Timeform preview the best of the action in Ireland on Sunday...
The Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase - formally known as the Kinloch Brae - has been won by some top-class types in recent years, including Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Don Cossack (2015 and 2016) and Sizing John (2017). Willie Mullins hasn't won the race since Apt Approach took the 2012 renewal, but he has an excellent chance of recording a second win in the race on Sunday, responsible for three horses in the five-strong field.
The trio are headed by the 2018 Arkle winner Footpad, who comes out 7 lb clear of stablemate Real Steel on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings. The former was an outstanding novice and, though he endured a frustrating campaign last season, he bounced back to something near his best when winning a listed event at Thurles in November. He was unable to build on that in the King George (first start at three miles over fences) at Kempton last time, looking a fairly obvious non-stayer even if he did have something to prove back at the top level. The drop in both grade and trip and positives for him and he is a leading player on these terms (in receipt of weight all round).
Real Steel didn't need to improve to win a Grade 2 event at Down Royal (by 14 lengths from Secret Investor) in November, and ran creditably on his first crack at Grade 1 level in open company when fourth to stablemate Min in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase at Punchestown last time. This slight ease in grade ought to help him and he still remains open to improvement as a chaser, so has to be considered also. Mullins' final runner, Voix du Reve, is struggling for consistency, but has the form to be involved if on a going day.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Hardline finished in front of both Real Steel and Voix du Reve in the John Durkan and is another in with a chance. Admittedly, he was in the process of running below form when departing at the last fence in the Paddy's Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown last time, but his form was generally consistent beforehand, and he should be well suited by the return to two and a half miles.
The other Grade 2 on the card is the Mares Novice Chase just 35 minutes later. Again, Willie Mullins seemingly holds the key with Elimay. She developed into a useful novice hurdler last year, winning both of her starts in May, and matched her hurdling form straight away after seven months off when making a winning debut over fences at Cork last month. Her task was made easier by the favourite falling two from home, but Elimay was getting on top at that point and she won in ready fashion. She doesn't possess masses of scope, but that run sets a tall standard in this line up, and she is almost certain to progress.
The biggest danger could come from her stablemate Cut The Mustard, who also made a winning start over fences in a maiden at Limerick in December. She was very easy to back after eight months off, but the result was never in doubt, jumping better as the race wore on, looming up on the home turn and asserting after two out. Cut The Mustard is a compact mare, but is another who should improve for that initial experience and has to be high on the shortlist.
The other last-time-out winner in the field is Caravation who won a maiden at Naas by nine lengths earlier this month. That was her fourth start over fences, and she was left with a simple task when the odds-on favourite fell at the third last. She was heavily eased in the closing stages, but that wasn't the strongest race of its type, and she will have to improve markedly to trouble the principals here.
Earlier on the card there is a cracking novice hurdle which features a very promising type in the shape of Festival d'Ex. He looked something out of the ordinary when making a winning debut in the prestigious Goffs Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown last season, and he was well backed to make a winning debut over hurdles at Navan last month. He was given a very confident ride on that occasion, reeling in the pair that had raced clear for much of the straight on the run-in. That was over two miles, but on pedigree, and the way he shapes, he should relish this significant step up in trip and he looks an exciting prospect.
Stablemate Run Wild Fred and the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish look cracking prospects in their own right, however. The latter in particular made a deep impression at Fairyhouse last time, as expected looking sharper for his hurdling debut, quickening clear in eye-catching fashion after the last to win by 11 lengths. He looks a staying chaser for the future, but will continue to climb the ladder over hurdles, and seems sure to be in the mix.
"The drop in both grade and trip and positives for him and he is a leading player on these terms..."
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