Currently on paper, the Irish team heading to the Cheltenham Festival looks solid. With favourites in a large majority of the festival races, I have taken a closer look at some of the Irish hotpots set to line up at the festival in just under two weeks and discuss whether I see them as a banker or one to avoid.
Footpad - Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase - Banker
‘He’s as good a novice as I’ve seen schooling at home’’ was the quote from Willie Mullins directly after the chasing debut of Footpad at Navan in early November. 11 lengths separated him and Any Second Now at Christmas, while he cruised home five lengths ahead of the Henry De Bromhead-trained Petit Mouchoir most recently, in doing so overcoming his toughest assignment over fences to date.
We know everything wasn’t 100% with Petit Mouchoir in the lead up to the Irish Arkle, coming into the race off the back of a lay off and he wasn’t given a hard time by Davy Russell in the closing stages. There will be those that will see that form being reversed. That said, the manner of victory from Footpad for me suggests he has the measure of the Gigginstown recruit over fences.
Footpad was never the most fluent jumper of a hurdle, looked like he needed further than two miles and was beaten on the three occasions that both he and Henry De Bromhead’s horse met over hurdles. However the transition that Footpad has made since jumping the larger obstacles has been some spectacle. Being able to jump fluently at speed makes the trip less relevant and therefore I would find it difficult to oppose Footpad, even at his current skinny odds.
Un De Sceaux – Ryanair Chase - Blowout
Un De Sceaux raced keenly and fought his way to the front early on in this race 12 months ago. To win how he did was impressive. Now a 10-year-old, the Willie Mullins recruit has done little wrong this season in winning the Hilly Way at Cork by 25-lengths on his reappearance and the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase at Ascot by seven-lengths. That being said, there are reasons to be negative.
On reflection the form of last year’s race was not strong, with only Vaniteux of those who finished in behind going on to win a listed handicap chase since. Un De Sceaux was also beginning to look weary in the closing stages last year having raced freely and with the likelihood of a bigger field and more pressure being applied, he is unlikely to get away with that this time round.
Un De Sceaux is a horse that probably has been under rated throughout his profitable career and maybe there is still a bit of that when I look at his form. Even so, for me he is worth taking on.
Apple’s Jade - OLBG Mares' Hurdle - Banker
A narrow winner of this race 12 months ago, in what turned out to be one of the highlights of the festival, it looks likely that the Gordon Elliott-trained Apple’s Jade will bid to defend her title in the mares’ hurdle.
Unbeaten in four starts since last March, she was an imposing winner of the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse, before stepping up to the three-mile trip for the first time at Christmas and narrowly drubbing the Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae. Astonishingly she still looks to be improving and has looked better than ever this year.
Despite having many more lucrative options available at the festival, this looks her target and given she would most likely be to the head of the market if heading down the Stayers Hurdle or even the Champion Hurdle route, she looks assured to go close.
First of all. What Pat Kelly has done with a limited string of horses has been considerable. Presenting Percy is one of that string and although to you and me it may look like he has campaigned somewhat oddly, you can be sure he will be primed to run the race of his life in just under two weeks time.
A decisive winner of the Pertemps at the festival last year under regular partner Davy Russell, since going chasing the seven-year-old has won two of his four starts. Second to Our Duke over 2m 4f last time out in the Red Mills Chase, the Sir Percy gelding was a winner of the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran on his previous outing.
With the best form on offer, it may be crucial that Kelly got that extra run over fences into Presenting Percy. The likely big field here will hold no fears and with the step back up in trip in his favour, he looks solid.
Getabird - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle - Blowout
If the opening race of the festival was to be run on soft to heavy ground, I think Getabird wins the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. His win in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown was everything you could have hoped for and he looked impressive. He posted a good time given ground conditions and his form is the best on offer.
At the moment the Supreme doesn’t look the greatest renewal and therefore I might be about to shoot myself in the foot by opposing Getabird.
Having won last time out, Mullins was quick to point out that the deluge of rain the night before was a massive help to his charge. Despite winning a bumper on good to yielding ground, at Grade 1 level I don’t think good ground is what he wants. For that reason he is opposable at his current odds. It’s a race at this stage I would struggle to pick the winner.
Samcro - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - Banker
It’s a dangerous thing to get sucked into a hype horse and every year we have one or two heading into the Cheltenham Festival.
There is plenty of hype surrounding Samcro but for me his win the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival warrants that hype.
The right noises were being made following his point-to-point victory at Monksgrange and he has remained unbeaten in six starts since. The way he eased into the lead under Jack Kennedy approaching the final flight in the Deloitte was breath taking and with his closest challenger that day Duc Des Genievres looking likely to avoid him at the festival, he looks the winner and hopefully turns out to be something that extra bit special.