Matchbook Ambassador Donn McClean takes a look at two intriguing races from the final day of the Festival.
If you are going to win an Albert Bartlett Hurdle, you need to be tough and you need to be strong and you need to be able to stay. Maturity is not a negative either. There has only been one five-year-old winner since Moulin Riche won the inaugural running of the race in 2005.
Three of the first five horses in the market today are five years old, and the other two are six, and that may give the race a good angle.
Derrinross does not have the fashionable profile that some of his rivals have, but he is tough and he is game and he is proven over three miles. He won a Grade 3 race at Cork over that distance on his debut this season, and he won a Grade 2 race at Limerick last time over the same trip.
Philip Dempsey’s horse is eight years old, he is a second-season novice, but he is still relatively lightly raced, he has raced just five times over hurdles in his life. That gives him a good mix of experience and maturity and potential for progression.
That Limerick race has been won by Penhill, Martello Tower and Weapon’s Amnesty in the relatively recent past, and those three all went to Cheltenham and won the Albert Bartlett Hurdle. And it was won in 2013 by Faugheen, who won the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
And this year’s renewal looks up to standard. Cap York, who finished fourth, came out and won a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown next time off a mark of 132, and is now rated 144.
The Noel Meade-trained gelding is a player today, as is fellow Gigginstown House horse Commander Of Fleet. Winner of the Land Rover Bumper last season, the Gordon Elliott-trained gelding stayed on strongly last time to get the better of Rhinestone in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy Novices’ Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, the pair of them coming nicely clear of Gallant John Joe, who won a listed race at Naas next time.
Actually, there are lots of dangers. Lisnagar Oscar continues to progress, and Rebecca Curtis’ horse put up a career-best when he won the Grade 2 Prestige Hurdle at Haydock last time.
Birchdale is progressive too, there may not have been much between him and Brewin’upastorm in the Grade 2 Classic Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last time if that rival had not fallen at the last, and Olly Murphy’s horse ran well to finish fourth in the Ballymore Hurdle here on Wednesday. And Allaho was impressive in winning a Grade 3 contest at Clonmel last time, a race that has been won in the past by Monalee and Chris’s Dream and Don Poli.
That said, the Albert Bartlett Hurdle can often morph into a real test of endurance, and Derrinross is better equipped than most for such a test.
The curtain comes down on the Cheltenham Festival with the Martin Pipe Hurdle this year for the first time, and Early Doors could go well in that.
Joseph O’Brien’s horse ran a big race in the same race last year in finishing third behind Blow By Blow. He made nice ground from midfield that day, and it looked like he was going to be involved in the finish as they turned for home, but Blow By Blow kicked from the front at that point, and he wasn’t for catching.
It was an unusually-run Martin Pipe Hurdle last year, in that they didn’t go a great pace and Blow By Blow made all. There should be a stronger pace on this year, and that should help Early Doors.
JP McManus’ horse has run just twice this season, both times in Grade 1 company, and he kept on well last time in the Christmas Hurdle to take second place behind Apple’s Jade. He seemed to see out the three-mile trip well that day, and that level of stamina is an asset to take into a Martin Pipe Hurdle, a race in which the stamina horses often come to the fore.
He does have to carry top weight, but his handicap rating of 145 is just 3lb higher than the rating off which he finished third in the race last year, when he had yesterday’s Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais behind him in fourth. He is a year older now, a year stronger, and the booking of Jonjo O’Neill Junior is an astute booking. He could run a big race.
Your host Tom Stanley is joined by Sam Turner, Brendan Powell and Matchbook’s Micheál Deasy to preview Day 3 and 4 of the Festival with the Gold Cup of course leading to lots of different opinions.