Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Pointer
Racing in Ireland this past weekend took place on very testing ground, perhaps the softest we will see all season, but that is not to say those contests will have no bearing on the spring festivals with Cilaos Emery perhaps most interesting; he’s a confusing horse now headed for a confusing race, the Champion Hurdle.
There is some common ground between him and Buveur D’Air in 2017; both handled by a top trainer with some jumping woes over fences, both had a uber-talented stablemate that could contest similar top-level chases, both headed for a weak Champion Hurdle. Yanworth (Yanworth!) was favourite for that 2017 Champion Hurdle and I think I backed him too!
There are differences too, however. Buveur D’Air was a six-year-old with only half a season of novice chasing behind him before the switch to hurdles, Cilaos Emery is eight and went 26 months without a run over hurdles before Saturday. Buveur D’Air had been third in a strong Supreme, Cilaos Emery fifth in an ordinary one while the latter had also competed briefly in open company over hurdles to limited success, albeit in an injury-curtailed season.
It would be harsh to call Cilaos Emery a failed chaser as he was unbeaten in three runs over fences before falling at the Dublin Racing Festival but back over hurdles he went in the Red Mills Hurdle anyway, a most un-Mullins thing to do as his horses tend to stick to what they’re doing for a full season and not shift course midway.
He ran out an easy winner on Saturday in a good time (Timeform went with a 157 time figure) but getting him into the mid-150s on time or form needs you to rate Darasso as running up to his best of last season; his previous run at Haydock was sub-par, allowing that he was making his seasonal return on ground quicker than ideal.
Cilaos Emery didn’t jump with much fluency either, errors at the fourth and particularly skewing three out, and it is possible he raced on the favoured part of the track in the finish, stands side typically favoured at Gowran on soft ground on the flat anyway.
There were some interesting post-race comments from Mullins commenting that ‘the first part of Luke [McMahon]’s plan has gone to plan anyway. The trainer famously makes up his own mind about where his horses will run but one gets the sense that he listens to McMahon a lot more than most and the owner made some other points about his horse in an Irish Field interview with Daragh Ó’Conchuir back in January.
He said that while his pre-trainer Jason Titley had said Cilaos Emery would be better over fences, McMahon always ‘half-thought he would make a Champion Hurdle horse.’ He also mentioned that he didn’t travel well to Cheltenham for the 2017 Supreme, neither eating nor drinking well.
That last point can be viewed either positively or negatively; perhaps he didn’t run to form then due to struggling with the travel but there is also the chance he will travel badly again. As I say, a confusing horse in a confusing race but looking for the perfect bet in this year’s Champion Hurdle may prove a futile exercise.
I did have one solid takeaway from the whole Cilaos Emery hurdles switch however: it looks like a ringing endorsement of the Champion Chase claims of Chacun Pour Soi who may prove to be Altior to his stablemate’s Buveur D’Air yet.
Dawn Run Selection
Most of the main races from the Dublin Racing Festival have been picked through in depth across the site by now but I did want to dig into one of the less-heralded ones with a view to a Cheltenham bet.
The Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle that opened Sunday’s card looked a strong race with 27 runners, good prizemoney and a number of graded types at the top of the weights, and having produced a decent time-figure looks form to be interested in with CONCERTISTA the one to take from it.
She raced wide for much of the contest and started to make her challenge from three out as pace was quickening which caused her to get there a bit too soon, hitting nearly 6/4 in-running before going down to a more efficiently-ridden pair, showing plenty with a view to going back for the Dawn Run again this year.
She ran a cracker there last year when beaten a short head into second, again getting there a bit sooner than ideal, and surrounded by a host of mid-130s mares like Eglantine De Seuil, Tintangle, Black Tears, Indefatigable and Elfile.
That was her first run over hurdles and off a 620-day absence and while Willie Mullins is excellent in terms of horses running after a long break judged on win and place strike-rates, this was no a maiden hurdle but a 22-runner Festival graded race so she deserves some marking up on that score.
Off until November afterwards, I would be inclined to forgive her early season efforts; the yard was a little quiet and she was racing on ground softer than ideal but she seems right back in form now.
Mullins has won all four runnings of the Dawn Run to date including the 2017 race with a second-season novice in Let’s Dance who had made the frame in the previous year’s Triumph Hurdle but seems to lack a standout like Limini or Laurina this time around. Last year’s runner-up would hold as good a chance as any in an open year and while the handicap route is available to her it seems more like Mullins’ style to go this way.
Tony's Recommended Bet
Dawn Run Mares’ Novice Hurdle, Cheltenham, March 12th
1pt win CONCERTISTA (20-1 Bet365, Betfair Sportsbook, Unibet, Coral, BetFred)