The Irish Angle: Day Two
Donn McClean provides his expert views on the strong Irish challenge for day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
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The primary difficulty with the RSA Chase lies in deciding which horse is the best of the Irish.
Here's the conundrum: Morning Assembly beat Don Cossack in the Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown last November; Don Cossack beat Carlingford Lough in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse; Carlingford Lough beat Morning Assembly in the Topaz Chase at Leopardstown. Rock, paper, scissors.
Here's another muddle. Morning Assembly had Ballycasey seven lengths behind him in third place when he won the Grade 1 three-mile novices' hurdle at last year's Punchestown Festival. But Ballycasey beat Don Cossack (Carlingford Lough's conqueror) in the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase, and probably would have beaten Carlingford Lough (Morning Assembly's conqueror) even if JP McManus' horse hadn't unshipped his rider at the final fence.
You still with this?
So, if A beats B, and B beats C, and C beats A, where does that leave you, if you know that A beats D and D beats B and C? Confused, that's where. It's like one of those maths exam questions to which there is no correct answer.
Except the thing is, there is a correct answer, or there will be a correct answer by about 2.10pm tomorrow. It could be Morning Assembly. True, Pat Fahy's horse was beaten by Carlingford Lough in the Topaz Chase the last time we saw him, but that was a muddling enough race, they didn't go a great gallop, and Morning Assembly appeared to be out-paced as opposed to out-stayed from the back of the final fence by the John Kiely-trained horse who, don't forget, won a Galway Plate over two miles and six furlongs last summer.
As well as that, Carlingford Lough was running in his 12th chase that day, while Morning Assembly was running in just his third. Carlingford Lough is a high-class novice who has pace and who stays well, but Morning Assembly has more potential, and he just may have been done for experience as well as pace. He still has lots of scope to progress further.
Ballycasey and Don Cossack are both big players, but Morning Assembly is as tough as they make them, he is a galloper who jumps and stays well, who has a touch of class and who should relish the final climb from the last fence to the line tomorrow. He has a big chance.
Faugheen has been all the rage for the Neptune Hurdle ever since the race was first mooted as his target. He is five for five, he has won a point-to-point, a bumper and three races over hurdles, every one of them 'easily' or 'comfortably'. However, he is short now, and his stable companion Rathvinden may represent better value.
Winner of his two bumpers and an easy winner of his maiden hurdle at Cork in December, Willie Mullins' horse fell when travelling well in the Grade 2 race at Warwick that Deputy Dan won. Returned to Britain two weeks later, he went down by just two and a half lengths to Red Sherlock in another Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham, conceding 3lb.
He could have been feeling the effects of his Warwick exertions that day. Freshened up, given a nice break and returned to Cheltenham, there is every chance that he will reverse those placings with Red Sherlock on better ground and on better terms.
The ground has probably gone against Arvika Ligeonniere in the Champion Chase, but it has come in favour of Special Tiara, Sizing Europe and Baily Green. Sizing Europe's record at Cheltenham now reads 101122. Henry de Bromhead's horse has won an Arkle and a Champion Chase, and he has finished second in two more Champion Chases. He simply loves Cheltenham, and he has no Sprinter Sacre to worry about this year. If he can get into a nice rhythm, even as a 12-year-old, he could run a big race.
It is easy to see his stable companion Special Tiara bouncing along at the head of the field and leading until long after they have turned for home. He could out-run his odds by a fair way.
Baily Green hasn't won since November 2012, but he finished second to Simonsig in the Arkle last year, and he will love the fast ground. He ran a nice race on his penultimate outing to split Texas Jack and Last Instalment in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on soft ground and, back on good ground, he could spring a mild shock.
Finally, Star Neuville could be the one in the Cross-Country Chase. Barry Connell's horse finished a close-up third in the Irish Field Chase over the banks course at Punchestown last April on just his second run for Enda Bolger. One wind operation later, he ran a cracker to finish third in a handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse on his seasonal debut two and a half weeks ago. He jumps banks well, and he could be a really well-handicapped horse on a mark of 130.
Selections (best value bets among the Irish):
1.30 - Rathvinden
2.05 - Morning Assembly
2.40 - Sadler's Risk
3.20 - Baily Green
4.00 - Star Neuville
4.40 - Ivan Grozny
5.15 - Shaneshill