Mullins' Blazer fits in nicely for Newbury bid
Last weekend's smooth winner taken to defy Betfair penalty
With a prize fund of £155,000 that translates near enough into €200,000, it is maybe no surprise that Willie Mullins is going full bore on this afternoon's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
If the perennial Irish champion trainer is to give the British title a rattle, a win in the most valuable handicap hurdle in the country would help. To that end, with a deficit of nearly £873,000 to make up on Paul Nicholls, today's two-mile event could prove crucial.
Nicholls saddles JP McManus's unexposed Modus, which Barry Geraghty has eschewed in favour of Mullins's Blazer. Also representing the Closutton outfit are Dicosimo, Kalkir, Ivan Grozny and Buiseness Sivola, so there is the prospect of hoovering up some place money as well.
Completing the Irish challenge is McManus's Noel Meade-trained Waxies Dargle, which has a bit to prove.
This is by far the strongest Betfair Hurdle raiding party in numerical terms since 2007, when Tony Mullins's Pedrobob became the last cross-channel contender to make the frame. In 2005, Geraghty was the man in the plate when Essex recorded the most recent of four Irish wins, and he is expected to end the drought aboard Blazer.
There is, of course, a danger of taking last week's Leopardstown stroll for more than its worth, given that this is a contest of greater quality.
On Saturday, Blazer carried 11st 2lb for 126, and a five-pound penalty gets him in here off just 10st 4lb, which illustrates the step up in class. However, he is seven pounds well in based on his new Irish rating. While that sort of theory is often misguided, in this instance the feeling is that Blazer might have even more in hand.
Successful on his only completed start over flights for Guillaume Macaire a year ago, Blazer's chasing career is on hold after a poor turn over Christmas. He looked potentially well treated on switching back to hurdles last week, and so it proved, as he danced up despite a mistake two-out. Blazer scored by three-and-a-half lengths from Mighty Concorde, but he could have won by 13-and-a-half. In short, he is an unexposed horse with the potential to progress massively.
If his jumping holds up under the likely quicker early fractions, there is a live chance that odds of 4/1 will ultimately seem far more generous than might normally be the case in such an otherwise open handicap. Agrapart, third to Yorkhill at Sandown last time, might be one for an each-way venture at up to 20/1.
With Dodging Bullets odds-on for his comeback in the Game Spirit, that is a race to watch, but the Denman Chase is interesting.
While Rocky Creek should win, he is hardly reliable. Houblon Des Obeaux might give this a rattle at around 7/2. Second to Coneygree in the race last year and second to Many Clouds in the Hennessy before that, Venetia Williams' nine-year-old clearly goes well over course and distance.
Moreover, he relishes soft ground, and first-time cheek-pieces here might sharpen up his game. Houblon Des Obeaux ran in snatches when fourth under a welter burden at Warwick last month, so the headgear should make Aidan Coleman's job easier in a race not short of dead wood.
At Warwick, Mullins's Petit Parisienne and Jarlath Fahey's Jennies Jewel tackle the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. Second to Gwencily Berbas at Naas on her return, Petit Parisienne flopped last time, but is a dual Grade One winner that will be happier here dropped back to two miles.
Henry De Bromhead is well established as a particularly astute handler by now, and his plotting with Alisier D'Irlande offers further proof of that.
A lightly-raced French-bred that was acquired for the princely sum of £300,000 after winning a point-to-point for Willie Codd, Alisier D'Irlande failed to progress when held up in two outings over flights for Philip Hobbs.
Switched to De Bromhead a year ago, he benefited from a change of tactics when pulverising the opposition from the front in a Thurles maiden hurdle.
Slightly more gassy on his Fairyhouse fencing bow in January, he jumped to his left there before crashing four-out. Back on an anti-clockwise track at Naas on Sunday, he galloped and jumped inferior rivals into submission with a 17-length rout.
He looks another deeply exciting prospect for the Waterford handler. Wisely, though, De Bromhead is swerving Cheltenham, with a novices' chase at Leopardstown on February 28 next up.
That should help him mature further, and De Bromhead will then contemplate a tilt at the Maghull Novices' Chase at Aintree.
A Grade One that he has won with Special Tiara and Sizing Granite, the two-miler also looks tailor-made for Alisier D'Irlande.