Big step up on third start
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: Milldam 0.5pt e/w 33/1
There are two horses in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle whose last start was in France. One has been talked about more than any other horse in a handicap possibly in the history of the Cheltenham Festival while the other has barely got a mention anywhere. No prizes for guessing which one is the selection.
Milldam started his career with Arnaud Chaille-Chaille and showed some promise on his debut at Vichy last May. He travelled well for a long way before being outpaced in the home straight and he finished third behind Fautinette, who has since joined Venetia Williams, and Purprod Boiz who won two of his next three starts.
He was a bit disappointing at Lyon next time but showed far more of his return from a 4½ month break at Auteuil on his third and final start in France. He jumped sharply out to the left at the first and his jumping lacked fluency early on with a poor jump at the fifth resulting in him being pushed along at the back of the field. He gradually made headway down the back straight and despite diving at the last in the back, he travelled well into contention towards the inside approaching the final bend. He moved smoothly into second entering the home straight and was only a length down at 2 out but he was sharply out to the left at the last two hurdles and couldn't recover the last ground, just being pipped for second.
Considering how much ground and momentum Milldam lost with his jumping, it was a fine effort to finish third behind two good horses. The winner, Ivanohe, won again next time while the runner up, Hoppefull Has, was beaten 2½ lengths and a length in two subsequent runs in Listed handicap hurdles.
Arnaud Chaille-Chaille tends to bring his horses along steadily so it wouldn't be a surprise if Milldam was able to take another big step forward from this run at some point. He also wore a hood on all three starts in France, which is the norm for horses from this yard, and while he looked in need of it on his second start I'm not sure that was the case at Auteuil so if he's settled down much better at his new yard then Milldam could improve for the removal of the hood.
There is a concern that if he repeats the round of jumping from his last start that he will soon be in trouble at Cheltenham and it wasn't great at Lyon either but hopefully they have done plenty of work on that since. A strongly-run race in a big field will also be a new experience for him so there's an unknown over how he will cope with that.
A mark of 125 looks fair on the bare form of what he has achieved so far but given the potential for improvement due to the faults in his performance at Auteuil and his previous trainer's ways, I think Milldam could show that he's now better than that and has a chance of starting to earn back some of the €145,000 purchase price. He does need four to come out to get a run but with NRMB, any 25/1 or bigger appeals.
Obvious leading hope
The other horse whose last run was in France is Gaelic Warrior and he's been at the head of the market for this race ever since receiving a mark of 129 when entered for a race at the Trials Day meeting.
Given how well the form of his last two runs has worked out, it's no surprise that there was a rush to back him as soon as that rating was given. On his second start he was narrowly beaten by Imprenable, who won a Listed race next time and finished fourth in a Grade 1 at the end of the year, and Sans Bruit, who won his next two starts including a Grade 3. Gaelic Warrior finished third behind that rival on his final start in France while in second was subsequent Grade 2 winner Golden Son and the future Prix Cambaceres winner, Kyrov, was back in fourth.
Gaelic Warrior achieved this despite clearly looking a long-term prospect physically and I expect he's strengthened up plenty since those three starts and I have no doubt that he will show he's better than a rating of 129 at some point.
From a betting point of view, it's difficult to say there's any edge in the current price as there is a concern over whether two miles on the old course will be the ideal test for him. On his third start in France he was outpaced halfway down the back straight and stayed on strongly late and he's jumped a little out to the right at times too. It may be that he's so well handicapped that he will get away with it but I expect Gaelic Warrior will be seen at his best over fences over further in time.
Very eye-catching third run
The Tide Turns is the other obvious candidate after finishing fourth behind Teahupoo at Gowran last time. Held up at the back of the field, he travelled smoothly into contention turning the final bend before being unable to go with the winner from 2 out and, no doubt much to the relief of those who had already backed him for this race, he ended up being beaten 23 lengths so his mark wasn't ruined.
The ground was likely softer than ideal for him that day and I think he will be suited by a strong pace and a big field to help him settle early on but again I think the market has already taken care of any value.
Handicapper may tempt them in
Fil Dor finished two places ahead of The Tide Turns in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival and the handicapper giving him a mark of 142 could tempt his connections into running him in this race rather than the Triumph, particularly as they have Pied Piper for that race too.
The concern with Fil Dor is the same as Gaelic Warrior as I thought he looked in need of more of a test of stamina when beaten at Leopardstown so he might find two miles on the old course sharp enough.
Champion Green, Brazil and Icare Allen are leading hopes in this race for JP McManus. The first two named have looked obvious types for this race for a while and Champion Green looks likely to be suited by the strong pace given he's raced a bit too keenly at times. Brazil was looking a very likely contender after finishing fourth behind The Tide Turns at Punchestown but I fear his wide-margin success at Naas last time might have cost him this race as he likely would have been 10-12lb lower but for that.
I think Icare Allen is very talented but his jumping is continuing to prevent him from being able to show just how good he is.
He ran well behind Fil Dor and The Tide Turns at Leopardstown considering his jumping lacked fluency and his jumping wasn't too good in victory last time. Returning to a left-handed track will suit but he likely needs to sharpen up in the jumping department to take this.
Leading British challenger
Saint Segal is the shortest priced of the British entries. He won on debut at Bangor and then ran well when finishing second in the Finale despite racing keenly. He travelled smoothly to join Porticello at 3 out but couldn't go with that rival after 2 out and was beaten 8½ lengths.
He's since won at 1/7 to qualify for this race and he's another who I think will be suited by the big field given he's raced too keenly in the past.