It feels like it’s more than a year old.
Maybe that’s because the races are older than that. We know these races well: the Unibet Irish Gold Cup and the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle and the Flogas Chase and the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle and the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase. Those races are engrained into the post Christmas/early spring (it’s spring, honestly) fare. It’s just that they used to be on different days. It was only last year that they all came together to create this fantastic weekend.
You can start where you like. Apple’s Jade and Melon and Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Road To Respect and Al Boum Photo and Bellshill in the Irish Gold Cup. Sir Erec versus Tiger Tap Tap again in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Min against all-comers in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.
It’s great that Knocknanuss is coming over for the Frank Ward Arkle, the ‘Irish’ Arkle. Gary Moore’s horse is as exciting as he is exuberant. When he went clear of his rivals early on at Newbury on his penultimate run, you were waiting for his early exertions to take their toll, for his rivals to catch him as he tired, but they didn’t and he didn’t. It was his rivals who tired as the Beneficial gelding came home 17 lengths clear of his closest pursuer.
Knocknanuss was beaten at Plumpton last time, but he enhanced his reputation in defeat. He only gave best to French star Master Dino, over almost two and a half miles, a distance that is surely longer than ideal.
He adds a great dimension to Saturday’s race, not just the British dimension, but also the pace dimension. Voix Du Reve does like to go forward, but it is unlikely that he will lead Knocknanuss. It is unlikely that anything will lead Knocknanuss over the first fence and up past the stands first time. It will be fascinating to see how the race pans out.
Le Richebourg is back for more. Joseph O’Brien’s horse was beaten just a half a length by Delta Work in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in early December over two and a half miles. Dropped to this trip of an extended two miles last time at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, he was impressive in winning the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase.
He had his stable companion Us And Them behind him in second place that day, and he had Voix Du Reve and Mengli Khan behind in third and fourth, so it is not going to be easy for any of those rivals to exact revenge, over the same course and distance, and probably on similar ground.
That said, Voix Du Reve raced a little keenly through the early stages of that race, and he weakened on the run-in as his early exertions told. It may be that he will settle better in behind the fast pace that Knocknanuss will probably set.
Willie Mullins’ horse is a free-going sort, but he was impressive in winning on his chasing bow at Galway in October, staying on well up the hill after two and a quarter miles, and he was even more impressive in winning the Grade 2 Craddockstown Chase at Punchestown in November. He had Hardline behind him in second place that day, and Hardline enhanced the form of that race when he beat Us And Them by 10 lengths at Navan next time, and when he stepped forward again to beat Getabird in the Grade 1 Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick at Christmas.
Voix Du Reve is a talented horse. He would have gone close to winning the Fred Winter Hurdle as a juvenile in 2016 had he not come down at the final flight, and he has taken well to his fences. Le Richebourg sets a high standard, but if Voix De Reve can settle nicely into his race for Paul Townend, he could get a little bit closer to JP McManus’ horse than the betting suggests he will.
Hopefully Sandown will get the go ahead to race in the morning. Buveur D’Air will obviously be the star attraction as long as it does, but the 888Sport Heroes Handicap Hurdle is probably the race that has the best shape to it from a betting perspective.
Old friend Ballymoy should run a big race again, but he is 5lb higher than he was when he won at Ascot, and that was only two weeks ago. He is a hugely likeable individual, and the step up to three miles should not be a negative, but he has been well found by the market, and Keeper Hill could be the value against him.
Warren Greatrex’s horse was impressive in winning at Warwick last time. That was a continuation of the progression that he has shown since he went back over hurdles this season, after his novice chasing season ended last spring with three non-completions.
The handicapper raised him by 5lb for that Warwick win, but he probably won with more in hand than the bare winning margin of three lengths, he is on a nice upward trajectory, and there is every chance that he will progress again. He stays three miles well and he handles soft ground well and he goes well right-handed. He has plenty in his favour.