After tipping North Hill Harvey to win the Greatwood Hurdle at 13.5 in his last ante-post preview, Tony Keenan returns with his thoughts on this Sunday's big Irish meeting at Fairyhouse...
"Saturnas stands out as the pick of the Mullins horses and looked very good in winning deep maiden hurdle on his Irish debut at Naas. He was supported to do so and while the form hasn’t been tested he appeals as the most likely winner in a race where not many have huge upside."
Tony Calvin covered some of the weirdness surrounding the ante-post betting on Willie Mullins horses in his explanation of the 'plunge' on Douvan for the Tingle Creek elsewhere on this site and it's just this sort of situation that puts me off giving a selection for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle on Sunday.
We saw how the make-up of the Morgiana changed at declaration stage when neither Faugheen nor Annie Power were declared and there have been enough of these cases with the yard in the past to make me leave the race alone. Nothing would surprise me here bar Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Vroum Vroum Mag all going to post.
If pressed for a selection it would be the Morgiana winner Nichols Canyon who had this race as his main aim judging by the trainer's post-race comments and it is worth remembering that Faugheen was beaten on his seasonal debut last year and has had an interrupted prep for this. Another pertinent point on this race is that Annie Power was not left in at the five-day stage which has to be a negative about her current wellbeing given Mullins' penchant for multiple entries until final declarations.
Saturnas the one to be with in Royal Bond
The novice races are more appealing for a bet with running plans looking clearer. Mullins seems likely to have multiple runners in the Royal Bond as he has done in each of the last four runnings; he has run two, two, three and two in those years respectively and none of his three entries represent the Riccis whose horses are likely to dictate the plans of others this season.
Of his three, Penhill has probably achieved the most and is taking a similar route to Long Dog who won the race last year; unlike that one however, his form amounts to little and nor has he been particularly impressive while his jumping has not improved with experience either. Airlie Beach is another with plenty of experience but she was underwhelming in winning a Down Royal Grade 3 last time and seems better over further; two miles on decent ground (there is no rain forecast) over a speed-favouring track is hardly ideal.
Saturnas stands out as the pick of the Mullins horses and looked very good in winning deep maiden hurdle on his Irish debut at Naas. He was supported to do so and while the form hasn't been tested he appeals as the most likely winner in a race where not many have huge upside. Peace News is one with potential but has been put in very short on early prices; he won well last time but showed some greenness and this may come too early in his development. It's also a concern that he backs up so soon having been off since the previous August.
Competitive Drinmore in store
In terms of competitiveness, the Drinmore is the pick of the weekend races though interestingly there is no Mullins entry. One horse I am completely against his Alpha Des Obeaux whose reputation vastly outstrips his achievements. While he won last time at Cork, it was easy to pick holes in the form as his jumping was ordinary (not surprising considering he spent an extra season over hurdles) and his main rival made a mistake that put her out of the race at an early stage.
A Toi Phil is solid though it is hard to know what he achieved in the murk at Punchestown last time and he might be one that needs slower ground while Diamond King should relish a sound surface and jumped well on chase debut considering he was a relative latecomer to chasing.
At the current prices, Anibale Fly is probably about the pick having won with more in hand than the bare margin suggested at Navan on chase debut with decent types in second and third. He improved for the step up to two and a half miles on good ground last spring and those are the conditions he gets here. As things stand, I'll revisit this race on Sunday.
Back Saturnas for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at 4.216/5