Timeform Irish Preview: Mullins holds the aces once more

Willie Mullins
There is a good-quality card at Thurles on Sunday

Timeform preview the two graded races at Thurles on Sunday and pick out two best bets.

"...well worth her try in this grade before going on to even bigger and better things..."

Timeform on Camelia de Cotte

The Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase is the feature race on Sunday's card at Thurles, an event which has a good roll of honour, particularly in recent years, with Don Cossack and Sizing John winning the race in 2016 and 2017, before going on to success in National Hunt's Blue Riband, the Cheltenham Gold Cup later in those respective years. This year's renewal seemingly doesn't have a horse of that calibre, but it still looks a competitive race, and one in which Willie Mullins could dominate.

You have to go back to 2012 to find Mullins' last success in this Grade 2, when Art Approach, partnered by Ruby Walsh, came home in front. Walsh is set to ride Invitation Only this time around, and whilst he was a smart novice last season, winning twice, he didn't quite go on to reach the heights some believed. He shaped as if he'd come on for the run when third to his two stablemates Total Recall and the well-regarded Al Boum Photo in a listed event at Tramore this month, pushed along leaving the back straight and not unduly punished when having no chance on winning in the straight.

Invitation Only is entitled to come on for that run, but isn't sure to make up the 16 lengths he was beaten by Total Recall that day, who also shaped encouragingly on his first start of the season. That was his first run since being pulled up in the Punchestown Gold Cup eight months earlier, and it was a step back in the right direction, too, taking a strong hold and ultimately having no impression on the impressive winner in the closing stages. Total Recall's season is likely to be geared around another crack at the Grand National in April and, though this will be his first start at a trip this short since early-2017, he has a class edge on his opponents, and Paul Townend will surely ride him handier than is usually the case.

The fly in the ointment could be the upwardly-mobile Tout Est Permis, who made it two from two since joining the Noel Meade yard when winning the 25-runner Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan in November. He seemed to appreciate the step up in trip there, looming up in the straight and quickening to lead between the last two fences, ultimately proving himself well ahead of his mark. Tout Est Permis has plenty of experience for a six-year-old, and was campaigned around this trip for his previous handler, so the drop back to two and a half miles isn't much of a concern. He will need to improve around a stone to beat a peak Total Recall, but that is entirely possible and he looks a live contender.

Gordon Elliott's pair, last year's winner A Toi Phil and Doctor Phoenix also need a mention, particularly the latter who hasn't been disgraced in some high-end races so far this season. He enjoyed a fruitful campaign for this trainer last season, and would be in with an each-way squeak if returning to the form of his close second to Great Field in a Grade 2 at Navan last year. A Toi Phil, on the other hand, is proving inconsistent so far this season, running no sort of race when pulled up in a handicap at Fairyhouse last time. The return to this trip at this course needs to spark him back into life if he's to have any chance.

Mullins seemingly holds all the aces in the Grade 2 Novices' Chase thirty minutes later with the improving mare Camelia de Cotte. The same connections won the race in 2015 with a similar type in the shape of Vroum Vroum Mag, and Camelia de Cotte very much looks the one to beat on form. It hasn't taken her long to develop into a much better chaser than hurdler, winning four of her five starts, the latest a 10-runner Grade 3 mares' novice at Cork in facile fashion by six lengths from Moyhenna. Still unexposed, there should be even more to come from her, well worth her try in this grade before going on to even bigger and better things.

The main danger will likely be Meri Devie, who left Mullins to join the Paul Nolan team towards the end of last year. She has always possessed plenty of ability, and made the perfect start for her new connections when winning a maiden chase at Naas earlier this month, looming up two from home and left clear at the last and eased down to win by 13 lengths from Grey Waters. Meri Devie has the build of a chaser and has the potential to rate even higher in this sphere, still only a six-year-old after all; it looks a shrewd bit of business by connections at this early stage.

It's hard to see Grey Waters reversing the form with Meri Devie, but she is worth a mention given her trainer, and she could also improve further. She comes out third best on Timeform weight-adjusted ratings in a race that admittedly lacks depth for the grade.

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