THE evenings are dark and the rain persistent but what better to whet one’s appetite for the winter months than with a weekend of jumping from Cheltenham and Punchestown?
The action kicks-off this afternoon with an interesting rematch between fan favourite Tiger Roll and his arch-nemesis Easysland.
Due to travel restrictions, Robbie Power takes the reins on Tiger Roll for the first time over a course where the 10yo needs no satellite navigation!
As this race is a handicap, Tiger Roll must concede 4lbs to the French raider who is also four years his junior.
Easysland has won his last seven races including twice over course and distance but unlike Gordon Elliott’s challenger, he lacks a recent run.
It looks like a straight match between the pair although Welsh National winner Potters Corner is an interesting recruit to this discipline for Christian Williams and 5lb claiming conditional Jack Tudor.
Saturday’s feature race is the Paddy Power Gold Cup which has attracted a big field and lots of equine talent.
Mister Fisher is one horse that caught my eye as he’s likely to be open to more improvement than most of his rivals and has quality pattern level form to his name.
A Grade 2 winning hurdler and chaser, this horse took well to chasing last season as a novice and is still only a six-year-old.
He chased home Samcro and Melon in the JLT last March and before that beat the reposing Al Dancer at Doncaster.
Nicky Henderson has only begun taking the wraps off some of his better winter horses and I think this horse has serious credentials against the likes of Simply The Bets, Slate House and last year’s winner Happy Diva.
Sunday’s Cheltenham card features a fascinating renewal of the Shloer Chase as Henry de Bromhead’s Arkle winner Put The Kettle On meets heavyweight two-miler chaser Defi Du Seuil for the first time.
There may be 14lbs between them on official ratings but former JLT winner Defi Du Seuil has questions to answer after taking a hammering in the Champion Chase at odds of 2/5f and while the mare has plenty to find on form, she has been a model of consistency since going chasing.
The prospect Rouge Vif joining the party adds further intrigue but he has 20 lengths to find with Put The Kettle On from their Arkle run while Sceau Royal is another highly rated stalwart that must be considered.
At this very early stage of the season, Henry de Bromhead seems to have an array of talented chasers in his yard from Monalee and Minella Indo in the Gold Cup division to Notebook and A Plus Tard in the other but if Put The Kettle On can prove herself in open company this weekend, she might just be the latest name to add to a growing list of talent for the Tramore trainer.
I’m delighted to be back at Punchestown tomorrow for a quality jumping card but the main event in Ireland this weekend is on Sunday as Saint Roi bids to solidify his credentials as a credible Champion Hurdle challenger in the Morgiana Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has won the last nine runnings of this two-mile event and more often than not, he scoops the place prize money too! Not since Solwit in 2010 has anyone else landed this prize but for good reason.
Nobody has had horses such as Hurricane Fly (3 wins), Nichols Canyon (2wins) or Faugheen in the last decade to challenge the champion trainer and this year doesn’t appear to be any different.
Mullins is responsible for two of the six horses left in at the final forfeit stage – Saldier (last year’s winner) and Saint Roi.
Jason The Militant and Abacadabras chased home Aspire Tower at Down Royal last month and while the latter is actually rated higher than Saint Roi, I was particularly impressed with Saint Roi at Cheltenham (County Hurdle) and more recently at Tipperary.
He’s a rapidly improving horse and one that could announce himself as top tier quality this Sunday.
Get the notebooks ready!