Keighley likely to have last laugh at Cheltenham
Tramore and Fairyhouse provide the first Irish race meetings of 2012 today, while across the sea a decent card at Cheltenham is the focus of attention.
The level of racing may not be top of the grade, but the traditional New Year's Day Cheltenham card has provided good Festival clues down the years, and today's action again looks worth following closely.
The Grade Two novice chase on the card, previously known as the Dipper Novice Chase, has been won by the likes of My Way De Solzen and The Listener recently and the contest today looks well up to scratch in terms of finding another star.
Sonofvic, trained by Paul Nicholls, is the likely favourite off the back of his debut run over fences, where he was just two lengths away from Grand Crus. Considering David Pipe's horse is now being considered a Gold Cup contender, the son of Old Vic is a deserving favourite here, yet he could face stiff opposition in the form of both Solix and Invictus.
The former, trained by Nicky Henderson, was an easy winner of his two starts over fences, while Alan King's Invictus has a similar profile and was particularly impressive on his previous run at Plumpton.
Betting-wise, it may be wiser to look elsewhere for value and the Grade Three handicap chase on the card looks like a race where the odds could be on side. Ghizao was a top-class novice last season and is likely to be favourite for Paul Nicholls again, but the one of real interest is the cheerfully-named Havingotascoobydo for trainer Martin Keighley.
This son of Witness Box will be having just his sixth start over fences but rather significantly he gets a try at a longer distance today. He was a progressive type over hurdles last season, where he was able to win over two-and-three-quarter miles, and he looks an even better chaser now.
There was a lot to like about his two previous performances in two high-class handicaps around Cheltenham and he is very interesting now over today's distance of two miles and five furlongs.
From a quality perspective at home, the listed two-and-a-half-mile chase at Tramore is the race of the day. Edward O'Grady will be hoping Tranquil Sea can make up for a poor previous effort in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown, where the gelding dropped away tamely before the straight.
He will face tough opposition in the form of Roi Du Mee, which also had its previous run in the John Durkan, falling at the third-last fence when competing for the minor placings.
Both of the above set the standard but it could be worth taking a chance on Willie Mullins' The Midnight Club, a horse that was fancied strongly for last season's Aintree Grand National before finishing a respectable sixth.
The son of Flemensfirth is an 11-year-old as of today but is still lightly-raced for his age -- this will be only his tenth start over fences. Providing he has no ill effects after being brought down in a melee at Leopardstown on Thursday, he can go well for Emmet Mullins.
Big Zeb took the beginners' chase on this Fairyhouse card back in 2008. While there doesn't seem to be a horse of that stature lurking in today's renewal, Lios A Choill ran well on his debut over fences and can get off the mark here with the acquired experience.
Interestingly in the two-mile handicap hurdle on the card, both Osirixamix and Lastoftheleaders compete off a mark exactly 30lbs below their chase rating. Connections of the latter decided to swerve an engagement at Leopardstown last week, where the horse would have been a short-priced favourite, to take their chance here. He can reward them by following up on his impressive run at the venue last time.
Nap: Havingotascoobydo, 2.10 Cheltenham
Next Best: Lios A Choill, 1.25 Fairyhouse
Sunday Indo Sport