By Barry Doyle
This Saturday is another big day for racing locally. Gowran Park is the venue for the annual Connolly’s Red Mills day.
On the card there’s two graded races including a maiden, beginners chase, two handicaps & a mares bumper. The feature event is the Red Mills chase won last season by Smashing. Cheltenham dual winner Champagne Fever & Ruby light are also among those who’ve taken this in the past.
Willie Mullins is sure to have top rated Ballycasey fresh, well and properly laid out for this. The grey son of Presenting is coming off a three month break but his winning performance here back in October (PWC Champion chase) shows that Ballycasey still possesses some of his old spark. I’d imagine this would’ve been the plan for him all season with a view to stepping up in trip for one of the nationals in the spring.
Mullins can do nothing or go nowhere these days without a Gordon Elliott attempting to upset the apple cart. Elliott’s leading the trainer’s championship by 297 thousand & has 4 entries for The Red Mills chase. Gigginstown owned & Gordon Elliot trained BALL D’ARC is one of those pitched in here & he looks to be improving rapidly.
The 6 year old by Network took the Dan Moore handicap at Fairyhouse just 5 weeks ago. He won this by 9 lengths snug off an official rating of 133. Strictly on ratings he’s wrong at the weights in this but the way he scooted up on soft ground, over a sharper two miles gets me thinking he’s a major player. Clarcam & Roi Des Francs haven’t been showing the same zest this season.
The Red Mills hurdle is undoubtedly the most intriguing event on the card & It’s very much a case of beauty & the beast. Former Champion hurdler Jezki (Beast) lines up against the Mullins mare Limini (Beauty) . All eyes will be firmly on The Champion Hurdle market after this is run.
Jezki needs no introduction, Champion Hurdler 2014 & 9 time (Grade 1) winner. We associate him for his great battles with the Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown in what was a golden era for Irish Champion hurdlers. Jessica Harrington’s star returned by beating Renneti at Navan last month following an injury hit season in 2016.
The bare result at Navan suggested Jezki ran 20Ibs bellow his actual mark. Although it was an encouraging return to the action he’ll have to improve. Jezki is now as short as 10/1 to regain Cheltenham Champion hurdle in March & that’s a bet I wouldn’t be advising.
As much as I love old Jezki, having backed him all the way to 2014 glory, emotional attachment just doesn’t come into it. He’s a 9 year old coming off the back injury problems & probably lacks a gear to win to another Champion Hurdle. Going forward If he was mine I’d be lining up in the Stayers Hurdle where he’s still unexposed over three miles.
Solwhit came back after injury, stepped up in trip & won a Stayers, I think connections would be mad not to try something similar.
Looking at Limini, It is her seasonal reappearance & she’s chucked against the boys. You can rest assure she’ll be ready for this but I’d seriously question if she’s really good enough? They thought a lot of this mare at Closutton last season but she’s been slightly disappointing.
Her form lines do not suggest she’s a superstar & at the back end of last season she was exposed by a better type of horse. I’m not entirely sure she’ll love the heavy ground on Saturday. I wouldn’t be banking on her easing the pain recently felt by Rich Ricci.
TOMBSTONE is very interesting. Gigginstown already have a champion hurdle contender in Petit Mouchoir & they could have two come Saturday evening. Without ever reaching the heights expected last season, Tombstone never disgraced himself in good company. His run at Navan behind Jezki giving him 6Ibs up the stiff hill finish was a solid seasonal start & there’s more improvement to come .
At level weight’s I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he turns the tables with Jezki on Saturday. At 6/1 now he looks the bet.
Barry’s best weekend bets –
Tombstone 6/1 – Red Mills Hurdle Gowran Park 18/02/2017