Saturday, February 25 – Fairyhouse
Joseph O'Brien, the son of legendary flat handler Aidan, has got some nice horses under his command, and LANDOFHOPEANDGLORY (2/1) could be one of the more exciting types in his yard. He goes in the 13:45 Grade 3 Hurdle over two miles at Fairyhouse on Saturday, and it might be worth siding with the four-year-old as he aims to bounce back from his first defeat over hurdles last time out.
He carried three pounds more than most of his rivals and went down narrowly at the hands of the exciting BAPAUME from Willie Mullins' yard in a slugfest at Leopardstown over Christmas. He lost nothing in defeat, however, as MEGA FORTUNE, who overturned form with BAPAUME in a subsequent race at the same venue on February 12, was behind O'Brien's charge on that occasion.
Gordon Elliott has a strong hand in this contest at his home track in the shape of DINARIA DES OBEAUX (6/4) who finished third to MEGA FORTUNE in that race on February 12. She will be the favourite on Saturday as she carries a full 14 pounds less than LANDOFHOPEANDGLORY, but the latter has more experience and should go well on the expected heavy ground. The pair should be at the finish together but PROSPECTUS would be an interesting each-way contender at around 12/1 given his pleasing performance last time in beating DAKOTA MOIRETTE at this track on similar ground.
The 14:55 at Fairyhouse on Saturday looks a trappy enough affair, but the tentative nod is for Tony Mullins' SHANNAK (4/1). He has been indifferent in most starts of late, but last time out, he looked rejuvenated on soft ground at the same venue on New Year's Day, when he won a three-mile event and had the subsequent Thurles winner from last Wednesday, SUTTON MANOR, almost ten lengths behind him.
The feature race on Saturday is the Bobbyjo Chase (15:30) and it is shaping up to be a very competitive contest. A former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, LORD WINDERMERE, Gordon Elliott's ROI DES FRANCS, and live Grand National hope PLEASANT COMPANY are all in the field. Willie Mullins' PLEASANT COMPANY (4/1) was 17 lengths behind CHAMPAGNE WEST in his last start, but he had a number of these behind him on that occasion, and is the likely favourite on Saturday in the absence of DON POLI.
However, his run before that was impressive when he staved off REGAL ENCORE in a three-mile event at Punchestown last April. He is a gritty sort who should stand up to conditions and run his race, but he might just find BAIE DES ILES (9/2) too strong on Saturday. The Ross O'Sullivan trained six-year old is improving and will have an able pilot in the shape of Katie Walsh. The mare won impressively by four lengths at Punchestown on February 5, and before that finished 5th in the Welsh National over Christmas.
Despite being 23 lengths off the pace, that form looks solid, as the victor that day, NATIVE RIVER, is now the antepost favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup following the withdrawal of THISTLECRACK earlier this week. BAIE DES ILES also had THEATRE GUIDE, another solid enough Colin Tizzard animal, ten lengths behind her in the Welsh National. Her ability to handle a cut in the ground, and the fact that she will get seven pounds from the likes of PLEASANT COMPANY, might just be enough to swing the contest in her favour in what will be testing conditions.
Sunday, February 26 – Naas
Attention switches to Naas on Sunday and in the 15:20 novice chase, EDWULF (7/2) and GENERAL PRINCIPLE (4/1) will be prominent in the betting. Joseph O'Brien is still holding out Cheltenham ambitions for EDWULF, and on his best form, he would take all the stopping. He finished over a length ahead of subsequent winner BACHASSON in Punchestown on January 14, but showed jumping frailties when he fell at the eighth fence last weekend in a fiercely run 3 mile chase won by ACAPELLA BOURGEOIS at Navan.
GENERAL PRINCIPLE was six lengths in arrears to BACHASSON in his most recent run last weekend at Gowran Park, but the vote goes for an each-way chance, SPACE CADET (9/1), ridden by Davy Russell and trained by Gordon Elliott. He bombed out and finished a remote last in his most recent run, a race won by A TOI PHIL at Leopardstown in January, but that was on good ground. The seven-year-old's best form has come on soft and heavy ground, the highlight of which was a six-length win in heavy conditions at Roscommon last October. He'll get his conditions on Sunday and under the astute stewardship of Russell, will outrun his odds.
The infinitely exciting ANY SECOND NOW for Ted Walsh will take all the beating in the 15:50 Grade 2 Novice Hurdle, and PEACE NEWS and JOEY SASA are merely remote dangers. Barry Geraghty will take the ride and it will be disappointing if the five-year-old doesn't continue his upward curve at odds of around 6/4, which look generous, given the expectation and potential, which is limitless.
The Grade 3 two mile chase (16:20) is another puzzle, but it might be worth taking a risk on PAIROFBROWNEYES (5/1). Barry Murphy's eight-year-old is easily the most consistent of these, and hasn't been out of the first three in his last four starts. The last time he ran on heavy ground was a race at Limerick, and he was a good second to WESTERNER POINT, a horse that has gone on to win again since.
The likely favourite in this one, CLARCAM (9/4) for Gordon Elliott, can be unreliable, and has never won on heavy ground, his best effort in the conditions coming just last weekend when he was second to a ten-year-old BALLYCASEY at Gowran Park. JUST CAMERON is an interesting runner for Micky Hammond, but he hasn't shown himself to be quite as effective on heavy ground, while WESTERNERS SON (16/1) will look to double up following a recent win over SQUOATEUR at Naas. A PAIROFBROWNEYES, however, might just have enough sparkle to shade an uninspiring contest.
Fairyhouse 13:45 - LANDOFHOPEANDGLORY (WIN - 2/1)
Fairyhouse 14:55 - SHANNAK (WIN - 4/1)
Fairyhouse 15:30 - BAIE DES ILES (WIN - 9/2)
Naas 15:20 - SPACE CADET (EW - 9/1)
Naas 15:50 - ANY SECOND NOW (WIN - 6/4)
Naas 16:20 - PAIROFBROWNEYES (WIN - 5/1)