Alan Dudman returns to preview Sunday's action, and he has two bets for the afternoon at Navan...
"He was hammered in the Drinmore earlier in the season, but his trainer thinks the galloping nature of the track will suit him. He could be worth a small play at such a big price."
Elliott, Mullins and Byrnes clash in the Boyne
I have skipped the opening 13:50 Maiden Hurdle as it didn't really strike me as a betting heat with a field high on numbers, but in truth, a bit low in terms of strength in depth. The ground undoubtedly is having a say on matters, and the never-ending spell of a good surface continues. Potential Cheltenham winners are a little thin on the ground, but we have a few for Sunday.
It brings us on nicely to the Grade 2 2m5f Boyne Hurdle, and a race that draws together many different strands. Grand National winner Tiger Roll will have a run out in his build-up as a prep for Aintree, and he's currently [26.0] towards the summit in the ante-post market.
Stablemate Bless This Wings would be a remarkable winner at this level at the age of 14, and the veteran will probably be wondering where the cheese wedges are.
Those two go for Gordon Elliott, who also has Cracking Smart to complete his team against the Willie Mullins' pair Coquin Mans and Bachasson. The former is a complete unknown on the good ground, but Bachasson has plenty of winning form on a sound surface. He's adaptable in terms of trip and he should have a bit too much pace for some of his older and slower rivals if the race becomes tactical.
However, it's hardly an exciting price at [2.72]. He has shown a turn of foot in the past with an ability to quicken, but it was interesting that the favourite on Saturday evening was the Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go at [2.68].
He goes up in class and looks a candidate for one of the Cheltenham handicaps over this sort of trip, but he's too short. If Bachasson heads out to around [3.0] come race time, I might be interested as it was a fine comeback from him to win at Punchestown over a similar distance last time and he receives 5lb from Coquin Mans here.
Doyle mare the win and place play
Geneva Barracks done the column a big favour with a win and place success at [11.0] and [3.50] at Naas last time. That looked something like a career best and spring-like ground appears to hold no fears, but he didn't have a lot in hand with that victory and he's a lot shorter in the betting for this. But he is a last-time-out winner so I suppose the [3.95] was to be expected.
Something at a much bigger number that takes my eye is the [18.0] on Liz Doyle's mare La Bella Vida.
She holds winning form as a novice hurdler on good ground so she ticks perhaps the most important box. I like her attitude too, she's a hardy mare who has displayed plenty of toughness and has been mostly seen over fences.
Indeed, she finished second in a Grade 3 mares' event, therefore the switch to hurdles from a mark of 113 could give her a little chance. She also runs for the first time since May, so we have the question that she might need the outing. However, she's won off a break of 81 days before and has finished second from absences of 173 and 90 days, so it might be worth having a small stakes Win and Place bet with that in mind.
The stiff 2m at Navan will really suit her.
Champagne on the comeback trail - but it could be worth backing his stablemate
Four of the six in the field are on recovery missions of sorts and it doesn't leave much juice in the prices at top of the market with Chris's Dream and Champagne Classic.
Chris's Dream has the fewest questions marks and was a solid runner-up behind Ballyward last time in a Grade 3 at Naas, but Champagne Classic made his comeback following an absence of 641 days in that - and he ran a screamer until his fitness just caught him out. His trainer Gordon Elliott says he jumped really well in that and it's a fairly quick turnaround to be out just three weeks later.
If you subscribe to the bounce, you'll probably be wanting to take him on. Unfortunately for a back, it's a similar sort of scenario to the 14:20 as he is short enough
in the betting at around [2.82]. He's a class act as a Martin Pipe festival winner. The horse also claimed the scalp of Penhill in a Grade 1 at Punchestown.
The MP throws up stayers and good ground suits - so there isn't an awful lot wrong to find fault with. Apart from the price. Keep an eye on him for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
The big conundrum here is Blow By Blow - another Martin Pipe winner.
Yes, he was handed the race a bit in last year's festival with the way he dominated, and he's interesting as a back-to-lay bet with that tactic in mind with the small field on offer. There's plenty of leeway in his price too at [11.50]. You can click here to read what his trainer has to say about his chances.
However, he hasn't quite looked the same horse over fences this term. He flopped badly in the Ballyward race mentioned previously, and his jumping was nowhere near as sharp at Punchestown in November following a facile Galway victory.
His record over 3m is 0-3, but he's a typical Gigginstown big, staying type who at times looks deceptively slow. He was hammered in the Drinmore earlier in the season, but his trainer thinks the galloping nature of the track will suit him. He could be worth a small play at such a big price.
Water Sprite huge odds in open-looking mares' race
The mares' handicap hurdle had me going round in circles to be honest, which was no surprise considering the market was [5.70] the field on Saturday night. It's a low grade event with one last-time out winner.
Bridge Native surely has to go close with good ground form although she ran poorly last time at Naas. Her price of [14.0] is a fair reflection.
Double her price is Water Sprite - who looks massive at [38.0] considering she performed well in a 0-140 handicap at Cheltenham earlier in the season when with Gordon Elliott. She ran in that from 129 and has dropped down to 115 following a few poor runs with her current trainer Mervyn Torrens. She won a similar sort of race at Limerick on good ground, but that came over shorter.
The headgear hasn't worked with her and she's top weight in a winnable affair, but she really has been out of sorts.
Back La Bella Vida Win @ [17.50] and Place @ [4.50] in the 14:55 at Navan
Back Blow By Blow @ [11.50] in the 15:25 at Navan