in the book than Band of Outlaws.
A small, but select field of six runners line up in the featured chase, where I ride Kemboy. He had no race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as he knuckled on landing after the first fence and was out of the contest. So he comes into fresher than a few of his rivals that day in Bristol De Mai who eventually finished third to Al Boum Photo and the fifth and sixth-placed Clan Des Obeaux and Elegant Escape.
Even Road to Respect had a hard enough race of it in the Ryanair Chase when third to Frodon, with Balko Des Flos back in seventh.
I’m hoping that freshness stands to Kemboy here.
He went into the Gold Cup on a four-race unbeaten run, including the Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December. On rating though, both Bristol De Mai and Clan des Obeaux in particular on his King George win, look the ones to beat.
This should be some race where both Faugheen and Melon line up for Willie Mullins against the de-throned Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air over 2m 4f.
I ride Faugheen, who shouldn’t be inconvenienced by the drop back to 2m 4f after he ran his heart out to be third to Paisley Park in the Stayer’s Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. Melon steps up in trip after running his best race of the season in the Champion Hurdle – even if he was a long, long, way behind Espoir D’Allen.
Buvuer D’Air crashed out early that day and so comes into the contest relatively fresher than the other two. He won this race in 2017 and looks the one to beat again on Thursday.
The race for amateurs on the opening day gives everyone the chance to see the Grand National fences come into play for the first time at the three-day festival. This race is only one of three contests – the Topham Chase on Friday and Saturday’s feature – where the National fences are used.
I don’t have a huge opinion on the race, but Ucello Conti ran to a high level of form at times, including when sixth to Rule the World in the 2016 Grand National at this track. If he could reproduce some of his old sparkle, he could be a leading player.