It's the biggest racing day of the year in Northern Ireland and Tony Keenan has picked out three horses to back at Down Royal...
"Snow Falcon is also race-fit having run at both Galway and Listowel, doing well to come fourth in the Plate having made a bad mistake early before winning the Kerry National, impressing with how he went through the race."
Regardless of what happens on the track today, I sincerely hope we are back at Down Royal this time next year for the JNWine.com Champion Chase or whatever it might be called then. That is no given with the confusion surrounding the ownership and management of the course but it should be recognised that the incumbent team have done a magnificent job in building Down Royal up from very little. It is not only a well-supported venue but one that can attract top-class jumpers at an early stage in the season with winners of their feature including Beef Or Salmon, Kauto Star and Don Cossack. Leopardstown and Punchestown are great but the last thing they need is another Grade 1 and it is vital to keep a race of this status in the North where local racing fans really appreciate it.
As to this year's running, I suggested backing Outlander for it last week and am happy enough with that position though would have been a lot happier had Road To Respect not been supplemented on Tuesday. The Meade horse has a leading chance though might be a little better on a left-handed track and a bigger danger could be Balko Des Flos. Having been declared at Gowran early last month and taken out because of the ground, he can be expected to be relatively well down the fitness road and gives jockey of the moment Rachael Blackmore a good chance of a first Grade 1.
Despite there being no Willie Mullins representative, this is a strong maiden hurdle with a number of decent bumper horses from last season declared. Brace Yourself is the pick on bumper form having finished third to Blackbow at the Dublin Racing Festival but that race was run at a really strong gallop and he was still off the bridle earlier than most, shaping like a stayer rather than one that would want two miles on ground that while softening is hardly testing.
Batts Rock ran to a fair level on hurdling debut though his actual hurdling was only fair and while he got hampered at the last, his finishing effort was a little disappointing given how well he had travelled; he may want fast ground too. Defi Bleu has hurdling experience but didn't look an easy ride on either of his runs.
That leaves Raya Time of the fancied runners and it was hard not to be taken by his bumper win at Killarney in May. It is well-known that he has a similar profile to Summerville Boy, the pair winning the same bumper and then switched to Roger Brookhouse, but more than that he summarily dismissed Jan Maat on debut, himself looking a 120-type performer over hurdles this autumn. He looks to have plenty of speed which could give him the edge here.
Shanning has shaped like she can win a good handicap hurdle the last twice, running into a well-treated opponent on both occasions in Low Sun and Ballyoisin, the former a Cesarewitch winner since, the latter a 157-rated chaser that was running off 131. Still, sub-[3.0] odds are tight enough in a race where plenty of the rest have chances.
Among them are the thriving Lakemilan and Neverushacon but at the prices Scheu Time might be the pick. He looked set to win a competitive handicap on the Grand National undercard last April before falling at the last and looks well-treated off the same mark now even allowing for UK and Irish marks not being directly comparable. His subsequent efforts in May and June were over trips that stretch him but he got back on track off a break at Ayr which sets him up for this.
Snow Falcon was not as good a novice chaser as either Monalee or Shattered Love last spring but there are reasons for thinking he can give them both a race now. Firstly, he is favoured by the race conditions here, getting 7lbs from Monalee and meeting Shattered Love off levels, her Grade 1 penalty negating the mares' allowance. He is also race-fit having run at both Galway and Listowel, doing well to come fourth in the Plate having made a bad mistake early before winning the Kerry National, impressing with how he went through the race.
I also think he is better at this type of the year which isn't unusual for a Noel Meade horse. He had had plenty of racing by the time last spring came around having run on the flat as far back as the previous August but is fresher now. Monalee will be hard to beat, generally a good jumper despite having fallen twice in five starts, but Shattered Love would prefer softer ground.
Tony Keenan 2018 P/L