Irish angles: More Mullins magic
There is a real chance that Willie Mullins will pick up today where he left off yesterday, and he could get off to a flyer with Back In Focus in the National Hunt Chase.
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The Bob Back gelding is all stamina, the three miles of the Grade 1 Topaz Chase was barely sufficient for him, yet he got up in the very last strides to nut stable companion Aupcharlie on the line. He is a Grade 1 winner and he should improve for the extra test of stamina that today's curtain-raiser presents.
Tofino Bay could also out-perform his odds in the opener. Dessie Hughes' horse put up a huge performance for a novice having just his third run over fences to win the Troytown Chase at Navan last November under 11st 4lb. He is 10, but he is relatively lightly-raced, he is still potentially progressive. He majors on stamina and he will have Nina Carberry for company.
This could be another Willie Mullins-fest as you always had the feeling that Pont Alexandre was probably the horse that the champion trainer was most looking forward to this week. A Grade 1 winner and Grade 2 winner in just two runs for Mullins, he usurped Champagne Fever as the yard's Neptune Hurdle number one, and we know now how good Champagne Fever is.
Rule The World could also go close in this. The Slaney Hurdle, in which he beat Minsk and Champagne Fever, did fall into his lap a bit, but he couldn't have won the race any more easily, and he was a highly-regarded horse before then, impressive in winning two of his three hurdle races before that. And, as we saw once again yesterday with Baily Green, Mouse Morris rarely brings one over to Cheltenham if it doesn't belong.
It was disappointing for Boston Bob fans (guilty) when Ruby Walsh chose to ride Unioniste instead of him in the RSA Chase, but Paul Townend is a top class rider, and it was Townend who was on board when Graham Wylie's horse got up to win the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase at Leopardstown last month, and when he won his maiden hurdle at Navan last season.
Lyreen Legend wasn't beaten far in that Moriarty Chase, and Dessie Hughes' horse can be expected to improve for that experience, given that he had a rushed preparation after taking a little while to recover from his fall in the Topaz Chase just six weeks earlier. He should also improve for the step up to three miles, and he could out-run decent odds.
Henry de Bromhead has chosen the brave man's path by allowing Sizing Europe take on Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase instead of waiting for tomorrow for the Ryanair Chase. There is a school of thought that suggests that two and a half miles could be Europe's optimum trip these days as an 11-year-old but, an Arkle winner and a Champion Chase winner, he is fully deserving of his place in the line-up.
Continuing the Willie Mullins theme, Abbey Lane could be the answer to the Coral Cup puzzle. The son of Flemensfirth needed every yard of the two-mile trip to get up and land the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown last time.
He is not obviously well-handicapped on a mark of 139, 15lb higher than the mark off which he won that race but, winner of a three-mile novice hurdle at Perth in 2010, he should improve for the step up in trip today. Also, he was having just his second run for Mullins when he won at Leopardstown, so it is reasonable to expect him to improve again. There is a €100,000 bonus for the winner of the Boylesports if he goes on to win at Cheltenham, so you know that he will be primed to run for his life.
Fatcatinthehat could be the best of the Irish in the Fred Winter Hurdle, even though jockey bookings suggest that he isn't even the best in his yard, while Tony Martin has a strong hand in a fascinating Champion Bumper. The drying ground will suit Blackmail, who was impressive in winning at Leopardstown in January, who worked well after racing at Leopardstown 10 days ago and for whom Barry Geraghty is an interesting booking, while Golantilla was impressive in winning his only bumper at Cork and whose price tag suggests that he could be a champion-in-waiting.
Also, the Liz Doyle-trained Le Vent D'Antan is up against it as a four-year-old, but he is a mature four-year-old, he is really highly-regarded, and he was most impressive in winning the four-year-old bumper at Leopardstown in January that has been won by some top class performers in the past.
* For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.