The Limestone Lad Hurdle headlines the action at Naas on Sunday and the Racing Post’s Robbie Wilders supplies two bets on the day, plus an outside-the-box double for the Cheltenham Festival.
Ramillies @ SP
Echoes In Rain @ SP
National Hunt Chase, Cheltenham Festival, March 14
Ramillies @ 9/1
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, Cheltenham Festival, March 15
Gaillard Du Mesnil @ 5/1
1pt win double at 65/1
The Grade 3 3m1f novice chase (12.57) has grown synonymous with the National Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years and whatever happens will impact that ante-post market in some way.
Incredibly, five of the last six horses to go off favourite for that festival prize finished either first or second in this, and that would have been six but for Run Wild Fred usurping Stattler before the off on the big day at Cheltenham.
Stattler completed the Navan-Cheltenham double for the Willie Mullins stable last season and I'm predicting that Ramillies can do the same.
Racing Post Ratings suggest that Ramillies, a formerly high-class novice hurdler who finished sixth in the Albert Bartlett last season, has already improved markedly for a fence.
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Ramillies jumped soundly en route to giving a comfortable beating to well-backed stablemate Tenzing at Thurles in December, recording an RPR of 146. Tenzing previously got within three lengths of subsequent Grade 1 winner Gerri Colombe on his chasing debut, so the form looks strong, and Ramillies can only build on that.
My selection must account for two interesting rivals in Thedevilscoachman and particularly Chemical Energy, who is the general second favourite for the National Hunt Chase.
However, Thedevilscoachman has failed to impress as a chaser and ran a poor race in the Drinmore last time, while Chemical Energy carries a 3lb penalty for landing a three-runner Cheltenham race which completely fell apart on good ground in October.
These slower conditions might not play to his strengths, whereas Ramillies likes a cut in the ground and was the superior performer of the two over hurdles. He is also open to the greater improvement of the pair in this sphere.
His team arrives in typically rude health and I have a slightly outlandish theory that Gaillard Du Mesnil, the short-priced ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase, will eventually be confirmed for the Brown Advisory at the festival off the back of this.
Ramillies and Gaillard Du Mesnil share the same prominent owner and it makes perfect sense to split them up, while Mullins is known for running his National Hunt Chase horses in this. The trainer has saddled three of the past four winners (Stattler, Carefully Selected and Ballyward) and none went off any bigger than odds of 9/4 at Cheltenham.
Gaillard Du Mesnil has hardly been campaigned like a National Hunt Chase horse this term as he reappeared in the Drinmore over 2m4f before landing the 3m Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown, a race which has thrown up plenty of Brown Advisory winners in the past.
The festival is just over six weeks away, but I reckon we could see a major market shift on Sunday and the pair could go off favourite for their respective races. The related double pays 65/1 with bet365. That could be a massive price.
I admit to getting Bob Olinger wrong at the start of the season. I felt that three-mile hurdles may be the key to bringing this great talent back to himself, but he badly disappointed in the Christmas Hurdle over three miles at Leopardstown last time and it feels as if connections are clutching at straws by running him over 1m7½f in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle (2.42).
The Bob Olinger of old would land this with ease, even over a trip this sharp, but I'm going against him with an out-and-out two-miler in Echoes In Rain.
I'm not sure this mare would have got home over four furlongs further in the Hatton's Grace when falling two out last time, but she was undoubtedly cruising into the race and appears to be on the upgrade.
Her Flat performances this year suggest as much - she climbed from a mark of 83 to 102 on the level after chasing home Honeysuckle in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in April - and she is a perfect two from two over this course and distance.
Echoes In Rain appears to be settling better nowadays than was once the case and can capitalise on this drop in class.