Leopardstown is the venue for a card chock full of quality, and there are no less than four Grade 1s to be run. The Gold Cup is the big one, and last year’s winner Carlingford Lough is back to defend his crown. He faces a high calibre field though, and it won’t be plain sailing for him. If you want to find out what my fancies are for this top class card, just read below.
|The booking of Mark Walsh for More Of That catches the eye.|
This Mares’ Handicap Hurdle has been won by the Liam Cusack trained Who’s That for the last two seasons, and she looks to have every chance again this year off just 6lb higher than in 2016. Her first two runs this season came over fences, and she was well beaten in a Grade 2 Chase last time. She couldn’t make an impact off a mark of 127 on her handicap debut in that sphere, but the return to hurdling at a track she loves should bring about improvement.
She is rated 21lb lower over timber, and she showed she could be competitive off this sort of rating with a fine 6th off 107 here last February, just 2L behind the winner Solita. She is a pound lower now, and useful claimer Rachel Blackmore takes off a very handy 5lb. She will handle the ground, she loves the track and at odds of 9/1 she looks worth supporting each way.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: WHO’S THAT @ 9/1 E/W
14 go to post in this 2 mile handicap hurdle, and it looks a very open heat. Canelie has been made favourite off a mark of 121 after a couple of good maiden runs, but I think it makes sense to chance one at a much bigger price. Dragon Fei hails from the on fire Dermot McLoughlin yard, and I think his mare looks a huge price at 28/1.
This 7yo daughter of Jeremy has had just 4 starts over timber, and she won easily on her debut in a maiden at Tipperary (16f gd/yld) back in October 2015. She was outclassed on her next couple of hurdle starts, and she unseated on her handicap debut at Ballinrobe. She has won on heavy on the level, she has been freshened up after a few runs on the flat and, at odds of 28/1, she could run a big race off a mark of 118.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: DRAGON FEI @ 28/1 E/W
This is the first of a quartet of Grade 1 contests on the card, and it is a cracking race. Some big reputations are on the line, and it will be interesting to see if Ruby has made the right choice in Bapaume. I have backed Housesofparliament for the Triumph, but I don’t think he will be seen to best effect on the soft ground tomorrow.
The one I fancy for this race beat Housesofparliament here at the Xmas meeting, and Meri Devie could repeat the dose in this race. Willie Mullins’ 4yo daughter of Spirit One stood out like a sore thumb in the parade ring before that race, and it was hard not to be taken by this imposing filly. She showed she was more than just a good looker with a commanding win and, in receipt of weight from the majority of her rivals, she could be hard to beat. She is the selection at odds of 7/2.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: MERI DEVIE @ 7/2 WIN NAP
Some serious horses have won the Deloitte in recent seasons, none better than the ill fated Vautour. Willie Mullins has an extremely strong hand this year as he bids to win it for the fifth time in a row. Saturnas has been put in as favourite after his impressive win last time in Grade 1 company, but I prefer the chances of his stablemate Bunk Off Early.
This 5yo son of Zebedee is highly thought of by connections, and he made a very impressive hurdling debut here on St Stephens’ Day. Ruby struggled to get him settled early on, but that mattered little as he pinged the last two hurdles and powered clear in the home straight under hands and heels for an easy win. This race will be run at a quicker pace, and that should enable Townend to get him settled early on. Hopefully he is still travelling well when they turn in and, if he is, he has the turn of foot to get the job done at odds of 4/1.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: BUNK OFF EARLY @ 4/1 WIN
This Grade 1 Novices’ Chase has attracted 6 runners and if Our Duke can cut out the mistakes I think he has the class to win this. Bellshill is undoubtedly a formidable opponent, and the bookies have made him the 11/8 favourite. He has done little wrong in his three starts over fences, and he jumped and travelled exceedingly well when winning a Grade 2 at Limerick on bad ground last time.
However, while Our Duke’s jumping might leave a bit to be desired at times, there is no doubting his engine. He has improved massively this season, and he showed real guts, as well as a touch of class, to beat Coney Island here last time. I am not worried about the drop in trip and the ground is fine, I am more concerned about his jumping. If he can put in a clear round, I think he can take Bellshill’s scalp and, at odds of 11/4, he is the selection.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: OUR DUKE @ 11/4 WIN
The feature race of the day is the Irish Gold Cup, and Carlingford Lough is back to defend the crown he won in thrilling fashion last season. However, he is up against some classy rivals, and this race could turn out to be a real classic. Barry Geraghty has, unsurprisingly, kept the faith with last year’s hero who is one of three JP McManus runners. I think it is very interesting that stable jockey number 2, Mark Walsh, has decided to ride More Of That, with Aidan Coleman taking over on Minella Rocco.
Minella Rocco is currently an 11/2 shot, while More Of That can be backed at 22/1. Both horses are trained by Jonjo O’Neill, and I think More Of That could be worth chancing each way. He won easily the last time he raced on soft ground, and his brother Eastlake won on heavy. Usually Beneficial horses are best on a decent surface, but that isn’t always the case. He ran a nice race here last time in the Lexus and, if the likely testing ground brings about some improvement, he could reward each way support at 22/1.
STEVOS’ SELECTION: MORE OF THAT @ 22/1 E/W
I have no strong opinion on the remaining races, but I would recommend keeping an eye out for one in the bumper at Exeter. The Gardners love to have winners at their local track, and they have an extremely well bred filly in the finale. The Imitation Game is by Yeats, a top class sire, and she is out of a bumper winning half sister to Best Mate. As pedigrees go, it would be hard to find better, and keep an eye out for any market moves (she is currently 50/1). This yard pulled off a massive coup with Coeur Blimey in a bumper last season, and when they put their money down they rarely leave it behind.