It's day one of the Harvest Festival at Listowel and Tony Keenan thinks a pair of Gordon Elliott chasers can go well...
"Mill Quest has improved a chunk for the switch to Elliott, rising 30lbs in the ratings over hurdles, and it looked like she could do similar over fences when winning her first chase start for the yard at Tramore last month."
The Harvest Festival at Listowel begins today and for some hardcore jumps fans it marks the start of the national hunt season proper - I can't quite get on that train yet with Irish Champions Weekend just six days away but a change is coming. Jumps racing in Ireland inevitably means Willie Mullins versus Gordon Elliott these days and it was Mullins who held sway at Listowel last year with eight winners across the week while Elliott had three.
The Champion Trainer ran some good horses too including Riven Light, Lagostovegas and eventual Cheltenham winner Rathvinden though his mid-season lull did come soon afterwards. In October and November last season, Elliott trained twice as many winners as his rival, 54 as against 27, which allowed him to build a lead in the Trainers' Championship. Both have a strong hand in the Kerry National on Wednesday, Blazer and Jury Duty among their main chances though the unlucky Galway Plate fourth Snow Falcon might be the one they all have to beat. Don't forget that you can read Elliott's thoughts on his runners every weekend throughout the jumps season on Betting.Betfair.
Camelia De Cotte looked an exciting recruit to chasing when winning at Roscommon last month but there are reasons to be against her now; the form of that race hasn't worked out, she hasn't been the easiest to train with her and there is a chance she gets taken on for the lead with the likes of Dawn In The Park and Jaime Sommers in the field. While the right favourite, I had her a bit bigger than [2.3].
Synopsis looks more overpriced and while it is a concern that she hasn't run in 135 days, she has a good record fresh including when winning on her most recent start off a break for this yard. Unlike many of these, her form is from the 'real' national hunt season rather than the summer, and she looked worth her mark of 123 when running third in a valuable handicap for mares at the Punchestown Festival. A hold-up mare in a race where there should be pace, she is worth a small play.
Fifteen runners go to post in the featured Kerry Group Handicap Chase but it is the front end of the market that seems solid and I thought it was worth backing both Mill Quest and Black Scorpion which comes out at a little shorter than [5.0]. To deal with some of the others first: Ask Susan is likeable in that she tends to run her race but the Tramore conditions chase she won last time looked weak; Conrad Hastings ran well to a point in the Galway Plate but his mark of 140 still looks inflated as it came from winning some ordinary summer races in 2017; Steel Wave hasn't really improved for joining Willie Mullins and is winless in nine starts for the yard.
Mill Quest has improved a chunk for the switch to Elliott, rising 30lbs in the ratings over hurdles, and it looked like she could do similar over fences when winning her first chase start for the yard at Tramore last month. Her subsequent third at Kilbeggan may have suggested a 13lbs hike was too much but there were other reasons for that defeat; she travelled like she was ahead of her mark and just didn't seem to see out the extended three miles while she wasn't helped by racing a little wide at a track where they are always on the turn. The distance third from her Tramore race won soon after and she can go well back down in trip.
Black Scorpion is another with a new trainer recently and he shaped really well on his debut for Eric McNamara at Killarney last month. That was his first run in 240 days and he got within a half-length of a well-backed JP McManus horse and he could have won but for mistakes at the second and third last. Furthermore, that two-mile one-furlong trip would have been on the sharp side for him and the gallop wasn't overly taxing. Some of his form from last winter reads well, notably his Clonmel win in December where he pulled well clear of Just Get Cracking and was doing likewise to the faller Rightback Atya and both of those are rated higher now.