Saturday 24 February 2018

Mikael and Solwhit can make fans jump for joy

Solwhit. Photo: Getty Images
Solwhit. Photo: Getty Images

Damien McElroy

Only another sucker punch overnight from the weather is likely to prevent Fairyhouse from staging today's mouth-watering jumps fixture already postponed four times but now featuring a glittering array of four Grade One contests to delight action-starved fans.

The lack of National Hunt meetings since Thurles almost three weeks ago due to the spell of Arctic conditions, that could return over the weekend, has impacted negatively on the game's owners, trainers and jockeys -- as well as spectators.

Unless the forecast for frost proves a spoilsport yet again, the Meath venue, where admission has been set at a modest €10, should play host to a decent attendance, despite the ongoing hardship being visited so close to the busy post-Christmas season.

Fears that the weather could disrupt the Leopardstown and Limerick four-day sessions to some degree at least has prompted connections of many high-profile horses to avail of the opportunities now presented by the initiative shown at Fairyhouse and by Horse Racing Ireland.


The continuing backing of Barney O'Hare's Bar One Racing for the three top-flight races originally scheduled for the end of last month and switching both the John Durkan Chase and the O'Connell Group Hilly Way Chase from Punchestown and Cork has served to greatly whet the appetite.

Understandably, with so much ongoing uncertainty as regards postponements and rescheduling, neither previous Durkan hero The Listener nor the Paul Nicholls-trained Down Royal scorer The Nightingale have made the journey from England's west country to tackle the home brigade.

Although Captain Cee Bee likewise bypasses the Durkan Chase, this two-and-a-half-mile affair remains competitive and Paul Nolan's Noble Prince is the sole withdrawal from the Drinmore Novice Chase that concludes a Jackpot benefiting from a healthy rollover of €12,889.

The Hatton's Grace Hurdle is now the opening leg of the 'pot' and this 10-runner affair thankfully brings old rivals Hurricane Fly and Solwhit together again for the first time since their epic battle for Champion Hurdle supremacy at the Punchestown Festival.

Bar One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (12.20)

The versatile Mount Helicon and Perfect Smile are fairly exposed jumpers at this stage, whereas impressive Punchestown victor Zaidpour, fluent Limerick winners Pineau de Re and Carloswayback, as well as hat-trick seeker The Shepherd King, have yet to be properly tested.

Verdict: Go with Zaidpour

Bar One Hatton's Grace Hurdle (12.50)

Voler La Vedette and Donnas Palm, which were defeated over the minimum trip by Solwhit at Punchestown a month ago, have another crack here at the likely favourite as Hurricane Fly, which is stepping into unknown territory stamina-wise, makes his seasonal return.

While Voler La Vedette may secure another place at the highest level, the only mare in the field will hardly turn the tables from Punchestown with Solwhit, which could have a vital edge in match fitness and staying power this time over Hurricane Fly.

Verdict: Solwhit fits the bill

John Durkan Memorial Chase (1.55)

The transfer from Punchestown should not unduly affect the outcome here as Cooldine and the year-younger J'y Vole both resume for Willie Mullins after their efforts behind Planet Of Sound at the Kildare course 238 days ago.

At this trip in soft ground, J'y Vole with the mares' allowance to help may prove the better of the pair, but at the finish they could struggle to keep tabs on Roberto Goldback and Tranquil Sea, which will have benefited from his bloodless Clonmel Oil success over Let Yourself Go.

Verdict: This looks ideal for Tranquil Sea

Bar One Drinmore Novice Chase (2.30)

Much of the interest and, in fact, the outcome appears to rest with the long-absent Mikael d'Haguenet, which was placed over fences in his native France before joining the Mullins team, who hold this powerful gelding in the highest esteem and reportedly have been happy with his recent schooling.

Another Cheltenham victor, Berties Dream, has something to find with Jessies Dream from their Galway encounter more than seven weeks ago and it could be unwise to underestimate the chances of Realt Dubh, Head Of The Posse and Bostons angel.

Verdict: Mikael d'Haguenet will do for me

O'Connell Group Hilly Way Chase (3.0)

It looks advantage Willie Mullins with three of the eight survivors for this Grade Two, which Golden Silver collected a year ago and may do so again as Paul Townend's mount made a promising return to the fray at Navan behind Big Zeb early last month.

Carthalawn, which he passed close home that day, Let Yourself Go and infrequent winner Osana can make a race of it.

Verdict: Golden Silver for a repeat win

Irish Independent

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