Matt Tombs / Friday 7th February 2014 / 15:20
There’s a cracking weekend of action either side of the Irish Sea. Racing fans should enjoy it, as there’ll be far fewer Festival horses out after Sunday. The Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown looks a good betting heat as favourite First Lieutenant (9/4) is well worth taking on. He’s a consistent, high class horse but has run in 9 Grade 1s at 3m+ and his only victory was in a weak race at Aintree, where he beat Menorah. This isn’t a strong renewal but I have serious doubts about him seeing out the trip on what looks like being genuinely testing going.
Racing is much the richer now that so many more old staying chasers are kept sweet into the veteran stage. Paul Nicholls was the pioneer of that art and remains the best exponent of training them. I couldn’t name the last teenager to win a Grade 1 but Tidal Bay (100/30) could well achieve that rare feat here. He edged out First Lieutenant in the Lexus last season and the worse the going the better his chance. He was nearly the selection, but its only 6 weeks since his fantastic ¾l 3rd in the Welsh National off 163. It looks like a late decision to come here and the Grand National is his main target so I wonder whether he’ll be at his peak for this, with the trip his bare minimum now.
Last Instalment (5/1) returned from 2 years off to run a fine race when beaten only 1¼l by Texas Jack in the Kinloch Brae over 2½m last month. It’s another step up here and he has the bounce factor to contend with. Philip Fenton, (who hasn’t had a winner yet this year,) was at pains to say he’d improve a fair bit between this run and Cheltenham. He’s short enough given what he has to prove.
Lyreen Legend (6/1) has only won a beginners chase, but was a good 2nd to Lord Windermere in the RSA. They finished in a bit of a heap in the Lexus, (first 8 home separated by 11l,) so he might have been flattered to be 8¼l 5th to Bobs Worth, (6¾l behind First Lieutenant) on yielding to soft. That was his first run of the season and Dessie Hughes is expecting him to improve significantly. He’ll go on the ground and has decent prospects of reversing the form with First Lieutenant, but that’s been noted in the market and he’s about the right price now.
Texas Jack (14/1) is a bit underrated and beat Last Instalment 1¼l when getting 2lb last time. The concern is stamina, as he looks unlikely to get home in the ground, (I’d been interested to see him tried at 2m). Paul Carberry is brilliant at stretching out stamina, but there’s a limit to what he can do and he looks an unlikely winner.
I’m giving one more chance to Lord Windermere, (12/1). He was hampered in the Hennessy, (when strongly fancied,) and Jim Culloty’s horses were under a cloud when he was 11l 7th in the Lexus. It’s hard to analyse the rules form of Culloty’s small string but he has plenty of pointers and they’ve apparently been running much better recently. On his RSA win, (Lyreen Legend 1¾l behind,) he is right in this and he’ll go on the ground. He’s too big a price.
1pt Lord Windermere to win the Irish Hennessy @ 12/1
The Betfair Hurdle is always hugely competitive and you can make a case for most of the field. However, I remember just how good Alan King thought Vendor (12/1) was 2 seasons ago, when he went off only 3/1 for the Fred Winter off 129, (finishing a decent 2¼l 3rd.) He clearly wasn’t right last season, but after a ‘full MOT’ he bounced back to win a strong handicap at the Hennessy meeting off 130, (2m3f, soft.) Saphir Du Rheu, who was 5¼l away 4th is now 36lb higher and several of the others have run well since.
He’s only 8lb higher here off 138. The breakneck gallop you used to associate with this is less certain now, but a strong gallop on testing ground, would suit him ideally. Alan King’s yard is 3/15 since re-opening, which suggests the problems are behind them. At 12/1 it’s well worth chancing that Vendor’s now fulfilling his potential. If he is, he could be chucked in here.
1pt Vendor to win the Betfair Hurdle @ 12/1
At Leopardstown the Deloitte sees a fascinating match up between The Tullow Tank and Vautour. The Tullow Tank (6/5) has won the two Grade 1 novice hurdles over 2m so far in Ireland. Just watching those races again, I think he was lucky in the Royal Bond as Arctic Fire would probably have won with a clear run. At Leopardstown at Christmas Arctic Fire got stuck in the mud and with Moyle Park disappointing, it looked a poor race for the grade. Whilst The Tullow Tank was well on top at the finish he looked in trouble between the last 2, and stamina won him the day.
Vautour (2/1) is 2/2 since joining Willie Mullins and the Grade 2 he won last month looked a stronger race than that won by The Tullow Tank at Christmas. Vautour was reportedly a bit short of fitness that day and pulled much too hard, only just edging out the promising Western Boy. A line through Mr Fiftyone suggests there should be little between The Tullow Tank and Vautour here, but I suspect we’ve seen more accurately how good The Tullow Tank is – Vautour looks open to lots of improvement and should be backed.
1pt Vautour to win the Deloitte Novice Hurdle @ 2/1
What had been shaping up into a vintage Foxhunter at Cheltenham is falling apart with Salsify and Rival D’Estruval ruled out this week, and a question mark hanging over whether Mossey Joe will make the race, having only just gone back into training. It’s therefore a market where there might be value in an upcoming, promising type who gets on a roll, so I’ll be watching the division with interest.
It usually pays to take on formerly classy types, who are on the downgrade, in the top hunter chases and Quel Esprit (5/2) looked a shadow of his former self last season. He won a point easily last month (at 1/4) but has to prove he can still cut it against some decent performers. If there is an up and coming star in Irish hunters its probably On The Fringe (11/8), who returned from nearly 20 months off when beating Tammys Hill and Salsify at Down Royal at Christmas. There were 3l between them then and Tammys Hill (5/1) is 3lb better off now. There’s no way there should be such a price disparity between them as, whilst On The Fringe is open to progression, he could bounce. Tammys Hill has been in the first 2 in 19 of his last 21 starts and looks the classic each way bet to nothing with 8 declared.
1pt e/w Tammys Hill in the Hunters Chase @ 5/1