With just over four weeks to go until Cheltenham, it’s understandable that the jumping fare in Ireland on Sunday is a little lower key compared to previous weeks, particularly last weekend when we saw a fantastic Dublin Racing Festival.
There were some tremendous performances spread across the two days at Leopardstown, most notably the fabulous mare Honeysuckle continuing her spectacular unbeaten run and cementing herself at the head of the market for the Champion Hurdle.
That was on the Sunday, but Saturday also saw some really interesting winners with Cheltenham in mind, and I was impressed by Vauban, who seemed to have learned plenty from his debut and put that experience to good use to get the better of the well-fancied Fil Dor.
Vauban had been beaten narrowly – and perhaps somewhat unluckily – by Pied Piper on his Irish debut and that one obviously paid a big compliment to the form by dotting up at Cheltenham the week before the DRF. Another clash between those two would certainly set the pulse racing.
Blue Lord did this column a big favour by narrowly getting the better of the mare Riviere D’etel in the Irish Arkle, though he was perhaps a tad fortunate on the day, with the runner-up making a crucial error at the last and also being slightly impeded by the winner on the run-in.
Just going back to Sunday for a second, I thought Sir Gerhard was more workmanlike than impressive in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle, where he saw off Three Stripe Life under a forcing ride from the front.
His jumping still needs plenty of work and I’d struggle to see him challenging the major players over 2m in the Supreme, a step up in trip looking a more viable option in the Ballymore for me.
I put up Walking On Air in an ante-post column for the Ballymore on these pages a few weeks ago, and being perfectly honest, I won’t be having too many sleepless nights should Willie Mullins opt to send Sir Gerhard that route, for all he’s clearly a progressive individual.
Anyway, on to this week’s racing, and it’s the 2m novice chase at 14:10 where I’ll be having my first bet, that coming in the shape of the progressive Ciel De Neige.
Despite taking an age to get off the mark over hurdles, this son of Authorized took to the bigger obstacles with elan at the first time of asking, jumping well on the way to convincing victory at Thurles in November.
Wille Mullins’ charge looks to have plenty more to offer over fences, and while he perhaps doesn’t have the star quality of some of his more illustrious stablemates, he still looks to have a fine future.
I’m banking on Wille Mullins completing a quickfire double an hour later in the 2m listed novice hurdle at 15:10.
Largy Debut sets the standard and will more than likely go off favourite, though I’m still far from convinced about the form of the Henry De Bromhead yard, despite him starting to land a few winners over the last week or so.
However, I’d want everything in my favour before siding with a favourite from a yard that isn’t necessarily firing on all cylinders and I’m taking Largy Debut on with Deploy The Getaway.
A winner of his sole start in the point-to-point sphere, this son of Getaway has taken a few runs to put it all together over hurdles, but he was most impressive on his way to an easy win at Down Royal last time and should have plenty more to offer now he’s up and running.
I suspect there’s little doubt that this one will eventually make a much better chaser than a hurdler, but there’s no reason at all why he shouldn’t make hay over the smaller obstacles in the meantime, particularly now he’s got the bit between his teeth.
Of the rest, Au Fleuron and Slip Of The Tongue are still lightly raced enough to think they may still have more in the locker, the former hailing from the bang-in-form Gordon Elliott yard, while the latter represents Joseph O’Brien.
It could well be worth keeping a close eye on Slip Of The Tongue in particular, as he looks the type that may be aimed at a handicap at one of the spring festivals. Owned by J P McManus, it would be no surprise at all were he to prove up to capturing something like that, and a good run here would set him up nicely for a tilt at that sort of target.
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