SANDOWN THE SPRINGBOARD TO CHELTENHAM FOR HAT-TRICK SEEKING BUVEUR D'AIR
This weekend is definitely one of the best weekends of the entire pre-Cheltenham period and I’m really excited about the rides I have at Sandown on Saturday and Leopardstown on Sunday.
The latest talk is that Sandown is likely to go ahead, so fingers crossed that proves to be right.
Of course, my main ride of the day at Sandown is on the Nicky Henderson-trained BUVEUR D’AIR in the 888Sport Contenders Hurdle (1.50). He was beaten fair and square in the Christmas Hurdle, so this will be about getting him back on track in what will hopefully be straightforward style to complete a hat-trick of victories in this contest.
Rayvin Black looks the likeliest leader, but if he doesn’t go on, I can make the running on Buveur as I did in the race last year. He worked really well last week and on paper, he really should win, so hopefully that is how it will go.
This race falls perfectly in timing terms with a view to the Cheltenham Festival and this should put him exactly where Nicky wants him ahead of a crack at a third consecutive Champion Hurdle.
In the next race I ride the Philip Hobbs-trained DEFI DU SEUIL in the Scilly Isles Novice Chase (2.25). He was touched off by Lostintranslation at Cheltenham last time, but is 3lb better off with that rival here.
I think Lostintranslation is a very good horse, as is Vinndication, so it looks a well up to standard Grade 1. I couldn’t be any happier with Defi. He has got his jumping together well and should have learned a bit at Cheltenham.
I don’t think there will be much between them, but with a bit of luck my fella might be able to edge it.
My other ride on the day is on the Paul Nicholls-trained LE PREZIEN in the 888Sport Bet £10 Get £30 Handicap Chase (1.15). He ran very well over hurdles at Ffos Las earlier this season, but disappointed on his latest run at Cheltenham.
He has plenty of weight to carry, but he has earned it. If he can bounce back to the form he was in at Ffos Las, he would have a bit of a chance in what is a competitive race.
MY QUINTET ON SUNDAY AT THE DUBLIN RACING FESTIVAL
I make my way back across the Irish Sea for the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Sunday and it looks to be a mighty card of racing.
The big race of the day is the Unibet Irish Gold Cup (3.35) and I ride the Tony Martin-trained ANIBALE FLY. He was an intended runner in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, but was withdrawn on account of the ground, so hopefully the ground will be safe for him on Sunday.
I thought he might run a little bit better than he did in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork, but this trip should be a big help to him based on his run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. It looks a strong race and my fella will need to be at his best to get in the mix I think.
My day will start with three rides in succession on horses trained by the Joseph O’Brien, with GARDENS OF BABYLON in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle (1.15) being the first of them. He has been very good over hurdles so far, beating Surin at Punchestown and then being touched off by a nose by her on 5lb worse terms at Fairyhouse.
He doesn’t have to give up a penalty to her on Saturday and I’d be hopeful he could improve again. Sir Erec and Tiger Tap Tap are clearly very much open to improvement, but Gardens Of Babylon already has a strong level of form in the book and I’d be hopeful he can run well.
He ran disappointingly at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, but prior to that had finished in front of Aramon in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse and also beat him at Listowel earlier this season. If he can bounce back to that sort of form, he’d have to have a chance.
While he has dropped back to a fair mark, he didn’t show any real spark when stepped up to this trip last time. First-time blinkers are now applied and they’ll need to work if he is to get back competitive.
My last ride of the day is in the Abbey International Handicap Chase (4.10) on the Paul Nolan-trained FITZHENRY. He ran a great race to finish third in the Paddy Power Chase, but the obvious question will be whether he can reproduce that form over this shorter trip.
He has first-time blinkers to help sharpen him and hopefully they will do the trick. He’s not without a chance, but is starting to look just a little bit exposed in these better handicap chases.