'Harry' class can keep McManus silks in limelight
JP McManus made an excellent start to the Cheltenham Festival with a 1-2 in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle and he has bright prospects of snaring the main two senior races this afternoon.
The publicity-averse Limerick man is able to deal seamlessly with the highs and the lows of racing ownership. Even so, getting off the mark is always a relief and - after the late injury sustained by Supreme hope Movewiththetimes - the magnificent performance of Buveur D'Air, beating My Tent Or Yours, will have amounted to relief for this powerful operation.
Of all McManus' favourites at the meeting, Unowhatimeanharry is the one that few can pick holes in. Whereas Gigginstown is not attracted by the prospect of buying what Eddie O'Leary, racing manager, would call a "ready-made horse", McManus is like Alan Potts or Barry Connell: he has no issue with procuring a well-established steed with which he previously had nothing to do.
Unowhatimeanharry was initially trained by Helen Nelmes. He switched to Harry Fry and has won all nine races since, including the Albert Bartlett, after which McManus snapped him up. Football might call it an undisclosed fee. So it will remain.
While he hardly has the aura of a previous staying great like Baracouda or even Thistlecrack, he simply keeps winning and the Irish contingent which has generally avoided him does not look especially strong.
McManus is also fancied to take the Ryanair Chase with Uxizandre, which he prised from the Million In Mind Partnership in late 2013.
This is a race that Michael O'Leary understandably is keen to win yet, if he performed a mini-miracle in turning around an airline even he had little hope for in Ryanair, his failure to win this as yet is in itself an achievement!
As such, he eschews the temptation of winning the Gold Cup with Empire Of Dirt, sending the ex-Colm Murphy-trained inmate to the other big senior race this afternoon. A course-and-distance winner, this race may be run to suit, but he might lack the raw class of Uxizandre.
My banker of the meeting, Yorkhill, bids to mock the doubters in the JLT Novice Chase. He seems intent on making things a little harder than should be the case: not only does he sometimes pull himself up in front, he also gave Ruby Walsh a few hairy moments in his schooling session at Leopardstown recently.
The most important thing is that Ruby seems to believe any quibble with Yorkhill's jumping is all to do about nothing. The rest of us have little role in the confidence he inculcates in last year's Neptune winner - thankfully.
1.30 Grade One JLT Novices' Chase 2m3f198yds
I felt that Yorkhill would have had every chance of beating Altior in the Arkle and that, in many respects, connections took the easy option of avoiding him after Min was ruled out of that race. As it transpires, he may find this harder, given Altior's unimpressive effort on Tuesday.
Yorkhill has already been spoken about as a Champion Hurdle horse next season and the defeat of Melon in the Supreme may enhance the prospect of a career change. That shows how good connections contend that he is and, while he has been a bit erratic at his fences at times, he is unbeaten and he rarely looks like falling.
The foibles have made people forget his brilliance at his obstacles when he's on song. Moreover, that he is going left-handed is to his advantage, and - crucially - he has performed superbly at this track.
Disko should ensure a searching gallop but looks vulnerable on the ground; likely the main threat from Yorkhill will come from British soil. Politologue is like an old pro but another son of Poliglote, Top Notch, has realised a sequence of victories for Nicky Henderson and he looks pretty bullet-proof each-way.
Verdict: Yorkhill is a brilliant talent and this race ought to be run to suit. Take him to beat Top Notch.
2.10 listed pertemps network final handicap hurdle 3m
Connections of Presenting Percy will feel a bit gutted as, while the horse is one of the leading fancies in the race, he has a much higher weight after winning at Fairyhouse last month.
The worry that trainer Pat Kelly had was that he did not know whether or not he would get into the race. Without winning at Fairyhouse, he may indeed have struggled - but so easy was that victory, he has now gotten a British mark of 16lb higher than what he carried at Fairyhouse.
He may yet be good enough but his stamina is slightly suspect still. Preference is for Impulsive Star, which has done very little racing and looks like he will relish the hill. The Neil Mulholland-trained son of Busy Flight has a nice enough weight and his victory over Rocklander is one of the key bits of form with a view to this event.
Willie Mullins has worked wonders with Isleoffhopendreams, which has been far from easy to train yet comes here as a major contender now.
Verdict: The weight and distance may find out Presenting Percy so Impulsive Star is preferred.
2.50 Grade One ryanair chase 2m 4f 166yds
This is one of the main races of the Festival that has lost few of its intended runners but it still looks a fine renewal.
Un De Sceaux has been working well and they vibes from the Mullins barn are positive but he has not looked nearly unbeatable at the Cheltenham Festival and is worth taking on at current prices.
Moreover, he is likely to be taken on in attack, since Tony McCoy rode Uxizandre extremely hard from the front when he won this race in determined manner two seasons ago. He did not run again until a pleasing and considerately-handled second to Un De Sceaux on his return. Expect him to be sharper today.
That there is an obvious potential for pace must be good for Empire Of Dirt, which will be able to sit off the speed and has improved markedly over the past 14 months or so. He is a course-and-trip winner very much considered.
Verdict: Empire Of Dirt's chance may improve if his two main market rivals take each other on but Uxizandre can make all.
3.30 Grade One sun bets stayers' hurdle 3m
A strong hand here for JP McManus, who has a fondness for this race from the days of Baracouda.
Unowhatimeanharry has led the ante-post wagering for some time and last year's Albert Bartlett winner, which has never lost since joining Harry Fry, is hard to oppose. He was not hugely impressive in beating Cole Harden in his prep but he does not know at this stage what it is like not to win and the Irish contenders have holes in them.
Jezki's prep was over two miles at Gowran and he does not convince he stays. He makes little appeal but another horse which was a beaten favourite at Gowran last time, Clondaw Warrior, takes the eye.
This one was second to Shaneshill in the Galmoy but conditions are much firmer now, music to the ears of the Galway Hurdle winner of last year. He has a solid each-way chance.
Verdict:Unowhatimeanharry should win this in workmanlike fashion under Noel Fehily, with Clondaw Warrior each-way a good bet too. 4.10 Grade three brown advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate handicap chase 2m 4f 166 yds
Diamond King was a hurdles winner off 149 at the Festival last year so he has to be considered again off 150, as he is a good jumper of a fence and Gordon Elliott is flying high.
However, this is not easy. David Pipe is also among the winners and Starchitect could prove the answer. Though essentially Flat-bred, jumping is no issue to him and he will relish the drying ground. He has lots of ability and is theoretically well-in on his hurdles rating.
Thomas Crapper looks vulnerable despite sneaking in with a penalty.
Verdict: The classy Starchitect lacks experience but little else.
4.50 Grade two trull house stud mares' novices' hurdle 2m 179yds
On the face of it, the distance is a worry for Let's Dance and Patrick Mullins has backed up reasoned form study by suggesting that she has it to do to beat stablemate Airlie Beach.
However, there is huge confidence from the Mullins barn that the daughter of Poliglote is not trip-reliant but has simply improved. Airlie Beach should be up with the gallop and has to be considered on the Royal Bond form - though it was hardly much of a renewal.
Willie Mullins looks odds-on to win the race but a chance is taken on Toe The Line, a high-class sort on the Flat. She can improve on her hurdles form on this ground.
Verdict: Let's Dance is a potentially brilliant mare but Toe The Line is preferred.
5.30 fulke walwyn kim muir challenge cup amateur riders' handicap chase 3m 2f
Squouateur looks a well-treated horse here and the heavy Martin Pipe favourite from last year seems well-fancied but the trip is an unknown. If he gets home, he can probably win.
It may be worth siding with a different McManus runner, Another Hero, which was only 12/1 in a 27-runner Irish National last season when falling. He has the same mark here, which makes him interesting back in Britain, and he has a tongue tie for the first time. He stays well.
Mall Dini, a Pertemps winner last year, has his ground and the assistance of Katie Walsh.
He has a solid each-way chance and is a brilliant jumper.
Verdict: This could be an emotional win for the father-and-son Jonjo O'Neill team, with Another Hero a dark one now.
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