Matt Tombs / Tuesday 28th April 2015 / 10:27
Having watered to prevent fast ground, 11mm of rain fell during Sunday and Monday. Further rain is predicted on Tuesday night and Wednesday (up to 10mm) and temperatures are due to be cool, slowing the drying process. The ground is officially good to yielding, (good, good to firm in places on the cross-country course.)
In these sorts of situations, you only really know how the ground will ride on each track after there’s been a race on it. My guess is that the chase and hurdles tracks will ride slower than at Cheltenham, (ignoring Friday,) and Aintree.
At end of season meetings plenty of horses won’t run to their true level of ability, especially those that have had hard recent races at the other spring Festivals. You get unfathomable results like exposed 20/1 shot Jetson beating odds-on Quevega in the Grade 1 3m hurdle last season. On the same afternoon, 25/1 shot God’s Own won the 2m novice chase, with 5/4 favourite Champagne Fever running no sort of race.
That’s not to say the odds-on shots won’t win very often – last season Faugheen (1/2), Jezki (4/5), Vautour (1/3) and Annie Power (1/6) all won Grade 1s easily. Plenty of the Grade 1s are uncompetitive, especially with Willie Mullins trying to keep his stars apart. Odds-on favourites can provide good value, but the risk does need factoring in – it’s a question of working out which ones to take on.
The one I’m ducking is Douvan who is 1/4 for the 2m Grade 1 novice hurdle. Before he won the Supreme, he was described by Willie Mullins as one of the nicest horses he’d ever taken to Cheltenham. Ruby Walsh said he has more gears than Vautour. Mullins likes to be mob handed in these races and it may be a mark of his confidence in Douvan that he is his sole representative. Had there been 8 runners, the 33/1 each-way about Rich Coast might have been tempting now he’s on better ground, but I’m going to leave this race alone.
Don Poli (4/9) is a worthy favourite for the 3m1f Grade 1 novice chase, having looked to be idling when easily beating what was probably a substandard RSA field by 6l. He’s the type who keeps a bit for himself, so should have a good chance of running his race at this stage of the season. He jumps and stays really well but I’m keen to take him on at 4/9 as he faces two other classy Grade 1 winners here.
I’ve been a fan of Apache Stronghold (6/1) for most of the season, but he’s not quite as good as I thought he was. He was beaten fair and square by 3l, looking to get outstayed, by Don Poli over a furlong shorter at Leopardstown at Christmas. The balance of his form suggests he’s vulnerable to a horse of Don Poli’s class, and his jumping frailties resurfaced at Fairyhouse last time.
The right bet is Valseur Lido (9/1) who is very closely matched with Apache Stronghold on their Grade 1 form in the 2m5f Flogas on yielding ground at Leopardstown and on fast ground in the 2m4f JLT. He’d previously looked a brilliant prospect when thrashing Apache Stronghold on softer ground over 2m4f in the Drinmore, after which Willie Mullins said he was an RSA, not JLT, horse.
Gigginstown overruled Willie and Valseur Lido has yet to run beyond 2m5f. Many have assumed that Willie just wanted Patrick to ride Don Poli in the 4 miler, but if he’s right about Valseur Lido being a stayer, he might just have too many gears for Don Poli.
He did bomb at Fairyhouse last time and there’s the risk he might have had enough for the season, but he had a long break over the winter so I’m prepared to take that chance, as 8/1 is a huge price for a horse of his ability. Ruby Walsh rides him for the first time here and it would be no surprise to hear a touch of I-told-you-so in Willie Mullins’ post race interview, after Valseur Lido has landed the spoils.
1pt Valseur Lido to win the Growise Novice Chase (18:40) @ 9/1
Whilst the open 2m chasing division is weak, Willie Mullins two novices, Un De Sceaux and Vautour, are fantastic prospects. After Cheltenham, I wrote that I hoped Coneygree winning the Gold Cup as a novice would encourage other trainers to consider running novices in championship races. This isn’t a championship race but it’s the next level down – and Willie Mullins looked set to run Vautour, which would have been fantastic. Sadly he failed to sparkle in his work at the weekend and misses the race. With the remaining runners rated between 162 and 143, this is really a Grade 2 strength chase, with the best days of most of the runners behind them.
The fascinating joker in the pack is Flemenstar (14/1). He looked a top class horse 2 seasons ago and is 5/6 at around 2m over fences, beaten only by the brilliant Bog Warrior on his fencing debut. He got injured after winning the Fortria at the start of last season, reappearing after 16 months off in a 2m4f Grade 2 at Navan last month. He ran well for a long way there before getting tired and being allowed to coast home. It’s hard to tell which way he’ll go from that, but if he comes on for the run and retains the lion’s share of his ability, then he can win this. That’s a big ‘if’ and having been put up by Pricewise, the fancy prices have gone.
Champagne Fever (7/2) has been a bit of an underachiever over fences, with 3 wins from 9 starts, (0/5 in Grade 1s.) He’s looked good twice this season when winning Grade 2s over 2m4f on testing ground. He didn’t look to stay in the King George and Ruby Walsh said he was a bit flat when he tipped up at the last when upsides Don Cossack less than 3 weeks later. He was very disappointing at Aintree though and he’s a risky proposition at short odds, having bombed at this meeting for the last 2 years. He’s more the sort I’d back at a big price against top-notch opposition.
Hidden Cyclone (7/2) looks a more solid proposition. Two miles and a sound surface might be just what he needs. He was really impressive when winning the Tied Cottage over course and distance in February, (those behind not reliable yardsticks.) He was disappointing in the Ryanair, but was keen early on there and it might have been a case of not getting the 2m5f trip having done too much too soon, (returned with a cut). He does look a better jumper now and has sound claims, though the replacement of cheekpieces with blinkers is a concern.
There are no shortage of horses I’ve been a fan of over the years in this, and Felix Yonger (7/1) is another. Like Hidden Cyclone, he’s been tried at different trips but, like him, a fast run 2m might be ideal, and the quicker the ground the better. He comes here full of confidence after 3 wins in a row. Ruby Walsh prefers Champagne Fever but there must be an element of guesswork, given none of the 3 Mullins horses are consistent types. His price looks on the generous side.
Willie’s other contender is Twinlight (7/1). He’s a pure 2 miler but is an in and out type. He’s put in 3 good performances this season, including when beating Hidden Cyclone comfortably in the Leopardstown Grade 1 at Christmas. He’s run a couple of stinkers too and it’s hard to know what to expect. Paul Townend gets on well with him, and Danny Mullins has won on Felix Yonger so I wouldn’t read too much into riding arrangements. Twinlight relishes testing ground and conditions might be too quick for him here.
Mallowney (13/2) was called a few names last season but had looked to be progressing really well in his first 2 runs this year. Ridden much more prominently, he hacked up in the valuable Dan Moore Handicap Chase off 148 and then won the Grade 2 Newlands Chase by 17l. He was disappointing when beaten at 1/2 by Twinlight in the Normans Grove last time, but the small field and the absence of Davy Russell, who seems to get on particularly well with him, might excuse that run. Russell is back on board here on his return from injury and Mallowney won on similar ground at the meeting last season. The likely strong pace will suit ideally and if he puts his best foot forward he has a great chance.
Flemenstar was tempting when 20/1 last night as, at their respective peaks, he’d beat the other five mentioned above. That might be a case of the heart ruling the head though and Tom Segal has kept me out of temptation, as the right play is to back the up and coming Mallowney. Like most of these he’s not straightforward, but I think he had excuses last time and he’d looked really progressive under more positive tactics before that. Tim Doyle’s small yard had a 28/1 winner recently and this has always been his big spring target.
1pt Mallowney to win the Boylesports Champion Chase (17:30) @ 13/2