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Mark your Card: your best bets for the weekend's Grade races

The National Hunt season swings back into action with Grade 2 races in Gowran Park and Tipperary this weekend. Declan Smyth studies the form.

Image: PA Wire/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE FIRST WEEKEND in October is generally considered to be the real start of the National Hunt Season as some of the big stables start to bring out their main players. The appearance of these horses also whets the appetite for the rest of the season and over the next four to six weeks, the reappearance of equine stars will move from a trickle to a flood as trainers aim their charges at the early season Graded races.

Of course we also look forward to spotting emerging talent from the unexposed horses who have been kept under wraps and those who have been recruited from the flat. However from a betting point of view some of these races, where horses who have been running over the summer clash with seasonal debutants on changing ground, can be a punter’s nightmare. Tread cautiously is the watchword for this weekend.

Saturday: PWC Champion Steeplechase (Grade 2)

On Saturday at Gowran Park we get a chance to see how one of last year’s top novice chasers compares against one of the great two-mile champions of recent times. The PWC Champion Steeplechase over 2m4f comes early enough in the season but this renewal has attracted a good field that includes Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant.

China Rock, who won this race in 2010, surprised a lot of people when winning at Punchestown over 3m1F on desperate ground last May four days after Sizing Europe had trounced him over 2m on the same track. However, he has had his problems and the ground and the trip might be against him tomorrow.

What can one say about Sizing Europe? He was lucky to win this contest last year when Rubi Light fell when in a commanding lead. However the vibes coming from his handler suggest that he’s in better form this year. He’s still only 10-years-old and might have a couple of good runs in him yet. His regular pilot Andrew Lynch is also on board after a long time out with injury and he reports him to be in good condition after working him over the last fortnight.

The ground might just be a little bit too lively for First Lieutenant over this trip. However it will be interesting to see how he copes with these experienced chasers. The ground could also be against Joncol who hasn’t run since last Christmas.

Forpadydeplasterer seems to be a shadow of his former self and it’s hard to have confidence in him. Roi Du Mee has been a disappointment since falling in the John Durkan at Punchestown last December and like most of the runners, is having his first start of the new season. It could well be that the latter will make the pace to bring First Lieutenant’s stamina into play and that could test Sizing Europe who looked to be run off his feet here last year by Rubi Light’s front-running tactics.

It’s always risky betting in a field of seasonal debutants without having the benefit of a paddock inspection. However the vibes from Henry de Bromhead are encouraging and in the absence of any significant rain forecast, SIZING EUROPE is a tentative selection.

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Sunday: Friends of Tipperary Hurdle (Grade 2)

Tipperary stages what promises to be a cracking hurdle on Sunday. Nine runners go to post for this Grade 2 race with Rebel Fitz aiming for a five-timer. Blackstairmountain swerves an engagement with Sizing Europe for here, and with Ruby Walsh in the saddle will attract support. Thousand Stars is also here as is the tough Burrendridge Lodge and Captain Cee Bee.

With a drying wind and no rain forecast, the ground — which is soft to heavy on the hurdle course — could dry out which might put Thousand Stars at a disadvantage. The other Mullins horse, Blackstairmountain, has never struck me as being entirely resolute over hurdles but he may have improved as he matured and warrants respect.

Burrenbridge Lodge is 3lbs worse off for a 10-length beating by Rebel Fitz over course and distance last July. However he had the tongue tie on that day and connections dispensed with it when he next appeared at Listowel, where he won impressively. He has a lot to make up with the Michel Winters horse on official ratings but he should be race fit and might run into a place.

Captain Cee Bee has been beaten on his last two starts by Rebel Fitz and at 11 years of age, it’s hard to see him beating his younger rival. REBEL FITZ can run up the five timer here in the hands of Davy Russell.

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About the author:

Declan Smyth

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