There are three Grade 1 races at Fairyhouse this Sunday so we asked our Irish jumps expert Tony Keenan to analyse the form and pick out his best bet...
"Gangster is an interesting one at 9.08/1. Mullins said he was his best novice hurdler going into Galway and the market suggested the same but he was the only one to get beaten. He was much better last time and that form is working out."
This weekend looked like turning into another Willie Mullins guess-up regarding targets but thanks to Richard Forristal of the Irish Independent we now have a good idea of the short-term plans of the Closutton horses. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
The trainer has eight of the 27 Grade 1 entries at Fairyhouse but the fields are underwhelming on the whole and lacking in star quality. This might be down to the Mullins winter novices being relatively slow to get going as can be seen by his four Royal Bond entries having run at the Galway Festival.
Perhaps this is the trainer's new way of prepping his best horses but it would be a surprise if he hasn't got better novice hurdlers at home, chiefly Bellshill. With three different ownership concerns at play, Mullins expects to run plenty.
Long Dog has been put in the early favourite and that's fair; on a line through Three Stars he has the edge on Bachasson who looks overrated. Long Dog's price is short though at 11/10 and the drop back to two miles is a concern.
I want to back more Mullins second (and third and fourth...) strings in graded races this season. We've reached a point where the yard has so much talent that they can't avoid each other and the inevitable consequence is the first choice of the market isn't winning so often. At Punchestown earlier in the month, both Nichols Canyon and Whiteout upended odds-on stablemates and while that is a small sample size the same happened at the most recent Punchestown Festival.
Gangster is an interesting one at 9.08/1. Mullins said he was his best novice hurdler going into Galway and the market suggested the same but he was the only one to get beaten. He was much better last time, that form working out, and looks a likely runner with the other Gigginstown entries having questions to answer.
Thomas Hobson is not certain to run given the Riccis also have Long Dog but there is no way he should be the outsider of the field. Jockey error got him beaten in the For Auction last time; travelling best, Ruby allowed Three Stars first run at the top of the Navan hill only for his mount to make a mistake at the last when closing. He should have known that was a possibility given previous jumping flaws.
Arctic Fire is deservedly 1.654/6 in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle. Plenty went wrong for him in the Lismullen but he still won and has 15 or 20 pounds in hand of his rivals. He should win over a trip his trainer says is his best.
As for a bet, the without the favourite market might be more interesting after final declarations. Clondaw Court hardly merits his clear second favourite status. He has beaten some very limited horses and is injury prone being unbeaten often means overbet. Gwencily Berbas has plenty to find with most of these while a horse reverting from chasing like Monksland rarely appeals in this grade.
The Gigginstown pair could outrun their prices and chase Arctic Fire home. Identity Thief looked really good last season before the wheels came off but they were back on in style last time (form that has worked out) and his trainer, generally accurate in his appraisals, has a high opinion of him. Petite Parisienne put in a moderate return but it would be no surprise if she reversed form with Gwencily Berbas; up in trip will suit, she should improve for the run and also gets a small weight pull.
No More Heroes looks the most talented horse in the Drinmore but backing him at 2.01/1 doesn't appeal, especially when Outlander is available at 7.06/1. He's a quirky one but probably has more gears than No More Heroes at this trip and certainly shouldn't be bigger than Free Expression ante-post. He's not a certain runner however so hold your bets until final confirmations.