Donn McClean was on target with Klassical Dream on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and he has two fancies from the Irish raiding party this afternoon.
There were Irish success stories on Tuesday all right. Four Irish-trained winners which could so easily have been five, a Willie Mullins double, a first Cheltenham Festival win for Rachael Blackmore, an eighth Champion Hurdle for JP McManus, and firsts for Gavin Cromwell and Mark Walsh. Espoir D’Allen is only the second five-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle since See You Then won his first in 1985, and See You Then won two more.
There will probably be Irish success stories on Wednesday too, and Delta Work could be one of them. Gordon Elliott’s horse battled on strongly to win the Pertemps Final last year. He proved that day that he could operate under Cheltenham Festival conditions, and he proved afterwards that he was better than a handicapper.
He went to Punchestown after Cheltenham last year, and he ran Next Destination to a neck in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. He had Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner Kilbricken Storm another neck back in third that day, with good horses like Ballyward and Discorama further back. He’ll make some chaser, they said.
Sure enough, after just three runs over fences, already his official rating over fences is higher than his official rating over hurdles. He was not overly impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Down Royal in November on his chasing bow, but he stepped forward from that next time in beating Le Richebourg in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse.
The distance was probably shorter than ideal for the Gigginstown House horse that day, and the ground was probably faster than ideal, but he still battled on bravely under Davy Russell to get the better of a highly talented rival, the pair of them coming clear. It was a high-class performance, enhanced subsequently by the fact that Le Richebourg then went and won two Grade 1 chases over an extended two miles.
Delta Work stepped up to three miles for the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, and he was impressive in winning that too. Things didn’t pan out ideally for him through the race, but he arrived there at the last, and he powered clear of Mortal up the hill.
This is an intriguing RSA Chase. Santini is obviously a high-class stayer, and he will be much more at home at Cheltenham than he was at Kempton last time, when he stayed on to finish third behind La Bague Au Roi in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase.
Topofthegame finished second in that race, two lengths in front of Santini. Paul Nicholls’ horse finished second in the Coral Cup last year, so we know that he handles Cheltenham, and he should progress from that Kempton run, just his second run of the season and his third chase. He did remarkably well to get to within three and a half lengths of the high-class Defi Du Seuil at Exeter in November after giving his rivals a start.
That said, Delta Work is rock solid. He has pace, he has stamina, he has Cheltenham Festival winning form, he is classy, he is progressive, he will love the ground, and he will have Davy Russell for company.
The Irish have a strong hand in the opener, the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Battleoverdoyen has been impressive in everything that he has done to date. Winner of his only point-to-point in April 2017, he was impressive in winning his bumper on his debut under Rules at Punchestown last November. And he was just as impressive in winning his two hurdle races, his maiden at Navan and the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle last time. There is no telling how good he could be.
Sams Profile ran a fine race to finish second in that Naas race. Mouse Morris’ horse made a significant error at the fourth last flight, just as the pace was increasing. Short of racing room at the top of the home straight, he stayed on well once in the clear to take second place behind the Gigginstown House horse. He is a player in today’s race.
But the value of the race could be City Island. Martin Brassil’s horse was impressive in beating Dallas Des Pictons in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival. Dallas Des Pictons then went and won his maiden hurdle by 10 lengths, and he won a good three-mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival last month off a mark of130. He is now favourite for Friday’s Martin Pipe Hurdle, set to race off a mark of 140.
City Island stepped forward from that to win a winners’ race at Naas next time. He was fully entitled to win that race, he was sent off at long odds-on, but he did it nicely. He picked up when Mark Walsh asked him to, and he came nicely clear of his rivals.
He is going to have to step forward again if he is going to win a Ballymore Hurdle, but there is every chance that he will. He has a really nice attitude, relaxed but willing, he is trained by an astute trainer, and he will be ridden by yesterday’s Champion Hurdle hero. This intermediate trip is a good trip for him, at least for now, and this is his race. He is owned by the race’s sponsors and he didn’t hold any other entries at the Cheltenham Festival. This has been his objective for a while, and he could out-run his odds by a fair way.