It’s a big weekend with Cheltenham fast approaching and a couple of contests on both sides of the Irish Sea will tell us plenty.
I really think that Al Ferof will need to win the Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury (2.25) if he’s going to be in the shake up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. His run in the King George VI Chase was a little disappointing as he never really seemed to get into a rhythm. He’ll need to put up a big performance here to put himself in the frame as a contender come March 14.
Nicky Henserson’s Hennessy winner Triolo D’alene would be a bit behind Bobs Worth in the pecking order I’d imagine so Al Ferof really needs to perform.
One that caught my eye at declaration stage was Far West. If he comes back to the best of his juvenile form he looks to have a winnable weight on his back in this competitive contest.
Ivan Grozny will take his chance here. I’d be hoping for a dry week as he’ll be better on good ground but I don’t think we’re going to get it on Sunday. He has to turn the form around with Aidan O’Brien’s Plinth who beat him by a head at this track over Christmas in a maiden hurdle. Willie has also entered Gitane Du Beralis and Abbyssial and they’re both good horses.
Ivan Grozny improved a lot for the run at Leopardstown and made a big impression at Naas since.
The Tullow Tank looks to be improving all the time and sets the standard but Willie has Vautour, Valseur Lido, Renneti and Artic Fire entered and all four worked well on Tuesday morning.
Both Champagne Fever and Ballycasey could run and they schooled well after racing at Punchestown on Sunday. I don’t think the step up in distance would be a problem for Champagne Fever and Ballycasey will really appreciate the 2m 5f trip.
We’ll get this out of the way first before the debate over what race will suit them best at Cheltenham begins in earnest.
Rubi Ball came back lame after schooling at Punchestown but I’ve come in for the ride on Paul Nicholls’ Tidal Bay as Willie we’ll have no runner in the race this year as Boston Bob misses it too. It’s a competitive Grade One race and has an open look to it.
I won the Lexus Chase here on him 14 months ago and his form is solid. He finished third in the Welsh National off a big weight and has a chance.
Last Instalment made a very pleasing comeback at Thurles after nearly two years off through injury and could improve again.
There’s been a bit of chat about Lyreen Legend who was fifth in the Lexus Chase over Christmas but he’ll have to improve again – even if it was his first run of the season.
One to note: Wicklow Brave (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, March 11)
Wicklow Brave was very impressive when beating Lieutenant Colonel at Punchestown. He travelled well, was very free but is entitled to take his chance in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
He looks like he will improve for better ground too as he has good form in summer bumpers.
Arvika Ligeonniere was a facile winner also and could be headed for the Champion Chase. Of course if Sprinter Sacre brings his ‘A’ game he’s not going to beat him but until he wins again he is vulnerable after being pulled up at Kempton over Christmas. There’s always the debate about him better going right handed but I was happy enough with him at Leopardstown – where he’s won before – so we’ll wait and see.