Purple Bay can spoil Simonsig party
Ferguson charge caught the eye when chasing Faugheen home
After more than two years on the sidelines, Simonsig returns to action at Aintree this afternoon.
Nicky Henderson's relentless, long-striding grey has not run since his slightly underwhelming Arkle Trophy success at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival. He has suffered from various ailments in the meantime, but Henderson feels that he can still compete at a decent level.
While that remains to be seen, he has at least given Simonsig every chance to start back on a positive note. A two-and-a-half-mile conditions hurdle has been nominated for his comeback, and Barry Geraghty's presence in the saddle is an obvious bonus.
Among his four rivals is stablemate Bobs Worth, which has struggled to replicate the performance levels that he displayed up to and including his Gold Cup triumph for Geraghty at the same Festival.
It is an intriguing contest. Bobs Worth would be hard to fancy in anything at the moment, and you also need to take a lot on trust in relation to Simonsig. Sure, he could turn up and absolutely dominate the opposition, but he is short enough in the betting at odds of around 13/8, given his lay-off.
Rebecca Curtis's Royal Boy, which Henderson saddled to beat Josses Hill in a Kempton Grade One in January 2014, is also on duty. Again, he hasn't been seen since, so his lengthy 665-day absence is hardly ideal.
The other runner of significance is Purple Bay, one of two that represent John Ferguson, whose Commissioned is no slouch at his best. Purple Bay, though, is especially interesting.
A decent bumper horse and novice hurdler, the Dubawi six-year-old won a valuable handicap hurdle at Market Rasen in the summer of 2014, before running admirably to be seventh under top-weight in the Galway Hurdle.
Purple Bay ran just twice subsequently. On reappearing at Wincanton this day last year, he found a bundle for pressure to come from the rear to claim the Elite Hurdle, slamming Rock On Ruby in the process.
That confirmed that he runs well fresh, but his latest outing in defeat at Kempton over Christmas was also a real gem. On that occasion, Purple Bay stayed on to chase home the mighty Faugheen in a Grade One.
Granted, he was never going to beat Faugheen, but the manner in which he kept finding was impressive, as he was closing from the final flight, albeit the winner was only coasting. Crucially, the display reiterated the impression that Purple Bay would benefit from stepping up in trip.
He does that now, so he is fancied to spoil the party by obliging at odds of around 2/1 for Brian Hughes. Aidan Coleman has opted for Wincanton to partner Ferguson's Francis Of Assisi in the Elite.
Last year's final-flight casualty, Irving, and the 2013 winner, Melodic Rendezvous, set the standard, but Francis Of Assisi is worth a speculative venture.
A Listed winner for Aidan O'Brien, he is unbeaten in three hurdles, latterly responding gamely to assert late on over inferior rivals on at Fakenham.
This is clearly a step up, but Francis Of Assisi is a progressive sort that could well improve past the more exposed types. At odds of 7/1, he is value to do so.
We'll gladly sacrifice this corner's usual analysis for an especially good cause.
At Limerick tomorrow, a fund-raiser is being held in aid of Irish Injured Jockeys and Robbie McNamara (above), who has been paralysed from the waist down since his fall at Wexford in April. Two years ago, a similar event raised around €1m for McNamara's cousin JT and Jonjo Bright, both of whom suffered serious paralysis as a result of racing falls.
Tomorrow's gala lunch is already sold out. However, an auction is also taking place, and bids for that can be taken over the phone, as well as on the day itself. There are 27 lots available. Included in the catalogue is a round of golf with AP McCoy and John Francome at the K Club, with dinner and accommodation included.
There is an Honour Board, one of just 24 that exist, signed by the 2014 European Ryder Cup-winning team. Also up for grabs are stable visits to the yards of Jim Bolger, Willie Mullins, Jessica Harrington and Jonjo O'Neill, with a four-person ski apartment in Westendorf, Austria another rather fancy offering.
Further details of the event can be found on goracing.ie or robbiemcauction.com.