Ben Linfoot discusses Thursday's racing with Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy back in action, while Arctic Fire makes his belated chasing debut at the age of 10.
1. Presenting Percy is back
Hurrah! He returns. PRESENTING PERCY, Gold Cup favourite at a general 4/1 despite not been seen since his superb RSA Chase win at the Cheltenham Festival last March, is back on a racetrack in the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran on Thursday. It’s an unusual route for a Gold Cup wannabe, but trainer Pat Kelly is no stranger to giving this horse a maverick prep. Indeed, he won this race last year en route to the RSA Chase, and he’d won a 3m4f handicap over fences before that. It’s just great to see this horse in action and at least we’ll get an idea of where he is fitness-wise, even if we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see him tackle a fence again. This year’s renewal looks a bit hotter than last year’s, with Darasso and a battalion of Willie Mullins merchants bidding to take him down including Coquin Mans, Limini and Killultagh Vic. It’s not a King George or an Irish Gold Cup, but it’s a stern enough test on a seasonal reappearance for a horse that hasn’t been seen for 316 days.
2. Arctic to Fire over fences?
While Willie Mullins bids to thwart the Gold Cup favourite in the Galmoy and runs eight in the Thyestes Chase in pursuit of a lion’s share of the €100,000 pot, perhaps the most interesting horse on show associated with him is his former hurdler ARCTIC FIRE. Now with Denis Cullen, Arctic Fire makes a belated chasing debut at the age of 10 after the merest of hints the old sparkle is still there in two runs over hurdles for his new handler. Beaten 12 lengths by Bedrock and 15 lengths by Apple’s Jade this campaign reads okay considering those rivals appear to be in the form of their lives, so we’ll watch on with interest as he faces a fence for the first time – in public at least. "He's been schooling well at home,” said Cullen earlier in the week. "He has jumped plenty of fences. We've had him away to the Curragh and schooled him at home. We'll dip our toe in the water and see how he gets on.”
3. Can Man catch Fox at Wetherby?
If Wetherby beats the freeze the handicap chase at 3.20 throws up a fascinating tactical battle. In the red corner we have FOXTAIL HILL, a tremendously well-handicapped individual running off a mark of 132 having scaled heights as big as 147 in the past. He’s a front-runner and, while he might be better over two miles, this speed track should play to his strengths. Meanwhile, in the purple corner, we have MANWELL, a thriving up-and-comer for in-form Guiseley handler Sam England. On a hat-trick after wins off 108 and 116 on his last two goes, he’s up another 7lb following an easy success at this track on his latest start. Usually held up, Jonathan England is likely to leave his challenge until halfway up the straight. It’s a tantalising conundrum, let’s just hope the weather gods help this battle commence.
4. Gelded Dream bids to cement Turf claims
In 2018 Saeed bin Suroor and Godolphin won the Singspiel Stakes with Benbatl. He then won the Al Rashidiya, finished second in the Jebel Hatta and won the Dubai Turf. A tasty Meydan campaign, no doubt. This year’s Benbatl could well be DREAM CASTLE, a son of Frankel who finally looks to be delivering on all his potential following a gelding operation. Intractable at times in England as a three-year-old, he didn’t perform in Dubai at four, either, but being gelded looks to have ironically made a man of him as he won very nicely in this year’s Singspiel on the back of a 299-day break last time. Now he aims to follow in the hoofprints of Benbatl in the Al Rashidiya on Thursday, where Bin Suroor will be hoping he can complete the first part of the plan. After that, the Dubai Turf will likely be firmly on the agenda.
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