Runners and Riders

Mark your Card: your best bet for today's Grade racing

It’s a Super Sunday of Grade races in Punchestown and in Cheltenham. Declan Smyth picks us a few more winners.

THERE ARE FIVE Grade races to get involved with today, two at the Cheltenham open meeting and three crackers at Punchestown which will shed a bit of light on some star horses.

Interestingly, 54 Irish Horses have been declared to run in England this weekend while the same number have been declared for Punchestown today.

Arkle Trial Chase (Grade 2)

Proceedings at Cheltenham get underway with the Grade 2 November Novices Chase at 1.10pm. Billed as the Arkle Trial Chase, it is run over  two miles and this afternoon’s race is a really trappy affair.

His Excellency has been on the go now for over 12 months, first with Gordon Elliott and now David Pipe. Fitness obviously played a part in his last run over course and distance when he collared another of his opponents here, Third Intention, after the last and won going away. I expect the latter, who is highly regarded by his trainer, to reverse that form here.

Sire De Grugy was a decent hurdler and made a good transition to fences when making an eye-catching winning debut at Kempton last month. He could be involved at the business end of this race. Nearest The Pin has been a disappointment but trainer Tony Martin wouldn’t send him over on a wild goose chase.

Rebel Rebellion won on his chase debut last month after spending a year out with injury. The form of the race hasn’t worked out. He has been running over longer trips over hurdles and this might be a bit sharp for him.

There are good reports coming out of Seven Barrows about Captain Conan. A winner in France before coming to Nicky Henderson, he was a fortunate winner of the Tolworth Hurdle on his debut for him. He subsequently disappointed at Leopardstown before a good effort behind Darlan at Aintree.

His schooling over fences is supposed to be terrific and Henderson believes that he is one of his star novices. It’s probably a race more for watching than playing but CAPTAIN CONAN should just about shade it.

Neptune Novices Hurdle (Grade 2)

The Grade 2 Neptune Novices Hurdle over 2m5f at 3.25pm is another tricky affair to call.

According to Trev has run up a sequence of wins but might find it tough conceding 7lbs to some promising horses. The same applies to Bondage who has AP McCoy on board doing the steering.

Congreve is an interesting runner. A half brother to Carruthers, he won his bumper a year ago before disappointing in a listed bumper at Newbury last February. He didn’t reappear until the start of the month when he won a maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter by 20 lengths. He would probably appreciate softer ground and should be noted for another day.

I Shot The Sheriff has to be respected coming from David Pipe’s yard. He won his maiden hurdle at Wetherby quite easily, but there wasn’t much depth in the field.

Village Vic is reputed to be one of the best novices in the Philip Hobbs yard. A winner of a point-to-point and a bumper last year, he then finished runner up in the listed bumper at Newbury in February before two disappointing runs. The trainer blames himself for those as he believes he should have finished for the season after February.

He reappeared last month over the course and distance and was beaten just over two lengths by the smart The New One. He is sure to be involved in the finish.

The one to beat is FOX RUN for Team Nicholls. A very impressive winner of his bumper at Ballindenisk in April, he was equally impressive then in a maiden hurdle on his seasonal debut at Worcester. There is sure to be more improvement in him and he can continue the stable’s good run.

Craddockstown Novice Chase (Grade 2)

Small fields might be the order of the day at Punchestown but they’re not lacking in quality.

Only four go to post for the Craddockstown Novice Chase at 1.05pm and Baily Green is looking for an eighth successive victory. Despite having a fitness advantage, he might not be able to concede weight to some classy individuals.

Twinlight represents Willie Mullins. It’s taken him a bit of time to show what his trainer believed he was capable off and he should be there or thereabouts.

Jenari is one of two from Jessica Harrington’s yard. He won on his chasing debut at Naas at the end of October beating Dylan Ross who went on to frank the form when winning at Navan last Sunday.

However on his hurdles ratings, he has a lot to find with his stable companion OSCARS WELL. The latter ran creditably against all the top hurdlers last year and impressed many with his debut over fences when winning over course and distance here last month. Given a clear round, he should be too good for these.

Florida Pearl Novice Chase (Grade 2)

Six have been declared for the Florida Pearl Novice Chase over 2m 6f, which goes off at 1.40pm. It’s a cracking race and all six of this afternoon’s runners have won over fences.

Pride of the Artic is looking for a five-timer and this front runner can take a place. Farrell Fancy readily accounted for Jetson at Thurles over this trip but would need to improve more to figure here.

Sweeney’s Tunes reappeared after a 17-month layoff to beat The Westerner Boy by 13 lengths on his first start for Paul Nolan over this trip at Thurles. His trainer is concerned about the bounce factor but if he stays sound, he is a promising staying chaser for the Gigginstown team. He could well run into a place.

Another Gigginstown horse, Tofino Bay, won on his chasing debut back in September before finishing second to Baily Green in Cork. He is stepping up in trip here and trainer Dessie Hughes believes that he is now starting to fulfill his promise. He could be a big player here as Davy Russell has picked him over Sweeney’s Tunes.

The other Dessie Hughes runner is Lyreen Legend. He put up some terrific performances in Graded company last year winning a Grade 2 hurdle and placing in Grade 1 & 2 races. He won over today’s trip and on heavy ground on his chasing debut at Galway, beating Ipsos Du Berlais at the end of October. He is sure to improve for the run and could also play a part in the finish.

The one they will probably all have to beat is the Willie Mullins-trained BACK IN FOCUS who won his chasing debut at Listowel over this trip in September, leaving the runner up 33 lengths behind in second.

A relentless galloper, the softer the ground the better and he might have too much in his locker for the rest of the field.

Morgiana Hurdle (Grade 1)

The Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle has attracted just four runners, but it’s all class.

Captain Cee Bee rolled back the years at Tipperary last month, springing a surprise when beating Rebel Fitz emphatically.

Go Native was off the track for 31 months and ran a decent race on his comeback on the flat at Navan. He won over hurdles at Galway at the end of October, but whether he can retain all of his old ability remains to be seen.

Dermot Weld’s mare Unaccompanied has run some good races on the flat and over hurdles during the past year, but if HURRICANE FLY turns up anywhere near his top form, he should win this.

Trainer Willie Mullins reports that he returned from his summer break stronger than ever. It seems Mullins wasn’t altogether happy with him last year but expect him to be back to something like his best this afternoon.

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