Sunday’s Irish action, at Cork and Punchestown, is particularly strong, with no less than four Graded contests across both cards – beginning with a Grade 3 Stayers’ Novice Hurdle at Cork, due off at 13:10. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Willie Mullins holds a strong hand for this particular contests, and two of his mares, Pleasure Dome and Robin De Carlow sit clear of the field on Timeform ratings.
It is the dual-purpose performer Pleasure Dome who sets the standard, having built up a sequence over timber during the summer, winning on three occasions. She receives weight from the field here, though she has only shown fairly useful form over hurdles so far, and will need more if she is to take this. The Mouse Morris-trained Sams Profile looked a useful prospect when making a winning hurdling debut here last time and has more to offer now stepped up markedly in trip, but ready preference is for Robin de Carlow, who arrives here after back-to-back wins in listed company. The latter of those victories was an emphatic one, having plenty in hand when scooting clear to score by 11 lengths, and she is expected to take this step up in grade in her stride.
Thirty-five minutes later at Cork is the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase, a race which has been won by no less than Un de Sceaux and Douvan, respectively, in the previous two renewals. The standard is set on Timeform ratings by Great Field, who has struggled with injuries of late, making just one start last season. That start was a winning one, however, in the Grade 2 Webster Cup Chase at Navan, and one which stretched his perfect record over fences to six. It’s still difficult to know quite how good Great Field is, with this being just his second start over fences outside of novice company, but he has shown borderline top-class form at his best and there could yet be better to come. Doctor Phoenix, who was second behind Great Field in March, is due to reoppose, though he has 9 lb to find with the selection on the figures, meaning that it could well be fellow J.P. McManus runner Anibale Fly who provides the sternest test to Great Field, though he too has something to prove dropped markedly in trip here.
How about this for a return? After 330 days away, Grade 1 winner Great Field is a ready winner of the @ToalsBookmakers Webster Cup Chase at @NavanRacecourse for trainer @WillieMullinsNH and jockey @jody_mcgarvey: pic.twitter.com/V6V6fhvJh6— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) March 23, 2018
Punchestown’s feature, the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase, has attracted a small but select field of five, one which is headed by Min, who is 3 lb clear on Timeform ratings. Min has always promised plenty, and whilst he has fallen just short of the top table on several occasions, he is capable of top-class form at his very best, as he showed when winning the Grade 2 Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February, and also when chasing home Altior in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham a month later. Gigginstown lead the opposition, sending both Balko Des Flos and Shattered Love, and considering the former has been below par in two starts since winning the Ryanair Chase in March, it could be that the mare Shattered Love provides the biggest threat. She looked rusty after six months off when second in a Grade 2 contest at Down Royal last month, but that was a satisfactory reappearance, and one from which she is likely to have come on plenty from.
It could prove to be a clean sweep for Willie Mullins in Sunday’s graded contests, as Camelia De Cotte looks to have excellent claims in the Grade 3 Mares’ Novice Chase, due off at 14:15. The six-year-old has enjoyed a productive season so far, picking up three wins from four starts, most recently when taking a mares’ listed contest at Clonmel last month. Her only defeat this season came in Grade 3 company, when fourth at Tipperary in October, though returned to her own sex, she appeals as the type who could build up a sequence in mares-only events. Forge Meadow has made an unconvincing start over fences, despite hitting the frame at both Galway and Punchestown, with the form she has shown in doing so a long way below what she achieved over hurdles, though she would be a threat if rediscovering that form.