13:05 Fairyhouse

A typically strong instalment of the Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle and I fancy THREE STRIPE LIFE (best price 4-1) to supplement his impressive win last time out and make the step up in grade under Davy Russell. 

He was among the best of the Irish bumper contingent last term in which he impressed when sauntering to a nine-length success on debut before tackling the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. That resulted with an excellent fourth and, while the form has worked out phenomenally well since, connections put him away for the remainder of the season. He then made his hurdles debut over today’s course-and-distance last time and, although he was a bit hesitant in regards to the jumping department, he displayed his customary engine to pull clear of the field under a hands and heels ride by Davy Russell. He left the impression that he had a shed load more ammunition in the tank if required and Gordon Elliott expressed that this would be his early-season target so he rates a fascinating contender upped in grade here. 

Three Stripe Life  - 1pt @ 4/1

14.05 Fairyhouse 

The Porterstown Handicap Chase, run over three miles and five furlongs, looks much more difficult on paper but makes a fair bit of appeal from an each-way point of view and I like the claims of two participants, especially with most firms offering four places. 

The first of those being the Willie Mullins-trained STONES AND ROSES (best price 15-2) who created a dominant impression when seeing off some pretty useful stayers last December on heavy ground. The obvious minor concern would be the fact that we haven’t seen him on track for over a year and the handicapper hit him hard for that success (thirteen-pounds). That said, the manner in which he powered clear from Screaming Colours, who had previously ran well to finish fourth in the Midlands National, was really good and there’s reason for optimism about him staying this distance so he’s worth a chance at the prices. 

I’ll also be backing FORZA MILAN (best price 15-2), each-way, who finished a never nearer but staying-on fourth at Cheltenham last time despite making a bad mistake early on. The nine-year-old is a previous course winner, where he beat the favourite for this event, Coko Beach, off level-weights with a bit to spare and is, incredibly, nineteen-pounds better off with the runner-up here. On that basis, I can’t quite see why he’s twice the price of the top-weight and his first attempt at this trip was in this race twelve months ago when fourth. He travelled really well that day and probably hit the front too soon as he was caught between the second last and final fence. He finds himself three-pound lower this time round and boasts some seriously good novice chase form, too. I think he’ll improve on last year’s fourth as all of his form certainly indicates that he can be competitive once more with plenty going for him.

Stones And Roses  - 0.5pts e/w @ 15/2
Forza Milan - 0.5pts e/w @ 15/2

14.40 Fairyhouse 

It’s difficult to look beyond Honeysuckle, who cemented her position as the best hurdler last season when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle and Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in which she extended her unbeaten record in the process. She’ll be a short-price favourite and is of course the likeliest winner. There are each-way alternatives, however, with the most appealing of those being one my favourite horses in training - LATEST EXHIBITION (best price 28-1), who has been underestimated in the market at double-figure digits. 

Paul Nolan’s charge is a top-class horse in his own right, who had never finished outside the top-two prior to an excellent fourth in the Irish National off top-weight. It was, coincidentally, unfortunate that he’d been in the shadow of Monkfish for the last couple of seasons as otherwise, he’d have been a four-time Grade One winner for connections. It’s interesting that connections are lining him up for a crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and, despite needing a career-best here to cause an upset, this eight-year-old is more than good enough to reach the frame under the in-form Bryan Cooper, whose confidence will be sky high having ridden a brilliant treble yesterday. 

Latest Exhibition  - 0.5pts e/w @ 28/1