By Johnny Ward
It has felt like a rather calm few days in Ireland after the Dublin Racing Festival, which left a great deal to take in.
Not only had we some wondrous performances from Samcro, Edwulf and Footpad, to name three: there also arose controversy with the Irish authorities looking into betting patterns regarding some high-profile drifters who were beaten.
British racing very much takes over this weekend. And, thinking of Cheltenham next month, there is still plenty of value about – especially in non-runner no-bet markets. Before all of that, there could be some money to be made at a couple of County Kildare venues.
This maiden, rather like the trainers’ title race, will possibly whittle down in to a duel between Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins.
Mullins supplies Epicuris, who seemed to be well-fancied at Limerick at Christmas on what was his debut for the stable, but he failed to settle and did not jump especially well at times.
Simply, it is questionable if this smart racer on the Flat will cut it over hurdles, despite retaining time as an ally.
Cartwright can score for Elliott. He raced 13 times for Sir Mark Prescott, winning six and leaving the barn rated 94. He will probably improve for better ground, so it was highly encouraging that he beat all bar the Mullins-trained Scarpeta at Gowran on Thyestes day last month, when conditions were extremely testing.
A son of the late Jeremy, Ard Na Carraig has run 18 times and never won under Rules but he has long looked potentially well-handicapped.
A point-to-point winner, he was beaten a head in a maiden hurdle in 2016, and has also managed a place on the Flat.
The ground was atrocious at Gowran last time but he still managed to fill the placings and he can go well again on this nicer ground.
Trainer Oliver McKiernan has hit a bit of relative form, with his last four runners all finishing in the first six and two of them finishing second. The blinkers which seemed to work nicely at Thurles replace the visor, curiously added for Gowran.
High Sparrow showed an excellent attitude when edging a three-way battle at Limerick in what was a winnable enough bumper at Christmas, having dictated the pace.
The son of Shantou has pointing experience and that should stand to him now as he embarks on a hurdling career in a winnable race.
Caltex was notably disappointing when last seen in November, while Kesselring did not set the world alight on his hurdling debut, his first run in nearly a year and a half, at Punchestown last month. On paper, a testing two and a half miles looks really suspect for the son of New Approach too.
This Entire Cheltenham Festival On Racing UK Handicap Hurdle will take a bit of getting, rather like that Festival itself.
Tom Nagle has not had a winner since last July and has had a quiet season but he supplies a pretty strong each-way fancy here in Danse Away.
The six-year-old won a point-to-point by 30 lengths at Bandon almost a year ago – but a performance in defeat takes the eye more: at Kilfeacle the previous month, he was second of 17, beaten a mere half-length by none other than On The Blind Side.
Nicky Henderson reckons On The Blind Side may be up to beating Samcro at Cheltenham. Whatever about that, Danse Away seems capable of a win in a staying handicap off a rating of 91. He has been a work in progress under Rules but his recent second at this track suggests his time is nigh now he moves up in distance.
Punchestown’s card on Sunday has a very traditional feel to it, comprising a cross-country race, a hunter chase and an Irish National trial.
The clash of Burning Ambition – a major fancy for the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham – and Gilgamboa (who cannot run in that) will be intriguing.
Gilgamboa is not the horse he was but he showed that the fire still burns when slamming Foxrock at Thurles last time.
He was really strong at the finish and this is a much, much tougher task for Burning Ambition, who was impressive at Limerick but beat little.
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