Saturday is the final day of a grand Punchestown Festival and although I’ve been forced to sit it out I’m hoping to be back in action in a few weeks to make up for lost time.
It’s the hurdlers that take centre stage with a couple of good conditions race and a fiercely tricky handicap over two and a half miles.
The first of the conditions doesn’t take much sorting out because ANNIE POWER (3.50) has the Irish Stallion Farms E.B.F. Mares Champion Hurdle at her mercy.
She’s all class and would have won at the Cheltenham Festival but for a last hurdle tumble.
Only a similar mishap will beat her. I don’t see the drop back to two and a quarter miles presenting a problem.
The race for second is interesting and I thought Katie T was good when she won at Limerick last month and is progressive.
The Aes Champion Four Year Old Hurdle might lack some strength in depth but I have a feeling that the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle form at Cheltenham had a very solid look to it and for that reason I take Paul Nicholls’s QUALANDO (4.25) to make the jump in grade.
He got himself into the race well from the third last and showed no sign of stopping up the hill and galloped all the way to the line.
He’s been given a decent spell in-between and having moved from 131 to 139 he’s narrowly the highest-rated in the field.
And despite being bought from France and showing ability on very soft, he seemed to appreciate the better ground at Cheltenham.
The danger may well come from Buiseness Sivola who won nicely at Fairyhouse last month beating a field that had quality.
If I were riding I’d be on HAMMERSLY LAKE (5.35) in the two and a half mile Setanta Sports Handicap Hurdle and I’d be fancying my chances.
I’ve been keeping in touch with Seven Barrows and the word is that Nicky Henderson is very happy with him since Cheltenham when we were sixth in the Coral Cup.
He’s 2lb lower here and will love the better ground, just as he did at Cheltenham. He’s a horse that’s promised plenty but had a few issues but all the signals for him are good and it’s possible that he could be peaking.
You could have five picks at the three mile six Ladbrokes Ireland Handicap Chase and still be some way off the mark but I’m inclined towards EMBRACING CHANGE (3.10).
All he seems to do is win and although he’s been raised 13lb for his latest success at Punchestown at the beginning of February there was no telling how far he’d have won by had he not been heavily eased.
He goes into this fresh and well while there will be others that will be feeling the effects of a tough season.
I’ve won on Seefood twice and he’s sure to love the decent ground and he likes a good test of stamina.
GALLANT OSCAR (5.00) was a strong fancy for the Scottish National but didn’t line up and I’d be with him in the three mile one Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase.
He finished about five lengths behind myself and The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham, staying on strongly and has been raised just 1lb for that.
He’s got some good races in him and this could well be one of them. Of the others I’d be interested in Owega Star who didn’t get over being hampered in the National at Aintree.