Hatton's Grace Meeting Preview: The Irish verdict on this weekend's Grade 1 Fairyhouse card

How will top Irish trainer Willie Mullins fare at this weekend's Hatton's Grace meeting at Fairyhouse?
How will top Irish trainer Willie Mullins fare at this weekend's Hatton's Grace meeting at Fairyhouse?

There's a trio of Grade 1 races at Fairyhouse on Sunday for Tony Keenan to get his teeth stuck into, and our man beleives that Willie Mullins' relatively poor record at the meeting might continue to a certain extent...

"In the past decade Willie Mullins has won the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle thrice, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle twice and the Drinmore Novice Chase once, so pickings may not be so easy this Sunday as they have been the past week or so."

Willie Mullins recently commented that the riches in his yard don't embarrass him; that's good for him as his dominance of the winter seems to have just gotten going this past week with 18 winners across the last seven Irish meetings.

His record in the three Grade 1s that backbone the Hatton's Grace meeting this weekend might bring some colour to his cheeks however as he has not had the winners one might expect. In the past decade he has won the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle thrice, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle twice and the Drinmore Novice Chase once, so pickings may not be so easy this Sunday as they have been the past week or so.

The feature of the meeting, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, may be the exception however as it is Annie Power's race to lose. Not only is she rated 7lbs clear of her nearest rival, she also receives a lumpy mares allowance, and a reproduction of any of her efforts from last season should be good enough.

Potential rivals from inside (Hurricane Fly and Faugheen) and outside her yard (Jezki and More Of That) dissipated at the five-day stage and it could be left to race specialist Zaidpour to chase her home. Taking the long odds-on about her - even though some might perceive 1.3130/100 as value - does not appeal however.

The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle is a more interesting betting race and the ground could have a major bearing on the outcome. The Fairyhouse going is described as yielding-soft at present and the weather sites have little or no rain forecast; this could easily dry out to yielding which would place the emphasis on speed.

That would be all against a horse like No More Heroes who could get taken off his feet under such conditions. He's looked very good over further but has been talked of as a three-miler and made his hurdling debut over 2m6f so may not even take his chance if the ground comes up decent.

No More Heroes takes up a sizeable chunk of the market as do the Mullins runners Allez Colombieres and Nichols Canyon. The former was one of the best bumper horses in France last year but the trainer may be reluctant to start him off over hurdles in a Grade 1.

There was a time when he started off top class prospects over obstacles at this meeting, notably Mikael D'Haguenet over fences and Cousin Vinny in this race, but the wheels came off their careers shortly after and the trainer seems to now prefer to get experience into his novices before pitching them into this class.

Nichols Canyon won a Cork maiden on his debut for the yard but it was an unimpressive success considering his short price and while open to lots of improvement as he came off a long break, he looks short enough in the betting.

Preference is for Dermot Weld's Tandem. He probably should have won a Galway maiden hurdle in July when given an ill-judged ride off a slow pace and that race worked out notably well, himself doing his bit for the form when hardly off the bit to win at Navan next time. The break is hardly a concern with this yard and he has the flat class to compete with these and might be the horse best suited by the emphasis on speed. Double figures offers look big.

Judging by the five-day entries, the Drinmore Novice Chase looks the race of the meeting and perhaps the race of the Irish jumps season thus far.

With multiple Mullins and Gigginstown entries, they won't all take their chance but hopefully the main trio of The Tullow Tank, Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold turn up. In truth they're a hard lot to split, having very similar profiles, graded novice hurdlers from last season that won their beginners chases easily, so perhaps backing the one that's the biggest price is the way to go and that's Apache Stronghold at present.

Apache Stronghold probably won the weakest maiden chase last time but he tends to improve a lot for a run; there is a slight doubt about what he finds under pressure. Valseur Lido won easily last time but it was a race that fell apart as some of his rivals jumped poorly while The Tullow Tank was very impressive on chase debut, travelling much better than he did as a novice hurdler upped to two and a half miles for the first time, though it was against slow horses like Mala Beach.

This is no three-horse race though as the likes of Sadlers Risk, Band Of Blood and Blacklough have their chances too. All three have shaped well over fences thus far and weren't far behind the big three over hurdles and could be overpriced against those with bigger reputations.

The other big Irish horse of the weekend is Djakadam, currently 5.59/2 for the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday.

Any value in his price looks long since gone and while he could be well in on his JLT form, he fell before the action began in earnest and he can be keen so the extended three miles might find him out. Furthermore, his Irish form from last season was achieved with what is probably an overly generous allowance for four-year-old chasers and Willie Mullins has a dismal record in UK handicap chases.

Since April 2003, he has had one winner from 83 runners in such races (the market expectation was that he'd have at least six) and that winner was Hedgehunter in 2005 Grand National.

Recommended Bet
Back Tandem in Royal Bond Novice Hurdle

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