WOW – what a weekend’s racing on both sides of the Irish Sea with perhaps Hurricane Fly’s 14th top-class success in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle being the highlight here and a marvellous finish to the Argento Chase at Cheltenham being the highpoint in England.
The ‘Hurricane’, who secured a third consecutive victory in this race, couldn’t have been any more impressive and while some pundits are crabbing the form, he still had a former Champion Hurdle winner in Binocular trailing in his wake.
But while winning jockey Ruby Walsh told champion trainer Willie Mullins that his charge felt as good as he ever has, I can’t help feeling that the beaten rivals were nowhere near as good as he will face in the English equivalent in March and the likes of Grandouet and Rock On Ruby will be a much stiffer challenge.
I would love Hurricane to take the race again for another famous Irish win but while he shortened as favourite, it’s a huge ask.
Meanwhile, Cape Tribulation and Imperial Commander fought out a marvellous finish to the Argento and while the latter just failed by half a length, I and most of the punters I watched the race with were urging on Imperial with all our might.
An enforced 680-day period off games meant that the ‘Commander’ could be expected to need a run, but he showed that there’s life in the 12-year-old dog yet and if I had to pick between the two for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I would definitely opt for Imperial, the 2010 scorer, rather than the winner.
After a wonderful four days in the Irish racing calendar featuring the Thyestes Chase and the Irish Champion Hurdle, I’m having a hard time getting enthused about this week’s action so I’m going to have a look ahead.
Willie Mullins is hoping to get last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup hero Quel Esprit back in time for another bash in the prestigious Leopardstown heat on February 9, but I don’t think that he is good enough to master stable companion Sir Des Champs.
My early selection may have lost the Lexus Chase to English raider Tidal Bay, but there was an awful lot to like about his fourth in that race after a couple of mistakes, and I still think that with a slight correction to his jumping he has a serious shout in the Cheltenham Gold Cup after, hopefully, a winning run at home.
The horse that I took out of last weekend was another Mullins’ animal called Fatcatinthecat who took the opening maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in just 1.3 seconds slower time than battle hardened veterans in the feature handicap hurdle two hours’ later.
There are no easy races at a ‘fancy’ venue like the Dublin track but he easily disposed of rival Ibsen by eight lengths and his wily handler mooted the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham as a likely next target.
The Carlow wizard will have more important assignments at Prestbury Park but this is a horse that I would like to keep onside.
Looking at the footy I’m hoping readers will turn to this before 7.45pm on Wednesday when Arsenal take on Liverpool at the Emirates and I’m opting for a home win at a current 13-10. Liverpool will be keen to avenge their 3-2 flop against League One outfit Oldham in the FA Cup which was the biggest upset on a nightmare day for punters on Sunday.
Olivier Giroud probably did not endear himself to Gunners fans when as a possible replacement for Robin van Persie, he netted only once in his first 10 Premier League games. But he’s come good with six goals in his last eight matches.
Wednesday - Arsenal to beat Liverpool; February 9 Leopardstown 3.45pm - Sir Des Champs; March 13 Cheltenham 4.40pm - Fatcatinthecat.