Balnaslow set to speed things up - Paddy Power Column

LAST week’s selection Hidden Cyclone ran a monster race at 4-1 in Saturday’s Clarence House Chase at Ascot, but unfortunately he was no match for favourite Sire De Grugy who passed the post 11 lengths ahead.

We have the unusual situation coming to the end of January when there are still doubts about two of the favourites in the four championship races at the Cheltenham Festival - the Queen Mother Champion Chase and World Hurdle - in which we are offering non runner, money back.

However, by Saturday evening we should know much more about both Sprinter Sacre, who has suffered from a fibrillating heart problem and the only horse the bookies reckon can beat Sire De Grugy in the Queen Mother, and Big Buck’s, the best staying hurdler of recent years who hasn’t been seen on a track for nearly 14 months.

By the time you digest this, the latest Sprinter Sacre news should be out as his equine heart specialist is due to visit on Wednesday, while Big Buck’s is scheduled to return in Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Both events will be welcomed by bookies and punters alike as the markets have been quiet with so much uncertainty about what are two key horses, although, of course, we won’t really know whether Sprinter Sacre has recovered until the acid test in the Queen Mother.

It’s Gowran Park’s big day on Thursday with the Thyestes Chase and I’m going to opt for the Willie Mullins-trained Balnaslow who is a 12-1 shot at time of writing.

I was very impressed with this fellow when he won a beginners chase as he liked at Thurles in October. I then thought he might not be as good as I’d hoped when he was well beaten by Felix Yonger in the Craddockstown Novice Chase at Punchestown the following month.

But his last start in a Grade 2 chase at Limerick over Christmas proved that he’s up there with the top novices as he was only beaten just over five lengths by The Paparrazi Kid and Felix Yonger again and as long as the ground doesn’t get too heavy, his weight of 10st 3lb makes quite a lot of appeal.

I’ve already mentioned Felix Yonger twice and I fancy him to land Sunday’s Irish Arkle at Leopardstown.

The race at Limerick mentioned above is the eight-year-old’s only defeat over the bigger obstacles and came on the worst ground that he had encountered in this sphere when the conditions were very testing indeed.

The form of this guy’s two and a half length victory over Defy Logic, who he could meet again at the weekend, has worked out very well with the runner-up subsequently winning a Grade 1 novice chase at this venue by three and a half lengths over Christmas.

Sunday’s race is a chance for Felix to prove that he is the best Ireland has to offer over two miles and I can then see him making a bold bid for the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Turning to the footy, I think Arsenal are a reasonable bet at a current even money to turn Southampton over next Tuesday evening at St Mary’s.

What I particularly like about the Gunners now is their growing consistency – in the old days, they would take a lead and then throw it away while now they seem to remain calm and composed and, if anything, increase that lead.

Since their 6-3 mauling by Manchester City last month, Arsenal have won six and drawn with Chelsea which bodes well for their title hopes.

In contrast the Saints beat West Brom earlier this month, but lost three of their four previous Premier League matches at home.


Thursday Gowran Park 3.15pm Balnaslow; Sunday Leopardstown 2pm Felix Yonger; Tuesday 28th St Mary’s 7.45pm Arsenal to beat Southampton




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