Leopardstown is set to provide plenty of Cheltenham clues this Sunday and Tony Keenan has found two Noel Meade horses worth supporting over fences...
"The one I like is Disko. Always held in high regard by Meade, he has finally had a clear run at things this season. He travelled like a horse that would be suited by cutting back in distance over Christmas and has more scope than most in this field having run just eight times."
Noel Meade's last Grade 1 winner came on the Irish Gold Cup card in 2015 when Apache Stronghold won the Flogas Novice Chase under Paul Carberry who was also having his last top-level win as a jockey. That horse being absent from the track since the April of the same year hasn't helped in terms of adding to the tally but a bigger factor has been the dominance of the Willie Mullins/Gordon Elliott axis in mopping up the best races.
This season has been much kinder to Meade who has 47 winners at the time of writing and seems on track to have his best overall campaign in terms of total winners since 2008-9 which was when Mullins began his current run as Champion Trainer.
Irish Gold Cup - Meade runner overpriced to get back on right Road
I made the case for backing Sizing John for this race a few weeks back and in truth I'm surprised he hasn't shortened up a bit; there is time for that to happen yet though. Looking back at his win in the Kinloch Brae at Thurles, he went like a horse that would be suited by a step up in trip and if anything he seems to have improved for the switch to Jessica Harrington this season. While the ground is currently soft, there is little rain forecast between now and Sunday which will suit and he still looks the best value for this at around 9.08/1.
The other one I want to back now is Meade's Road To Riches who would also be suited by the ground drying out. At his best, he's more than capable of winning a race like this as we saw last season when he repeatedly put up 160 plus efforts, notably when about to win the Punchestown Gold Cup in April before falling two out. His 2016/17 campaign has been spoiled by niggling injuries but his trainer reports him in fine form now and there was a bit to like about his eighth in the Lexus when he badly needed the run.
Plenty of the rest have chances but just look a shade underpriced. Don Poli is what he is at this point, a solid low-160s horse that tends to place rather than win these Grade 1 races, while Empire Of Dirt looks a bit short for one coming out of a handicap and off a break. Minella Rocco too is coming off a break and a bad fall while Carlingford Lough is now an 11yo and there were elements of fortune in his Grade 1 wins last term.
Flogas Novice Chase - Disko will be suited by drop in trip
Bellshill tends to win when he runs in Ireland - he has only been beaten once in 10 runs at home - but even so he looks short at odds-on based on what he has achieved over fences to date. Perhaps the strongest form line coming into the race is the Grade 1 three-mile race from Christmas won by Our Duke. That one may not be entirely suited by dropping back in distance however as his jumping was inclined to be a little slow which could catch him out here.
The one I like is Disko. Always held in high regard by Meade, he has finally had a clear run at things this season. He travelled like a horse that would be suited by cutting back in distance over Christmas and has more scope than most in this field having run just eight times. Incidentally, he was not far behind Bellshill as a bumper horse.
Other Races - Avoid Mullins Bingo in novice hurdles
The other Grade 1s on the card have too many Mullins entries to take a strong view at this point as we have no idea what will turn up. The Irish juvenile hurdlers have been a weak crop all season and it's hard to find a strong form-line to concentrate on and it could come down to the Bapaume/Landofhopeandglory/Mega Fortune triumvirate again in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle with the Meri Devie form looking only fair.
Mullins has seven of the 12 entries in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle of which Saturnas is about the most interesting. He's been underrated all season with Ruby Walsh opting not to ride him in his last two Grade 1 starts but won quite well over Christmas and will be suited by going up in trip.
Back Road To Riches @ 17.5 for the Irish Gold Cup
Back Disko @ 5.79/2 for the Flogas Novice Chase