Some decent fare this weekend. Fairyhouse survived. There is rain due in Naas too but they look set to race too. If the forecast I use is correct the racing may take place in a dry window. That would be nice. I’m in danger of developing trench foot at this stage.
Fontwell stage their feature race on Sunday. Thomas Darby will probably go off favourite in the Game Spirit Hurdle at 3.20 pm. He’s a live outsider for the Champion Hurdle. It’s that type of year I suppose. Running on deep ground 16 days before the Champion Hurdle wouldn’t look an obvious prep. I can see what Olly Murphy is thinking mind. Sunday’s race is a valuable prize where the horse will get his optimum trip and ground.
Cheltenham dries like the Sahara so he can’t really be confident of getting testing ground there. Quel Destin is a worthy adversary but my hunch is Thomas will have too much for him. The price will be too short for me though. My betting will be confined to Naas. Paddy sponsors the card. We will try to relieve them of some more cash. The ground is likely to be heavy
The opener at 2.10 pm is an interesting race. Hardline and Cadmium provide the class angles. Hardline cannot be trusted in a combat situation and Cadmium has done nothing this term. Ornua and Castlegrace Paddy look regressive. Any Second Now is another horse I don’t fully trust. Mind you, I said the same before he stuck it out in the Kim Muir in Cheltenham last year. The two-mile trip will probably be too sharp for him anyway.
The same argument could be made against Articulum. Ideally, he wants two and a half miles. Ornua should ensure a good pace though and the ground will bring Articulum’s stamina into play. The other knock on Articulum is that he has come a cropper on his last three starts. In my opinion he’s a fine jumper who has just suffered some misfortune.
As an aside there’s a horse called Zizaneur you may like to stick in the tracker. He’s unseated the jockey on his last couple of starts but is actually a really good lepper who’s handicapped to win. Articulum looked sure to go close on his last start in Leopardstown. He unseated the rider two out. He would normally fall just short in graded company. This race offers a golden opportunity though. He gets significant weight from almost all the runners. He’s also unbeaten in two trips to Naas. With doubts over the opposition, Articulum looks a very solid play here.
The 2.40 pm is a valuable novice handicap chase. I normally concentrate on the top weights in handicaps. Weight cannot fully compensate for class differentials. Occasionally though I see a horse who’s well enough treated to overcome this disadvantage. Countess Cathleen strikes me as just such a horse. This lightly raced 9-year-old mare seems to be held in some regard.
She was in the process of running respectably in a graded mares hurdle a couple of years ago before falling two out. Those aspirations would suggest a mark of 115 should have been exploitable. Unfortunately the only occasions she contested handicap hurdles coincided with good ground. She’s most effective in the muck. She’s now rated 114 over fences, in spite of putting in an exemplary round of jumping when bolting up in Fairyhouse last time out. The second that day, Shakeytry, is limited but reliable. Even allowing for the mare’s allowance I feel the handicapper has underestimated the Countess. That Fairyhouse win came over two miles. The step up in trip here looks sure to help. Sound jumping should keep her in contention and I could easily see her staying on for the win. If all 16 run, each way a pleasure.
Goodbye Someday can atone for some recent misfortune in the handicap hurdle at 4.40 pm. He was travelling and jumping beautifully when taken off the course four flights from home in Leopardstown over Christmas. He went off a well supported 6/1 shot that day. That race was over two and a half miles. Given his dam was a very talented staying hurdler, the drop back to two miles on Sunday probably isn’t ideal.
That said, the form of his runner up finish, on penultimate start, over two miles in Cork has worked out quite well. Muhaafiz should ensure Sunday’s race is run at a good clip. Combined with the deep ground and stiff track this should be a decent test of stamina. He has only had eight starts under rules. I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t rate a fair bit higher than his current mark come the season’s end.
Finally to the bumper at 5.10 pm. This is a fascinating race. If I were pricing it, the temptation to put the three market leaders in co-favourites at 2/1 would prove irresistible. Let the market decide and hope not to lay too much of the Charles Byrnes horse at 10/1. So here goes.
Farouk D’alene was mentioned as a Cheltenham bumper possible by his trainer earlier in the week. He went off 4/6 before bolting up in a Down Royal bumper, and is clearly well regarded. Fire Attack only won by a couple of lengths in Limerick over Christmas. However, he beat a talented sort who had the benefit of experience. That horse gave the form a boost last weekend. Stattler also went off odds-on when winning on bumper debut in Fairyhouse.
The second and third had previously run to a reasonable level. Stattler put them to the sword with just one cursory backhander from the jockey. I don’t normally bet in bumpers. Sometimes you just get a feeling about a horse though. Stattler gives me the feels. The other two horses should ensure we get a reasonable price. I will trust my eyes and take that price. If he gets beaten, I will endure the muppet jibes.