Matt Tombs / Friday 30th November 2012 / 14:35
1pt Arvika Ligeonniere to win the Drinmore @ 100/30
1pt So Young to win the Hatton’s Grace @ 7/1
Plenty of punters don’t seem to want to watch Irish racing even though it’s generally better quality than British racing, (because there’s much less of it.) Even if Newcastle goes ahead it’s actually not a great Saturday’s racing, the Hennessy apart, but the triple Grade 1 card at Fairyhouse on Sunday is one of my favourites of the season and looks well up to scratch.
The horse I can’t wait to see running is Arvika Ligeonniere who runs in the Drinmore novice chase (2m4f). The Fairyhouse fences are as stiff as anywhere and jumping out of the bad ground (currently soft, heavy in places) is crucial. I was really impressed with Arvika Ligeonniere’s jumping at Punchestown on debut (2m4f, yielding.) Whilst it wasn’t a great field, he gave the 3rd Glibin 7lb and beat him on the bridle, and Glibin has won a couple of novice chases since.
Arvika Ligeonniere is 16/1 4th favourite for the Arkle but was tried over 3m in the Albert Bartlett in 2010, (ran well but didn’t stay). It’s not yet clear what his best trip is but he looks to have more pace than any of these and I think he’ll jump and stay well enough that they won’t be able to run the finish out of him. 100/30 looks big.
The favourite Dedigout is much more of a stayer. He progressed all through last season’s novice hurdle campaign. Beaten by Monksland at Naas he then won a handicap off 132 before taking the 2m4f novice Grade 1 at Punchestown, (heavy). I’m always a bit wary of the form of those end of season Punchestown Festival races though and he beat nothing when winning a beginners chase at 2/9 (the 2nd, Happy New Year, winning a couple of handicaps off 86 means little in the context of this). He looks a cracking prospect for staying chases but his jumping wasn’t special last time and he’ll need to improve that if he’s going to put pressure on Arvika Ligeonniere - he’s very short at 5/4 against 2 quality novices.
The other one who could be a top class novice is Buckers Bridge (9/2). He was a bit lucky to beat Sword of Destiny at Punchestown, (2m4f, heavy) with the latter looking to have taken a small but decisive advantage when bunny hopping the last and going down by 1½l. Buckers Bridge is still unbeaten and goes there with sound claims but hasn’t shown the star quality Arvika Ligeonniere has and had a hard race last time.
In the Royal Bond novice hurdle (2m), the Champion Bumper winner Champagne Fever is 11/8 favourite and whilst he looks a really good horse, nobody thinks he’s a 2 miler. Willie Mullins often uses this for his top novices before stepping them up in trip - Sous Les Cieux won this last season, but this looks a better renewal. The Champion Bumper winner is generally a stayer and whilst Dunguib followed up in this, Cousin Vinny, Cork All Star and Total Enjoyment were all beaten and I think Champagne Fever could get done for toe, even with the advantage of being able to make his own running.
Minsk (4/1) is an unknown quantity over hurdles. He was the hype horse for the Triumph last season but didn’t reach the course until late February and was beaten on debut, so went back to the flat and ran 2 good races in listed company. He jumped nicely on his return at Punchestown to win by 8½l from the previously unbeaten Glens Melody, (2m4f, heavy). She was his only serious opponent and the form is hard to weigh up. This hasn’t been a race where classy recruits off the flat have tended to win. Whilst he handles bad ground better than many who’ve tried, my gut reaction is that he’s priced up on reputation and may need further.
By contrast, Jezki was originally overlooked at 9/2 given he has comfortably the best hurdles form on offer. He beat Ally Cascade (winner since) cheekily at Naas, (2m, soft) before returning there and blowing away what looked a good field of 4 year olds (including Triumph 2nd Hisaabaat who was beaten 34l giving 11lb.) He is best on a sound surface but he went through the soft to heavy well last time and I think he might be a Supreme horse, in which case he could win here even though the ground’s not ideal.
Rather like Cinders and Ashes, Jezki didn’t look to get home in the Champion Bumper but that’s a race for stayers and he’s looked a different proposition switched to hurdles. The 9/2 is long gone but if you want to have a bet in the race the 3/1 is still the best value.
The open Grade 1 is the Hatton’s Grace hurdle over 2m4f. I’ve always been a Voler La Vedette fan but she looks short at 7/4 here against a much better field than she beat last year, with a bit of a question mark over her after getting turned over at 1/7 in the Lismullen. Monksland looked good when beating Joxer on his return but 7/2 is a bit skinny for a horse unproven in open company and I prefer the Mullins pair Zaidpour and So Young.
It’s interesting that the jockey arrangements looked to be still under debate (Ruby’s name went straight up next to Champagne Fever, with Paul Townend on Zuzka.) Zaidpour (3/1) is the obvious one for Ruby to go for but the fact that he’s even thinking about So Young (7/1) is telling. So Young is unbeaten in 5 runs for Willie Mullins on soft ground or worse and it might be that he really needs that surface to show his best. He thrashed Supreme 3rd Trifolium over 2m at Navan giving him 5lb and, at the prices, I’m going to give him another chance.
The Grade 1 action in Britain is (hopefully) at Newcastle where what looked a fascinating Fighting Fifth has cut up with bottomless ground in prospect. The defections of Rock on Ruby and Darlan look to have left Cinders and Ashes with a simple task. He acts on bad ground, though Donald McCain has been adamant that he’s best on a sound surface which might be why he’s as big as 4/5. Countrywide Flame looks up against it on unsuitable ground and whilst both Trofolium and Bothy will enjoy the conditions they shouldn’t be good enough to trouble the favourite. He might be the banker for weekend multiples.
For those doing Ten To Follow entries today, a key tactic is to get winners of the Hennessy and Bula, ideally horses that weren’t obvious when most entries were made a fortnight ago. In the Hennessy plenty of those early entries will include Bob’s Worth and if he wins it’s bound to have been an advantage to have entered already so you may be better going with Hold on Julio or Friscot Depot who’ll have been in few teams. I’m including my fancies Duke of Lucca and Alfie Spinner as they’d give me a big advantage if winning - they’d be ideal star horses. The Bula is looking a much more competitive race than looked likely, with Rock On Ruby now in the mix as well as Grandouet and Zarkandar. With nothing coming out of the Racing Post Hurdle, they look the 3 to concentrate on.
The second tactic is to look at the 4 Grade 1s this weekend, all of which are 25 point races. Cinders and Ashes is odds-on in the Fighting Fifth so (assuming that goes ahead) now looks clearly a better selection than Darlan who might have to take Hurricane Fly on at Christmas. Champagne Fever and Minsk in the Royal Bond look potentially top class novices, though have no bonus race to go for. Dedigout and Arvika Ligeonniere in the Drinmore might be Arkle / RSA horses and have a big advantage in the likely points they could pick up over the winter compared to their British counterparts, (in the last five years Ireland have won half the Arkles and RSAs.)
Otherwise I’d still stick to the obvious with the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Big Buck’s & Hurricane Fly. Oscar Whisky looks worth including for the Aintree Hurdle even though he’s scored points already but my guess is it’s too late to include Al Ferof. I’d therefore go for Cue Card, Sizing Europe or Riverside Theatre for the King George, and Flemenstar or Sir Des Champs for the Irish Hennessy.