A mixture of races from Leopardstown and Musselburgh make up Sunday's Paddy’s Pick 5 competition. Don’t forget to make your entries and play for in our free-to-play game!
1.55 Musselburgh: FRIEND OR FOE
Paul Nicholls landed this race in 2017, 2018 and 2020 (no renewal in 2019) and it looks significant that he sends a runner up once more. FRIEND OR FOE has picked up plenty of experience over fences and has shown his best form going right-handed, over two miles, on decent ground. He gets the lot here and looks sure to give a good account despite having to give weight away all round.
There would also be a Ditcheat connection were Fidelio Vallis to win on his first start for Harry Derham. The former Paul Nicholls assistant has already had winners, including at big prices, so the fairly-handicapped Fidelio Vallis should be strongly considered despite his lengthy break from the course.
Voix Du Reve returns to fences after an even longer absence (from the bigger obstacles), but it’s hard to get too excited about the 11-year-old's chance. Instead, a bigger threat looks to be Dreams Of Home who is better than he was able to show in a hotter race at Sandown last time. A better showing from him looks in the offing.
Any rain would suit confirmed mudlark Hasankey, who is another who should also relish the return to easier company, a comment that also applies to Gold Des Bois, though it's worth noting that his very best form has come a few miles away at Kelso rather than Musselburgh, for all he has twice been runner-up here.
Much like in my household, five-year-olds have held sway for a long time, with each of the last six renewals going the way of that age group. He’s no shoo-in to continue that run, especially with the interesting Irish Flat recruit Dancila in the line-up, but the clear one to beat here is TOOTHLESS. He belied some modest-looking French form when making all in impressive fashion at Fakenham last month, and, though clearly up against better opposition here, this 33/1 shot for next month’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham should be hard to beat.
The dual course and distance winner General Officer was attempting to give plenty of weight away when only picked up late on at Catterick last time, and the drop in trip and better ground here makes him a live contender. Joining him on the list of danger is Carcaci Castle, a recruit from Ireland who is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles (tongue-tied on both occasions). His local form has been franked but it still needs improving on.
Lihyan completes the field. He shaped as if in need of the run on his first start since leaving Ireland when weakening late on at Doncaster last month, and while likely to strip much fitter here, he looks up against it.
2.40 Leopardstown: CIEL DE NEIGE
Runners towards the head of the market have tended to fare best in this belter of a handicap, with only one winner priced at bigger than 12/1 since 2009. CIEL DE NEIGE was never a factor when held up over three miles on his return to action in December, but is better judged on his solid novice form from last season. He rounded his season off with a fine fifth in a similarly competitive handicap at Punchestown and should be a big player again here from 1lb lower.
This sort of trip looks a little on the short side for the likes of Vanillier and Foxy Jacks, the last-named having finished ahead of Ciel De Neige here in December, so of more interest is Farceur Du Large who was eighth behind Real Steel that day having been given a more patient ride, perhaps in order to get the longer trip. Real Steel himself has a 6lb rise to contend with but is still well-treated on his old English form.
In contrast, Now Where Or When didn't appear to have much in hand when edging home at Down Royal when last seen in November, and that form hasn’t stood up too well, so bigger dangers should be the consistent Indigo Breeze and the recent Limerick winner Maskada, if her jumping holds up that is (faller on two of last four starts).
Improvement is anticipated from Pied Piper, assuming connections revert to his more conventional prominent tactics, but this does appear to be all about the ‘big three’. Both the betting and the race tactics suggested that State Man and VAUBAN finished in the order that was expected when the former continued his unbeaten run in the Matheson Hurdle here in December, but that was something of a change in riding style for Vauban and he is fancied to turn the tables with both fitness on his side and more aggressive tactics employed.
Had he stood up on his Irish debut, it’s likely that State Man would be chasing a seventh straight win, and he has come a fair way since winning the County Hurdle (from a mark of 141) last March. He’s hard to pass over, but certainly seemed to be more suited by the way the race panned out last time and this looks more of an acid test.
Of course, seven in a row is nothing to Honeysuckle, who recorded 16 consecutive victories under Rules between November 2018 and December 2022. It’s no wonder that jockey Rachael Blackmore has been bullish in the build-up, given both the horse’s three wins in this race and the fact that she lost little in defeat to two strong stayers over two and a half miles last time out. However, Honeysuckle is now nine and this looks a stronger batch of younger horses than she has faced for some time.
Zanahiyr chased Honeysuckle home 12 months ago and will be suited by the drop in trip today. He isn’t one to write off just yet, being just six, but it’s hard to see him improving significantly enough to win. If the 116-rated Takarengo wins, I'll give you the cash myself. Having said that, connections pick up some prize money if he finishes, so they have the last laugh.
3.40 Leopardstown: FACILE VEGA
It’s time to play the game Paddy’s Pick 5 amigos. I’ll probably be taking on FACILE VEGA at Cheltenham but it makes no real sense to try and get him beaten here. Imagine the scene, you’ve picked the first four winners and then you remember that you took a ‘flyer’ in the last and plumped for .... No Looking Back.
No offence to Oliver McKiernan, but No Looking Back’s match-race win over Brazil is form that shouldn’t really trouble the principals here. So be boring. The unbeaten Facile Vega is following in his dam Quevega’s footsteps, winning a bunch of races at short prices in an authoritative manner. He wasn’t foot-perfect at his obstacles when winning the Future Novices Hurdle over course and distance in December, but practice makes perfect.
That comment also applies to High Definition, a classy Flat recruit who saw off 26 runners when also winning here over Christmas. Officially rated 119 on the level after finishing third in a Coronation Cup at Epsom, he’s a fascinating contender and potentially the only rival with a higher cruising speed than the favourite.
Dark Raven was sent off 7/4-on for the big Fairyhouse bumper back in 2021, which he won with ease, and he showed that all is well despite a 631-day break when winning last time, becoming yet another in this field who comes here on the back of a course and distance win at the Christmas meeting. Il Etait Temps chased home Facile Vega last time, and is back for another crack. There’s no obvious reason why he should get any closer, and he might instead be one to watch out for in a Cheltenham handicap in a month or so.
I rate the horses that Irish Point has chased home on his last two starts very highly (Marine Nationale and Champ Kiely), so he is expected to run well for a long way, for all he may find himself tapped for toe on this ground when it matters. The stoutly-bred Inthepocket looks progressive, and his Naas win has been franked by the runner-up Three Card Brag, but he needs to improve again and looks unlikely to do so over this trip, in this company at least.
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