I was racing at Navan on Sunday where five layers weren't enough to prevent a sodden drive home. With Fairyhouse little more than 10 miles from Navan it seemed reasonable to expect some soft ground for the Hatton's Grace meeting this weekend but amazingly the going was described as good, good to firm in places on Tuesday lunchtime. Go figure.
Perhaps the arrival of Storm Diana on Wednesday and yellow weather warnings across half the country will alter that but Fairyhouse seems set to escape the worst of it judging on the initial forecasts so we could be set for another jumps meeting run on a sound surface. Not that this has dissuaded trainers from entering their horses at the five day stage at least with 44 runners in all entered across the three Grade 1 races though the imponderables of ground and final fields make finding bets difficult at this point.
Gordon Elliott was the story of this meeting in 2017 when he won all three feature races and he opens the card with 5/4 favourite Coeur Sublime. Like a few Elliott horses on the card, he comes into this fixture off one run this season and substantial improvement can be expected; the trainer reported he 'hadn't been on grass at all' ahead of his Down Royal win where he was better than the bare form, his jumping far from perfect and never really travelling.
Furthermore, it has been a pattern with the yard that their horses have needed a run this term, a point well-made by Jamie Lynch in a recent article on the Timeform website. Stablemate Chief Justice does not have this profile having been on the go during the summer and autumn but his seven pounds penalty for winning three hurdle races makes life tough while his trainer seems to view him as more as a Fred Winter type.
The unknown in the field is the ex-French trained La Sorelita, now with Willie Mullins, and I will have to plead ignorance the worth of her form but the pick of the rest of the Irish could well be Lever Du Soleil who looks a fair price at 8/1. He seems to have improved off a short recent break, looking set to win well at Punchestown before falling two out, and quickly redeemed himself at Gowran last Saturday in a good overall time. The concern is that this would be a third race in 15 days and connections may not want to run back too quickly so a bet can't be recommended at this point.
There probably isn't a Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner in here, not least because the fast ground has prevented some of the better bumper horses of last season coming out, but it remains an interesting race for all that it may descend into Mullins versus Mullins, ad infinitum, the Champion Trainer having eight of the 15-strong field.
Royal Rendezvous and Sancta Simona are the initial picks of the market, the former very impressive at Galway last, the latter less so at Down Royal but looking in need of a stronger gallop. Respective odds of 9/4 and 11/4 look short in deep field with Aramon among the interesting ones; he seemed to benefit greatly from more patient tactics last time at Navan when showing a level of speed that surprised everyone, not least his trainer.
Behind him that day was Quick Grabim who didn't get the run of things and had a six pounds penalty but his old jumping frailties resurfaced and remain a worry. Of those at bigger prices, Triplicate would have a chance if the ground softened.
Unlike his stablemate Triplicate, Drinmore favourite Le Richebourg is one that would want the ground to remain as is ahead of Sunday; he won easily at Tipperary last time but the race developed into a sprint which suited him more than this rivals and he would prefer the emphasis on speed at this trip.
Delta Work is his biggest danger according to the market as Gordon Elliott bids to win a fourth Drinmore for Gigginstown in six years but he would need to improve plenty on his Down Royal where he won by only three-quarters of a length. That seems likely given the overall pattern of returners from his yard at this point in the season and his stablemate Ben Dundee who was a close third in that race took a sizeable forward jump on his second run.
The best form on offer is probably from Cadmium who is the sole Mullins entry in the field and has been for a while; the concern is that others will improve past him though the two miles he raced over last time was on the sharp side. Discorama is certainly one that can progress from debut but it was not encouraging to see that pair that were close behind him at Naas out of the frame at Gowran on Saturday, basically running to the pound of their previous runs.
The biggest surprise in the Hatton's Grace line up was the absence of Faugheen at the five-day stage; this race had apparently been his early target before some poor work from Melon led to him being rerouted to the Morgiana. Melon may make his return here but there are more negatives than positives with him, the trip chief among them. A keen sort that is unproven beyond two miles, this race seems to fit in more from a timing (he ideally would want a run before Christmas) than distance perspective.
Apple's Jade is the one to beat as she bids to join Bowe pair Limestone Lad and Solerina as three-time winners of the race and Elliott seems to have resolved the issues of her coming in and out of season ahead of an easy win in the Lismullen last time. Her biggest danger could be the versatile Benie Des Dieux who probably didn't get the credit she deserved for beating Apple's Jade twice last spring and while that one clearly wasn't at her best, Benie Des Dieux remains progressive in her own right.
But like the rest of the graded action on this card, it is hard to settle on a selection for this race with confusion over ground and fields so bets are best left until we have the full declarations at the weekend.