Navan and Gowran take centre stage
Saturday, February 18 - Gowran Park
Navan and Gowran Park take centre stage this weekend with a host of star names in action, including Jessica Harrington's former Cheltenham Champion Hurdle victor JEZKI. The 9-year-old returns to the track in the hope of following up on his January success in Navan where he got the better of the Willie Mullins trained Renneti over two miles.
JEZKI will be odds-on for Saturday's race, but TOMBSTONE from the Gordon Elliot yard could be able to take advantage if the 2014 Champion hurdler is shown to have lost any of his sparkle. The pair will head the betting in the 15:05 at Gowran Park on Saturday afternoon, and it may be worth siding with TOMBSTONE at 7/2. He is capable of handling a cut in the ground and the soft to heavy ground won't inconvenience him too much, whereas JEZKI'S best form has all come on better ground.
TOMBSTONE was just over two lengths behind JEZKI in that Navan race last month, but that was his first run since the Cheltenham festival last year, and he will strip fitter for that run. His form from Cheltenham is rock solid as ALTIOR and BUVEUR D'AIR, who finished ahead of him that day, are now leading fancies for this year's festival, while the likes of CHARBEL and PETIT MOUCHOIR were behind the exciting 7-year-old on that occasion.
Elsewhere on Gowran's Saturday card, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will hope to team up for an early winner in the second race of the day (13:55) where veteran BALLYCASEY is odds-on to land the prize, and he should have no trouble obliging for favourite backers. In the 16:15 race, MINE NOW is an interesting challenger for Peter Fahey. CONCORDIN (9/4), in the colours of JP McManus, was a winner last time out and will attract plenty of support, but MINE NOW'S run last time, where he finished a good 2nd to DUKE CASS, is encouraging, and the 9-year-old rarely fails to give his running on soft ground.
Sunday, February 19 - Navan
Navan offers some high class racing on Sunday afternoon with a card boasting two Grade 2 races and a Grade 3 contest. ANIBALE FLY of Tony Martin's is a warm order for the Ten Up Novice Chase (Grade 2) in the 16:10 event on the card. He won a 3 mile event on yielding ground at Naas on January 28, and undoubtedly has the stamina to be competitive over the same distance on Sunday.
However, it may be worth siding with Sandra Hughes' ACAPELLA BOURGEOIS at odds of around 3/1. The classy sort won at his leisure last time out at the same venue and has form over the trip against the talented, yet quirky BELLSHILL at last year's Punchestown festival. The 7-year-old seems to still be on an upward curve and although there are some doubts about the trip, he should be there or there abouts at the line.
The 15:10 race is a tricky looking Grade 2 hurdle event over 2m 5f, and anyone of perhaps four horses could conceivably land the spoils. Gordon Elliott's SUTTON PLACE will be the 13/8 favourite as he goes for a five-timer under Barry Geraghty, while the Willie Mullins charge in the race, RENNETI, finished second to JEZKI last time out and will be in the reckoning.
SUPASUNDAE (5/1) is a very interesting runner, and despite finishing over 7 lengths behind SUTTON PLACE at Navan in January, the 7-year-old from the in-form Jessica Harrington yard will go well on the ground. He has won on soft and heavy ground before, including a 2014 two-length success over YANWORTH, one of this year's leading Cheltenham Champion hurdle hopes.
Henry de Bromhead's IDENTITY THIEF is a worthy market leader in the Grade 3 Flyingbolt Novice Chase at 14:40, where the lightly raced BALLYOISIN poses greatest risk. BALL D'ARC, carrying nine pounds less than his rival, will be another slight threat, but I can't see IDENTITY THIEF having much problem getting his head in front in this one, and he will likely give owner Michael O'Leary a winner at the Meath track on Sunday, despite being a non-finisher in last two races over fences. Even at a shade of odds on (4/5), the 7-year-old looks a good bet in a small four-runner event.
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