The Irish National Hunt season comes to a close today at Punchestown but the main focus will obviously be on Newmarket, where the first real highlight of the flat seasons takes place in terms of the 2000 Guineas.
The Mares Champion Hurdle sees just 5 runners go to post and Benie Des Dieux, who arguably improved from Cheltenham to Punchestown last year, really should be good enough to win and it just doesn’t seem like a betting race. The other grade one on the card is the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle and it might be a more attractive betting prospect. Fusil Raffles is the 7/4 favourite and certainly has leading claims based on his Adonis win and on the fact that he comes here a fresh horse. However, I’m a bit surprised to see that Fakir D’Oudairies is 3/1 and I think he looks a fair play in a race where there should arguably be joint favourites.
Fakir D’Oudairies 1pt win 3/1
The other race I’m interested in is the handicap hurdle at 5:35, which features two horses that I’ve been keeping an eye on. Cartwright lost significant ground at the start in the Martin Pipe but came home very strongly. He was disappointing at Ayr next time out but certainly wouldn’t have liked the ground there, with a strong preference for testing conditions. Canardier’s preference in terms of the going appeared to be the opposite before this spring, when he was a good 5th in the Coral Cup and then 3rd in the Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle at Aintree. He has only gone up a pound since the latter and it’s his form in big fields that makes him particularly interesting – his form in fields of 16 or more reads 13153. The ground might be a small bit on the good side for Cartwright, but Canardier is of interest and can be backed at 10/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying 6 places.
Canardier 0.5pt e/w 10/1 (1/5 odds 6 places, Paddy Power)
3:35 – I’ve backed Magna Grecia in the 2000 Guineas ante post and would stick with him at 5/1 – the money is coming for Ten Sovereigns but this can be explained by jockey bookings. I have my doubts over whether a stiff mile is ideal for the favourite, while there are no such concerns for Magna Grecia. Skardu could well keep improving but he looks a bit short after winning a messy race in the Craven. Madhmoon had to give away 3 pounds to a race-fit horse on tough ground in the Leopardstown trial and that defeat probably wasn’t as disappointing as it may have seemed at first glance, but I thought that he might have been a bigger price off the back of that than he is. The same can be said for Royal Marine, who was just unlucky in the Craven but I wouldn’t want to back him at his price. Advertise has strong claims but again, the trip is a concern. I suspect that Shine So Bright will be seen to best effect over 7 furlongs, and Kick On might be best over 10 furlongs.
Al Hilalee is a Dubawi so should progress as a 3yo and should get the mile – he was very impressive on debut at the July Course last season. The very fact that he has been supplemented means that he is of interest, and I think that 16/1 isn’t a bad price.
Magna Grecia 2pt win 5/1 (general)
Al Hilalee 0.5pt win 16/1 (general)
4:45 – UAE Jewel is a seriously exciting horse and one to keep a close eye on this season. Walkinthesand got to within a neck of Kick On in the Fielden Stakes and the winner had the advantage of a lead on the rail. He didn’t look 100% before the race and so should come on for the run, and he didn’t seem to deal that well with the dip either. With only four horses today, there doesn’t look to be much value in the race, but a close eye should be kept on both of these horses.