Timeform preview the two graded races at Naas on Sunday, including what looks a strong renewal of the Grade 3 Naas Racecourse Business Club Novices' Chase...
"...a repeat of that would give him leading claims."
Timeform on Wicklow Brave
Naas' feature on Sunday is the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at 13:50, though it's likely the card will produce some longer term prospects, too, as also it features the Grade 3 Naas Racecourse Business Club Novices' Chase, and an often informative maiden hurdle. The last-named race was won last year by the smart hurdler Ballyward, who runs in the aforementioned novices' chase, having previously gone the way of last year's Irish Gold Cup winner Edwulf back in 2016.
A petit field of five are due to take their chance in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at 13.50, and it's likely that Espoir d'Allen will be a short price. He was a promising juvenile last season and at one point a strong fancy for the Triumph Hurdle, but his season was ended after a below-par run in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. He's got firmly back on track so far this season, winning back-to-back Grade 3 contests at Naas and Limerick in November and December respectively. He looks worthy of another chance at a top level contest in time, and has leading claims of completing a hat-trick at Grade 3 level.
There are two conceivable threats on Timeform ratings, including the Gordon Elliott-trained Tombstone. A smart performer over both fences and hurdles, Tombstone has regularly fallen just short of the top level, though he has run reasonably well so far this season, winning a minor event at Limerick in October. He enhanced his form a little when third in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, posting his best effort for a while, but whilst this represents a drop in class, he would likely need a career best performance to take this.
It is Wicklow Brave who sets the standard on Timeform ratings, though he does have a squiggle attached to his rating, having gone off the boil over the past few months. He was busy throughout 2018, having 12 starts both on the Flat and over Jumps, and was particularly productive on the level over the summer, winning on four occasions. The fact that he has struggled on his last four starts means he has something to prove, but it is worth noting that he has shown smart form over hurdles earlier this season, finishing second in a Grade 3 contest at Tipperary, and a repeat of that would give him leading claims. Willie Mullins' yard has suffered something of a dip in recent months compared to his extraordinarily high standards, as the graph below shows, though there's signs that he's beginning to recover - Invitation Only, Cilaos Emery and Blue Sari were all winners on a valuable card at Gowran Park on Thursday - and at the prices, it may be worth chancing that Wicklow Brave can return to form having been granted a short break.
The field is completed by Jarob and Forge Meadow, both of whom have something to find if they are to figure. The former is a useful handicap hurdler, and whilst he ran with credit on his cross-country debut at Cheltenham in November, this looks much tougher, while Forge Meadow has made a disappointing start to her chasing career and was below in a Grade 3 mares' contest over timber at Leopardstown last time.
The Grade 3 Naas Racecourse Business Club Novices' Chase (14:20) features several promising types. Of the 11-strong field, the one who tops the Timeform ratings is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Chris's Dream, a useful hurdler last season who made a rather taking debut over fences when beating Shady Operator at Navan last month. That performance was a useful one in its own right, with Chris's Dream jumping well throughout, and he looks well worth his place at this level with more improvement highly likely.
The form of Chris's Dream's debut success has worked out well, as Shady Operator has won subsequently, getting off the mark at the second time of asking when beating Ballyward at Punchestown. The winner needed every inch of the 25 furlong trip that day to prevail, winning by a neck, and while he too is worthy of his place in a higher grade, it's likely that we won't see him to best effect until he's stepped up even further in trip - perhaps in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March.
That run was Ballyward's first start over fences, and he showed plenty of promise in his own right, looking a natural in the jumping department. The fact that this is over a furlong shorter will give connections hope of overturning the form with Shady Operator, though he has 7 lb to find with Chris's Dream for win purposes.
Like Shady Operator, Majurca is also due to represent JP McManus, and is a fascinating inclusion. A private purchase from France, he failed to complete on his debut for the yard in a Grade 1 novice event at Limerick last month, falling three from home. However, he was a useful performer in France and the fact he was pitched into a top level event on his stable debut suggests connections think highly of him. Cheltenham Festival winner Blow By Blow has less scope for improvement compared to some of the others in the field, but he has shown useful form in four starts over fences so far, most recently when third in a Grade 1 contest at Leopardstown last time. He will find this assignment easier, but long-distance handicaps are perhaps where his future lies long term.
Discorama is due to represent the Paul Nolan team, and he looked a good chasing prospect when winning on debut in a novice event at Naas in November, giving the impression that he would likely improve on his useful hurdling form. Things didn't go his way when fifth in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse last time, as he was left with too much to do around the home turn having been given a waiting ride, and he remains capable of better.
Finally, an interesting debutant is the smart hurdler Champagne Classic, who hasn't been seen winning the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novices' Hurdle at Punchestown in April 2017. He's entitled to need this run, but is an excellent prospect if retaining all of his ability, having given the impression that he would take leading rank amongst the staying novice chasers when last seen.
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Back Wicklow Brave to win the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on Sunday
Back Chris’s Dream to win the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novices’ Chase at Naas on Sunday