After advising Henry Higgins at 26.025/1 last week, Tony Keenan is back with his big race previews on Gowran Park and Leopardstown...
"Ucello Conti looks much the most solid of the fancied horses. He ran an excellent second in a strong renewal of the Paddy Power, doing best of those that raced up with a decent pace, and only went down narrowly to the closing Minella Foru."
It might take an act of god to get Douvan beaten in the Irish Arkle but as we saw with Killultagh Vic last Sunday not even that seems to stop some of these Willie Mullins horses! There is hardly any need to outline his outstanding claims, suffice to say the 1.201/5 market leader deserves to be that price, perhaps even shorter.
The without and place market could provide the central betting interest in this race come the weekend as the few chasing him up in the betting are suspect. Ttebbob flopped at Christmas and it may have been due to backing up quickly after a big effort on the clock at Navan. Yet here he is again, having his third start in five weeks, and it's hard to have any confidence in what he might do now.
Domesday Book won a race that fell apart last time and hardly improved much from his chase debut while Avant Tout should reverse Limerick form with Outlander on better ground and with a run under his belt. Avant Tout is one to be interested in without Douvan for all that the trip is on the sharp side; this race would fit in well if Cheltenham is the plan. Velvet Maker is another interesting rag. He was much better than the result last time, travelling well to the second last before fading, and might come on for the run, his first in eight weeks.
The Irish Champion Hurdle dominates the weekend programme and the handicapper would have us believe Faugheen will win easily as he rates him a stone clear of Nichols Canyon. I'm not convinced the margin is anywhere near as great; the Morgiana form may be false with Wicklow Brave finishing close up but Nichols Canyon likely improved for that run to win at Christmas.
If forced to have a bet it would be Nichols Canyon - Arctic Fire is coming off a poor run after which he was found to have mucus in his lungs - but I'm prepared to wait until declarations are made as Mullins has not been known for having his top horses take each other on at this point in the season and I remain sceptical they will all run.
I would recommend a related bet in the Champion Hurdle market on Identity Thief. I love the call not to run him here; he's a young horse that has already had three runs this seasons, one out of the country, and given some fragility last season a cautious approach seems sensible.
He has nothing to gain by running and it might be better to sit on the side-lines and watch the Mullins horses beat each other up. He's still improving and I expect him to reverse form with Nichols Canyon when they meet again so odds of 17.5 look too big and he's worth backing in the place market too. The Sportsbook are non-runner, no-bet on this race which is a good early concession.
Gowran Park's annual feature the Thyestes Chase is on Thursday and Ucello Conti looks much the most solid of the fancied horses. He ran an excellent second in a strong renewal of the Paddy Power, doing best of those that raced up with a decent pace, and only went down narrowly to the closing Minella Foru. His jockey Jacques Ricou is the problem; he was poor on him at Leopardstown when he failed to get him jumping and his lack of track know-how at Gowran is a concern but prices of 10.09/1 are too big to ignore.
Vics Canvas is also worth backing at 21.020/1. His age (13) will put many off but he's lightly raced over fences after just eight chase starts and has put up a string of good efforts in top staying handicap chases. He's a horse that takes a few runs to hit form so should be near peak on his third outing of the season and his fifth at Liverpool last time is working well through Soll.
Back Identity Thief @ 17.5 in the Champion Hurdle
Back Ucello Conti @ 10.09/1 and Vics Canvas @ 21.020/1 in the Thyestes Chase