Matt Tombs / Thursday 28th March 2013 / 11:25
1pt Buckers Bridge to win the Powers Gold Cup @ 11/1
1pt Goonyella to win the Irish National @ 16/1
The feature race of Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting is the Irish National but there is also a Grade 1 novice chase - the Powers Gold Cup, (2m4f). This meeting is always on Easter weekend, which apparently is (for reasons buried in the mists of time) the weekend after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. What that actually means is that the meeting is virtually unique in being run at quite different times of the year, (the Powers Gold Cup has been run between 23rd March and 24th April in the last decade.)
The obvious factor to consider is that sometimes the proximity to Cheltenham means horses that ran at the Festival won’t have had long to recover from their exertions. In the last decade only 3 winners of this ran at the Festival and Realt Dubh and Thari won this at the end of April. Only Like A Butterfly has won making a quick reappearance.
Some horses can take tough races close together but in this case I’m keen to avoid the 3 who ran at the Festival. Alderwood (6/1) won the Grand Annual off 140 which was a tough race in testing ground. That form is only on a par with several of these and there has to be a big doubt about him getting the trip in the ground, (currently heavy). He has form over further in ordinary hurdle races but has run at around the minimum trip over fences and this could be reminiscent of 3 years ago when Jadanli won, and they finished very tired.
Arvika Ligeonniere (7/2) was a big disappointment in the Arkle, running as if something was amiss. If he could bounce back to his brilliant all the way win over course and distance in the Drinmore, he’s the one to beat - but there must be a serious doubt about that happening at the moment. My guess is he’ll bypass the race.
Aupcharlie (10/1) was also disappointing at Cheltenham when trailing in 38l 11th to Benefficient in the Jewson. He should have no problem with a test of stamina but he looks a bit soft for a hard race so soon after his Festival exertions. He likes better ground and I suspect he’ll wait for Punchestown.
Of those that bypassed the Festival there are plenty that it’s easy to oppose. Dylan Ross, Savello, Realt Mor and Sweeney Tunes don’t look good enough (and the last named might run in the Irish National instead.) Oscars Well (9/2) looks to have lost his confidence jumping and might not get the trip. Mikael D’Haguenet (5/1) is still being priced up on past glories and hasn’t learnt how to get the landing gear out when he hits a fence, so is a risky proposition in any chase.
That leaves 3 to concentrate on. Mount Benbulben (7/2) has had jumping problems this season but seems much better going right handed. He’s performed decently going left handed since the turn of the year, being chinned by Marito over 2m at Naas, (soft to heavy) and then 2¼l 4th to Texas Jack in a strong Grade 2 at Leopardstown, (2m5f, heavy). Back right handed, he bolted up at Thurles, (2m2f, soft). He was far from fluent there though and jumping the big Fairyhouse fences in a much better race is going to put his suspect jumping under pressure. He has the engine to win this sort of race but he’s short enough given his jumping issues.
Dedigout (13/2) was much touted at the start of the season but had basically been disappointing before winning a good Grade 3 at Naas early in the month, (2m4f, soft.) He jumped poorly in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas and Tony Martin thought he hadn’t got over that when well behind Buckers Bridge at Navan (2m1f, heavy). He did look to improve last time but the runner-up You Must Know Me isn’t an easy horse to gauge and Twinlight didn’t get the trip, so I’m not convinced he beat that much. He’s still in the Irish National and I suspect he’ll prove better over further so I’m passing him over.
At the prices I’d much rather be with his Navan conqueror Buckers Bridge (11/1). What looked smart early season form to edge out Sword of Destiny at Punchestown over 2½m hasn’t really been tested as the runner up got injured, and Bucker’s Bridge then bombed in the Drinmore. However, given a good break he outstayed the useful Twinlight at Naas (2m1f, heavy) with Dedigout well behind. Trip and ground should suit ideally and, for all Dedigout might have improved since they clashed, Buckers Bridge shouldn’t be nearly twice the odds.
Buckers Bridge is fresher and much less exposed than most of these after just 3 runs over fences. Bar the blip in the Drinmore he’s been on an upward curve, jumps well and looks to have been seriously underestimated in the market.
The question for this sort of race is whether to go in now or wait for the declarations. Given he’s in the same ownership as Aupcharlie, those who demand a run for their money should wait and see. My guess is that Arvika Ligeonniere and Aupcharlie won’t run and Alderwood and Dedigout may not either. They’re 4 of the 6 at single figure prices and I can see Buckers Bridge being half the price he is now on the day. That makes it worth taking the risk that connections have a re-think and Buckers Bridge bypasses the race.
The Irish National itself is a really hard race for punters with three 33/1 shots and a 25/1 shot winning in the last 5 years. It’s also been a race for small yards with unexposed chasers getting in off light weights. I’m not too interested in the detail of the trends but unlike so many of the top races, the big boys don’t dominate, (Willie Mullins has never won it.) That means we shouldn’t be afraid to consider a longer shot from a smaller yard.
It’s the sort of race that I often won’t have a bet in, as it can just look too difficult. However, some years something jumps out and that was certainly the case with Jim Dreaper’s Goonyella (16/1). Young, progressive hunter chasers are often underestimated as so many hunter chases are crammed full of ageing, exposed or simply moderate types. It’s common for it to be assumed that there are no smart horses running in those races and the handicapper certainly looks to have taken a chance letting Goonyella in here off 127.
He won a couple of points in the autumn and then bolted up by a distance in a maiden hunter at Limerick over Christmas. A lightly raced 6 year old, he then took the plunge against the top Irish hunters. He was edged out in a driving 3 way finish at Thurles (3m, soft to heavy) just a neck behind Foxhunters hard luck story Oscar Delta. He then ran in the big hunter at the Irish Hennessy meeting at Leopardstown (3m, soft to heavy) when beaten less than 7l by Salsify and Tammy’s Hill. In both those runs he was running on powerfully at the line and he looks the type for this real test of stamina.
Salsify is rated 140 and is probably a few pounds better than that, so Goonyella looks well handicapped even before factoring in the steep upward curve he’s on. The obvious drawback is inexperience as he’s had only 3 chases under rules and 6 in points. However, he’s used to big fields and jumped the big Leopardstown fences well so there’s cause for optimism that he’ll be streetwise enough for this.
He’s currently just 2lb out of the handicap on 9-8 and Andy Lynch can do 9-10, which is a huge plus. Goonyella’s been amateur ridden so far as he’s been plying his trade in points and hunters. He looks a fairly straightforward type but the change to a leading professional may well bring about further improvement. Like Buckers Bridge he’s owned by the Potts and can make it a great Easter for them.