Friday 19th March:

COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE: (2m1f)

Willie Mullins has a good record in this race having won it five times and he’s got the favourite here in Ganapathi. This five-year-old is one of the least experienced runners in the field on just his fourth start under rules and makes his handicap debut on the back of a fifth placed finish behind Ballymore second Gaillard Du Mesnil (the other three ahead of him are very smart as well) so this opening British mark of 140 could well be within his reach. Mullins also has a few lively contenders at bigger prices, including Ciel De Neige, who despite being well beaten last year in this has some nice form when beaten just under a length in last year’s Betfair Hurdle. He’s 5lb higher now though and may only find a place at best. Captain Kangaroo may hold stronger claims having improved on each start this season in maiden company and is another making his handicap debut from a low mark for this of 131, sneaking in towards the foot of the weights. He actually beat champion bumper second Kilcruit in his sole bumper virtually a year ago to the day and this step into handicap company on a better surface might see him improve even further.

Dan Skelton is another who has had plenty of recent success in the race (three wins in the past five years). His sole runner Third Time Lucky was actually one I had pencilled in for the Supreme on the opening day but connections have chosen the handicap route which might prove a shrewd move off an opening mark of 143. He wasn’t as good the last day at Musselburgh but was fourth in last year’s champion bumper and was 3/4 over hurdles until the last day. His second behind For Pleasure in a Grade 2 here in November looks good form now and he went one better next time at Kempton with a nine-length success, the ground will be fine and he has course form so must be respected.

You Raised Me Up could be interesting on the back of two wins the last twice (novice/maiden) with the most recent coming over 2m3f, so will appreciate this stiff 2m1f test which this race brings and he may also improve for the return to better ground. Eclair De Beaufeu looks chucked in on his hurdles mark compared to his chase rating for which he is 14lb lower. He was beaten just under two-lengths behind Chosen Mate in last year’s Grand Annual over fences off 10lb higher and though he’s twice fallen this season his latest sixth at Leopardstown wasn’t a bad run (off 4lb lower Irish rating) and he could run his race for Denise Foster with Jack Kennedy on board.

Fifty Ball and Edwardstone were second and third respectively in this year’s Betfair Hurdle behind Soaring Glory and both have been upped in the ratings as a result, the former probably has the best chance of the two in my opinion with him running consistently well since joining Gary Moore’s yard this season (3-2-1-1-2) but Edwardstone is a talented individual on his day.

However, it’s the horse who finished ninth in that race that I think could be overpriced in here, THYME WHITE, for Paul Noicholls. This yard has won the race four times in the past and they do have a chance here with this five-year-old gelding who is still open to further progression. The ground at Newbury was soft and he travelled into the race eye-catchingly well, in fact he looked set for a place at the very least before weakening just after the last and this return to good ground will be what he needs along with a pound ease in the weights. He won on season reappearance at Chepstow back in October before moving well into contention in a listed event at Newbury before stretching for one and unseating his rider eventually at the second last (race won by Floressa). I just feel he’s too big a price to ignore in this and could provide some each-way value for powerful connections now with conditions to suit.

THYME WHITE (25/1) – Paddy Power – 0.5pt ew (7 places)Lost (-1)

  1. Thyme White
  2. Eclair De Beaufeu
  3. Captain Kangaroo

MARTIN PIPE HANDICAP HURDLE: (2m4f56y)

This race has never had a winner above the age of seven so I’m ruling out nine of the 24 runners on this basis. Langer Dan won a Grade 3 handicap at Sandown last Saturday and makes a quick reappearance carrying a 5lb penalty with his future mark 5lb higher than that. He has course form in the bag having finished a close sixth in the Fred Winter twelve months ago and was also second behind Botox Has in a juvenile prior to that. His best form has come with soft in the going description but this step up in trip on the ground may be fine for him.

The very unexposed Gentleman De Mee is being heavily-backed to steal the last race of the festival on just his fourth career start and second for Willie Mullins. He’s looking to emulate Early Doors who was well-backed two years ago in the colours of JP McManus and it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see this happen, he won a maiden the last day under a hands and heels ride and though an opening mark of 139 demands more he has any amounts of potential so is feared most. Frontal Assault has the assistance of Jordan Gainford who tasted festival success on Thursday and his mount wouldn’t be without a chance having won a couple of 3m novice hurdles in recent starts, one of which was a Grade 3 the last day. He was beaten soundly though on handicap debut off an 8lb lower mark but he does have stamina with over 2m4f miles here in a race like this may come into play, so he should be keeping on when others may have already cried enough. For the same owner Fire Attack looks more interesting with him stepping back up to this trip having been beaten half-a-length behind Albert Bartlett-fancy Fakeira in a Grade 3 in November. He was a close second behind Thedevilscoachman a month ago, makes his handicap debut off a fair mark and with progression likely he’s one of the more likely winners.

Gabynako has also twice finished just behind Fakeira so is closely matched with Fire Attack and he also was a good third behind the ultra-impressive Bob Olinger in a Grade 1 in January (beaten just under nine-lengths). He made an early mistake on handicap debut which probably ended his race straight away, eventually finishing midfield though was not given a hard race. If he can provide a blemish free-round then he’s going to go close there’s no doubt about that with this step back up in trip looking the right move but I like one of the other Irish fancies here in GALOPIN DES CHAMPS to hopefully give Willie Mullins a winning end to proceedings. His five-year old won his sole start in France and since joining the Irish-trainer was beaten half-a-length on debut before being pulled-up in a heavy-ground Grade 2 when reportedly never travelling. The last day was much more like it and he ran a cracking race in another Grade 1, this time at the Dublin Racing Festival in a race won by Appreciate It, with Ballyadam and Blue Lord filling the places. He was beaten nine-and-a-quarter-lengths in the end but was still going well approaching two out, this is very strong form and the step up in trip along with better ground should suit and I’d like to think he’s much better than an opening mark of 142 before going on to better things next season.

GALOPIN DES CHAMPS (8/1) – BetVictor – 0.5pt ew (5 places)WON (+5.8)

  1. Gallopin Des Champs
  2. Gabynako
  3. Fire Attack

Stake: 2pts

March P/L: -2.05pts

Overall P/L (Sept ’17-present): +574.1pts

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