The Foxrock venue hosts perhaps its best days racing of the season, as the feature Hennessey Gold Cup is supported by a grade one undercard at Leopardstown.
Hennessy Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m
The state of flux that the staying chase division finds itself in dictates that the Hennessey is an open looking affair. Carlingford Lough has good course form and put a disappointing RSA Chase performance at Cheltenham behind him to win the grade one staying novice chase at Punchestown last April.
He will be better for his reappearance in the Lexus when catching the eye of a few but this former Galway Plate winner has already had 16 career starts over fences and isn’t likely to be getting any better.
First Lieutenant could pick up and carry many of these at his peak, but hasn’t been at his best for a while and has a lot of mileage on the clock. Even at his best, his win ratio possibly wasn’t what it should have been.
Foxrock has shown good handicap form in winning the Boylesports Chase over course and distance last month.
He won a Grade 2 at Navan this time last year but struggled in the 4-miler at Cheltenham where the travel is said to have impacted him. In-form but one would have to wonder whether he has the requisite class and while this is far from a vintage renewal, it would be a poor Hennessey that this horse would win.
Home Farm made it no further than the first in the Lexus but seems to have benefitted from a breathing operation and a switch to Henry De Bromhead this season ending a long losing run in a listed chase at Thurles.
Still only eight, he has been the talking horse for many a competitive handicap and failed to deliver. However, he could now benefit from more straightforward campaigning and while one would harbour the same class doubts, he makes more appeal at the prices than Foxrock.
Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere made a promising reappearance in the John Durkan over an inadequate trip but showed little in the Lexus, which connections put down to the ground. A dual festival winner, the sense is that there is only one day that counts with this horse and that is at Cheltenham in March.
Unlucky Gold Cup second On His Own improved massively from his Down Royal return when chasing home Road to Riches in the Lexus despite hindering his chances by jumping out to his right throughout.
Not getting any younger, but a danger to all if cutting that down. Roi du Mee is an admirable sort and won again in a listed race at Tramore on New Year’s Day but shouldn’t really be good enough.
Texas Jack has talent but is fragile and was allowed to come home in his own time in a hot race at Thurles latest.
This leaves us with the selection Boston Bob who should be coming nicely to the boil and will appreciate the better ground. He needed the run badly at Down Royal on reappearance and was subsequently accounted for by Don Cossack in the John Durkan.
That horse has been something of a revelation this year, however and the form looks strong now. Boston Bob hinted at better when fourth in the Lexus at Christmas over course and distance.
He came alive in the spring last year, winning well the Melling Chase at Aintree as well as the Punchestown Gold Cup and appears to have a real upside.
Always highly regarded by Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins since his novice hurdling days, he has been spoken of as their Gold Cup horse for this year since last spring. Thus, we can expect him to improve from run to run and he can take this en route to the Gold Cup.
Deloitte Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m2f
The Deloitte takes place over the intermediate distance of 18f and has a strong recent role of honour including last seasons’ Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Vautour. This year’s renewal appears to have plenty of depth and will prove hugely informative for the future.
A race where the market is often headed by grade one winners from earlier in the season, this year’s edition appears to chiefly concern two Leopardstown maiden hurdle winners, according to the bookmakers.
Willie Mullins has a strong hand as usual in this with his runners taking up most of the market. Nicholls Canyon won what was a weak-looking Deloitte well but the stable’s more-fancied Allez Columbieres unfortunately pulled up injured and had to be destroyed that day and there wasn’t much to the race after that.
He fell early when well-fancied for the 2m grade 1 here at Christmas and while a useful flat horse, it is hard to know what to make of him.
Gigginstown’s McKinley pulled up in strange circumstances when slightly hampered in the same grade 1 and then belied his price to nab well-touted stablemate Tell Us More in the new 20f grade 1 race introduced at Naas in January.
This horse is talented and getting better all the time, according to his trainer. He had a hard race that day, though and lack of market confidence in him again this week is a bit disconcerting.
Mullins’ McManus-owned French bred Alvisio Ville was the gamble of the Christmas period hacking up first-time in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown.
That was a weak race, though and he pulled hard enough early, he won’t get away with that here for all this grey could be anything.
He has been steadily backed all week for the Neptune Novices Hurdle and is also single figures in the Supreme market so is clearly held in the highest regard. Sempre Medici wasn’t disgraced behind Jollyallen at Kempton over Christmas but looks to be down the pecking order.
Dermot Weld fields a brace of Dr. Ronan Lambe-trained geldings in the Cheltenham Bumper winner Silver Concorde and Windsor Park.
The former is was turned over in a maiden hurdle but is capable of better with the ground and quick pace likely to suit. Windsor Park never really threatened behind Outlander in a grade two here on Irish Champion Hurdle weekend and needs to improve.
Tony Martin’s Blair Peron beat Windsor Park in is maiden but was well-placed that day and has since been put in his place by the top-class Douvan. Gigginstown’s other representatives Sub Lieutenant shouldn’t be good enough while Fort Smith is outclassed while Alpha Des Obeaux wants further and fences.
The best hope from the O’Leary outfit appears to be Identity Thief who beat the solid Snow Falcon by half-a-length at Leopardstown in a maiden over Christmas.
It was noticeable how well he travelled that day and he impressed many with how quickly he came back on the bridle to win having made a mistake at the pivotal second last hurdle.
This Kayf Tara gelding might lack experience but De Bromhead’s horses are famously well-schooled and such was the impression he made at Christmas, Identity Thief rates the selection.
Flogas Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m5f
In the grade one novice chase, Willie Mullins’ Valseur Lido boasts the most solid form claims of any market leader on the day. A talented novice hurdler, learning to settle this season over fences is allowing him to fulfil his massive potential.
He comfortably took the grade one Drinmore Novices Chase by 8l from Noel Meade’s re-opposing Apache Stronghold at Fairyhouse in November. Apache Stronghold then finished a 3l second to Mullins’ RSA favourite Don Poli in the 3 mile grade one at Leopardstown over Christmas with waiting tactics showing him in a better light.
This trip and the better ground here are likely more up his street and with stamina assured, this talented, strong-travelling gelding rates the each-way play in this, now that connections know how to make best use of him.
Of the others, Le Vent D’Antan is highly regarded by connections but was behind the best of these over hurdles and needs to step forward again from his Beginners Chase win at Christmas where the second has since let the form down.
The Tullow Tank was a top-class novice hurdler but his jumping and the way he has generally travelled have not impressed since his debut fencing win at Fairyhouse in November. Rule the World was formerly talented, but has yet to prove that he retains in full the ability of his novice hurdle days.
He may be more of a project horse now who his famously patient trainer is taking his time with. Shanahan’s Turn is a big raw horse whose best is still in front of him but he put up no kind of performance behind Don Poli at Christmas and would need to take his form to another level here, anyway.
One of Mullins’ other representatives Jarry D’Honeur’s form was boosted by Bishops Road on Irish Champion Hurdle weekend, but this is another level again while his Adrianna des Mottes might go elsewhere and was brushed aside too easily, getting significant weight from Gilgamboa to be taken seriously here.
Very Wood has shown very little apart from a beginners win at Galway since winning a renewal of the Albert Bartlett that appeared to fall apart.
Gala Retail Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m
This race has provided the last two winners of the Triumph Hurdle and is typically a good trial. The field is headed by Willie Mullins’ Kalkir who let down his supporters when beaten at a short price by debutant Fiscal Focus over Christmas.
There didn’t appear to be many excuses that day but his conqueror acquitted himself okay in the rarefied air of the Irish Champion Hurdle when running too free to last home. Whatever beats Kalkir will probably win this.
Gordon Elliot’s Vercingetorix won easily at Limerick on hurdling debut over Christmas travelling well and hurdling fluently in a race that has worked out well.
He contested some good races on the flat in France and should not mind the better ground. He is the selection as the standard set by Kalkir might not be all that fearsome.
Petite Parisienne was the victim of an ill-judged ride by Bryan Cooper behind fellow Gigginstown horse Chatham House Rule at Thurles and she is taken to give the front two most to do.
Niall Dennehy, Pundit Arena
Featured image jeff collins [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons