AS I sit here writing and dribbling at the prospect of Punchestown, it seems strange to think that two days of the National Hunt Festival will almost be completed by the time you are likely to read this.
This week I’ve decided to tip one jumps horse and one flat animal to keep fans of both codes happy and with Punchestown and the English Guineas the following weekend, there are reasons to be cheerful for everyone.
One horse that went under the radar a bit at Cheltenham was Willie Mullins’s Felix Yonger, who was runner-up to Simonsig in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle when belying his price of 16-1 and the fact that betting-wise, he appeared to be the least fancied of the champion trainer’s three contestants.
I fancy him to run a huge race in Friday’s Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle, not least because he was only beaten seven lengths by Simonsig, who then subsequently doubled that winning margin when coasting to victory in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National Meeting.
This Oscar gelding was one of the horses that Willie acquired when English handler Howard Johnson was forced to relinquish his licence and he has done very little wrong since crossing the Irish Sea.
Apart from the excellent effort at Cheltenham, Felix found one rival too powerful on his hurdling debut at Cork before making amends at Downpatrick and then asserting on the run-in at Naas to deny Dressedtothenines by three lengths in the Grade 2 paddypower.com Novice Hurdle in February. The trip of 2m 4f won’t be a problem as he had enough speed over two miles at Naas but also showed that he definitely stays further at Cheltenham.
I also like the fact that there are no ground concerns. He had already won a bumper on good ground at Musselburgh but before Cheltenham, he did have the profile of a soft surface performer. Any fears were put aside by his performance at Prestbury Park on decent ground.
Turning to the level some people have accused me of being Absolute Crackers but I think that the horse of the same name has a big future and can land Sunday’s Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Salsabil Stakes at Navan.
The three-year-old was not winning out of turn last time at Cork when landing an extended mile maiden by two and a quarter lengths from Teofolina as she had been runner-up on her three previous starts as a juvenile, including to Homecoming Queen in a Listed race at The Curragh. That form stacks up very nicely now as the winner took the Leopardstown 1,000 Guineas Trial earlier this month and now has options of the English or Irish Guineas.
I really liked the way that Absolute Crackers kept on well from before the furlong marker at Cork and I think she’s really crying out for this additional furlong and a half at the weekend. This filly already has an entry in a Group race at Naas in May and I believe she’ll reach a pretty decent level in time.
Newcastle picked up their sixth win in a row when demolishing Stoke last Saturday and while they will be a tough nut to crack in their bid for the Champions League, Wigan will be desperate to beat them on Saturday as they attempt to stay in the Premier League.
I think the match has all the makings of a draw, although Wigan will obviously be the more nervy of the two and I was disappointed with their approach to last weekend’s game against Fulham which they lost after a somewhat negative start to the fixture in which they took too long to play some attacking football.
Friday 6.05pm, Punchestown- Felix Yonger
Saturday 3pm - Wigan to draw with Newcastle
Sunday 3.25pm, Navan - Absolute Crackers