By Johnny Ward in Dublin
Douvan never made it to Gowran – it never seemed probable – but we still have a whopper of a feature at the track on Saturday.
Presenting Percy may well head the betting, even though he is a novice taking on Grade One-winning chasers over a trip probably shy of his best. His preparation for the RSA Chase, coming here after winning the Galmoy Hurdle, has been nothing if not unconventional.
Our Duke’s rather hasty return to take him on his also a little unusual, as it is a mere 13 days since he ran in the Irish Gold Cup. Likely connections feel, given the blunder he made at a crucial stage then, he needs a clearer round ahead of Cheltenham.
Rather disappointing are the turnouts for Navan’s bigger races on Sunday, again adding weight to a feeling that there are too many graded contests in Ireland.
Falling as they do so close to Cheltenham, it is perhaps not surprising that only nine runners on aggregate will contest the two Grade Twos at the County Meath venue.
Perhaps more striking is that, ignoring likely long-shot Maggio, only three trainers are represented in the two events: Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and Noel Meade.
Saturday selections:Valseur Lido did not get home in the Irish Gold Cup (PA)
Valseur Lido's second to Vautour at Cheltenham two years ago underlines that he is pretty versatile trip-wise, which is no harm in a race in which most of the field ideally probably want further.
He missed The Festival 12 months ago and much of 2017 due to injury, only to make a pleasing return behind Road To Respect over Christmas.
On the face of it, he regressed in the Irish Gold Cup back at Leopardstown last time but it was not a bad run. He travelled as if he had retained his ability for much of the heat, jumping cleanly under Sean Flanagan until quite a messy leap at the third-last, after which he did not get home.
Six of his eight wins have been over two and a half miles or shorter, and it is too early to jump to conclusions that he has run his race career-wise.
Presenting Percy looks the most likely winner at the weights and I would have no issue putting a saver on him. This is something of a means to an end for Our Duke, who clearly needs at least three miles too.
This is going to take some getting and it is notable that Mick Jazz's best form is on good/soft ground, whereas he does not have a huge amount in hand on Forge Meadow in any case.
Lagostovegas is essentially a Flat-bred mare and, while she has won on heavy on the Flat, that is not really comparable to what she will face at Gowran. She goes on deep ground but this might be a bit too deep.
Forge Meadow only gave best late on at Naas last time and, if she enjoys a similarly soft lead here, may be hard enough to peg back.
Rich Ricci has no JCB Triumph Hurdle candidate – until now, perhaps.
Trainer Tony Castainhera is considered shrewd at his own level and was trying his luck a bit running Saldier in high-class Flat races last spring but the horse was not at all disgraced.
On debut he finished fourth to Waldgeist, a Group One winner less than two months later, so he clearly has a bit of speed. Yet he should have no issue with stamina ahead of his hurdling bow as he is by Soldier Hollow, sire of Arctic Fire, a Grade One-winning jumper for Mullins.
Saldier is one of the smartest Flat horses to go juvenile hurdling this term and is joining the best trainer around. He faces a useful sort here in Les Arceaux, but he was nowhere near Saldier’s level on the Flat.
Sunday selections:_Monbeg Notorious impressed when landing the Thyestes Chase _(PA)
This was the race in which Acapella Bourgeois won in the manner of a superstar last year.
What a flop he has been since, with now stablemate C'est Jersey flying the flag for Closutton 12 months on. He is anything but a certain stayer, unlike Moulin A Vent and Monbeg Notorious, who look the pair to concentrate on.
While Moulin A Vent (touched 999-1 in-running on Betfair) had luck on his side at Naas, he should not be written off, as he has lots of ability and can surely jump less cumbersomely.
However, he has to give 3lb to Monbeg Notorious, a strapping individual whose jumping at Gowran when he landed a gamble in the Thyestes was much more efficient than he was when scoring in a Punchestown maiden.
This looks a perfect opportunity for him to announce his arrival at graded level under Jack Kennedy.
Cerealice is an interesting filly in many respects. Her sire, Laveron, had the distinction of winning a French Champion Hurdle; while her half-brother is none other than Bacardys.
In that context, we really should not be worrying about her getting two and a half miles, yet it is the main concern, as she did not really settle at Leopardstown on her handicap debut. Even so, she seemed to be cantering when falling two out.
A rating of 97 gives her considerable scope for victory in a handicap. A consistent sort initially in France, her fourth to Osco Mosco in a maiden hurdle in November over Sunday's trip reads well.
She made a few mistakes when but was only beaten eight lengths by Moyhenna, who has won a bumper and maiden hurdle since and will be rated around 120.
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