Michael Dorgan looks ahead to this weekends racing action in the UK and Ireland
Heading into 2019s second weekend racing fixtures the main talking point remains the persistent dry spell and the unseasonal fast ground which is playing havoc with trainers. The Cheltenham Festival is only nine weeks away and ordinarily, most trainer’s hopefuls would have had a few runs behind them. Champion trainer Willie Mullins yard is no different and a lot of his runners have been well below form first time out simply because they have been raced later than usual but also because the sod in Closutton too isn’t ideal or safe to train in. Patrick Mullins gave a very insightful interview on this issue to On The Ball last week which I implore everyone to listen to.
Looking ahead to the weekend’s action the feature race in the UK is the Lanzarote Hurdle the Unibet Lanzarote Hurdle, which takes place at Kempton on Saturday and is often won by classy hurdlers who go on to bigger and better things. Three of the last five winners carried over 11 stone, including two top-weights, with the roll call of winners including the likes of Saphir du Rheu (2014), Tea For Two (2015) and Yala Enki (2016).
15 runners head to post for this year’s renewal which is as competitive as ever with Kloud Gate (Jamie Moore/Gary Moore) and Darling Maltaix (Lorcan Williams (5)/Paul Nicholls) heading the market.
As ever, I tend to steer clear of these big field handicaps when it comes to punting.
In the 32Red Casino Chase (Listed) | 2m4½f, last year’s winner Waiting Patiently is another victim to the inclement weather and misses the race as trainer Ruth Jefferson’s waits for some rain, this is a high-quality field.
Still, this looks a cracking race with little to choose between Charbel and Top Notch who both head the market. The former was back to form with a bang this season running Politologue to half a length at Ascot before routing some decent opposition on the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last month. Noel Fehily got the leg up that day and the two really clicked in what was an impressive front running win from KiBailey’sys charge.
Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch won the rerouted Peterborough at Taunton in December 2017 and added the Oaksey Chase at Sandown on the final day of a lucrative season, one in which his results going right-handed read 1141.
His first run back this season was in the Grade 1 JLT Hurdle, where he was far from disgraced when third behind Paisley Park and the winning of this race will be between these two, howev,er I’m not prepared to get involved.
The race I’m most excited about this weekend is the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m5f over at Warwick where Nicky Henderson’s Birchdale 7/4 heads a high class field of seven. Tidal Flow, was impressive at Newbury last time out when he defeated Downtown Getaway.
Ex Irish point to pointer Beakstown seems overpriced at 10/1 and I think his defeat to 50/1 shot Ask Ben at Newcastle wasn’t a true reflection of Dan Skelton’s scopey six year old and I’m prepared to forgive him for that.
The Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m at Punchestown is the highlight Sunday and Willie Mullins has dominated this race in recent years, sending out seven of the last ten winners, among them subsequent Cheltenham Festival-winning novice hurdlers Mikael D’Haguenet, Vautour and Douvan.
Min in 2016 and Getabird a year ago also landed the prize, and this time Ireland’s champion trainer is represented by Harrie and Buildmeupbuttercup as he bids to continue his excellent record in the race.
Neither horse heads into this with the same lofty reputations as the above and with the ground posing clear problems this season for Team Mullins it makes finding the winner that bit more complicated.
Ruby Walsh partners Tramore maiden winner Harrie, with Paul Townend on Buildmeupbuttercup, who won a 29-runner maiden at Navan last month on her debut for the yard. Harrie heads the market at 5-2 leader on Saturday, with his stablemate 7-2 third favourite.
Felix Desjy, a dual bumper winner last season, when he also performed creditably in the Grade 1 bumpers at Cheltenham and Punchestown, has failed to build on his ten-length hurdling debut win at Galway in October.
Jetez, winner of a handicap over this trip at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, and Jan Maat, who finished sixth in the same race, complete the line-up.