‘What a great weekend of racing!’
It’s no secret that we say that or variations of that most weekends. There’s a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, we’re very easily impressed (wow, look at that cloud, it kind of looks amorphous and exactly like a cloud) and secondly, Paddy fills us full of Fanta and Hula Hoops in return for writing enthusiastically about it. There is a point to forthrightness and it’s that this weekend is actually a great weekend of racing. Don’t let your creeping cynicism arising out of all the times we’ve described the Charlie Hall Chase as ‘THE RACING EVENT OF THE YEAR!’ dismiss our claims. There’s so much quality racing on offer in fact, we’ll be using short, possibly nonsensical sentences to describe it. So pretty much business as usual really.
It’s unlikely to be adopted formally, but we’re calling Saturday at Cheltenham ‘Harry Redknapp Day’ because of all the trials. As we clamber desperately towards the end of the most depressing month of the year, we can see the shining light of happiness that is the Festival up ahead and Saturday’s action will go a long way to deciding which horses will get the chance to come back in March and which horses can book Paddy’s week off. Grand Crus will certainly be heading to the Festival, but his destination is to be decided.
A resounding win is now pretty much mandatory for Big Buck’s in the Cleeve Hurdle. Anything else will have the racing public wondering if he’s on the wane or just not at the peak of his powers. It’s going to take an off day or a lot of bad luck for the superstar to be dethroned and you get the feeling most of the opposition would count ‘getting a decent look at his arse as they cross the finish line’ as a successful outing. Mourad is the horse considered most likely to be best of the rest, but unless you’ve perfected time travel and has already been to Cheltenham this Saturday, there’s no logical reason to think the champion will fail to oblige against opponents he has generally beaten soundly on more than one occasion in the past.
There’s some high class racing in Doncaster too, the highlight being the Sky Bet Chase. Hold On Julio is the favourite and he’s a fascinating horse – ‘fascinating’ in the mainly positive way, but with a splash of cautious doubt. A couple of runs a few years back suggested he didn’t have the stamina for a walk around the parade ring, but after a long time away from the track, he has made a triumphant return and shown he’s a horse of real ability. He gave Neptune Collonges a good beating the last time out and further improvement is expected. There’s a lot of tried and tested old hands capable of upsetting the favourite, but Shakalakaboomboom is seen as the big danger. Not too dissimilar to the favourite, he’s another horse who has also got it together in recent times after a few performances which made you wonder if he really had the knack of this racing lark and it looks like being a cracking race.
On the more Leopardstown hosts a couple of days worth of quality racing. On Saturday Ted Walsh will put telling everyone else in the world of racing what they’re doing wrong on hold for a while in favour of saddling up Seabass for a wide open Leopardstown Handicap Chase. His charge is looking to make it 5 or 6 wins on the bounce – depending on whether or not you want to include a point to point victory in that run. Saturday’s action is mainly a tasty little appetiser for Sunday at Leopardstown. The Irish contingent aiming for the Arkle at Cheltenham is small and largely unfancied, but they could force their way into the reckoning with a good showing in the Irish Arkle. If either Blackstairmountain and Flemenstar were to win in style, they’d almost instantly command attention for the Cheltenham assignment and it would be a similar story if the English raider, Notus De La Tour were to signal his ability.
The reigning Champion Hurdler is pencilled in to make his belated seasonal appearance in a high class Irish Champion Hurdle later in the day, but given is track record when it comes to picking up knocks, we’ll believe it when we see it. If he arrives in full health, Hurricane Fly should be more than capable of defending his title before heading for the Festival, but the 9 pounds and couple of prep runs he’s conceding to Unaccompanied might just be enough for people to side with Dermot Weld’s exciting young’un. Likewise, Thousand Stars has seen too much of Hurricane Fly’s backside to be considered a better horse, but if the champ runs below par and he’s on form, he’s got enough quality to cause a shock.
It promises to be a quality weekend of racing and that’s not just the Hula Hoops and Fanta talking.