Willie Mullins won the Grade 3 Total Event Rental Novices’ Chase (13:15) last year with the Timeform top-rated Invitation Only, but the one who tops the figures this time around hails from the Henry de Bromhead yard, in the form of A Plus Tard. He built on his debut for the yard at Gowran Park in November, where he chased home Dr Mikey, when winning a novice contest at Naas the following month, and appeals as the type who will carrying on improving and winning more races. Still only five, he sets a useful standard, and is respected with the prospect of more to come.
Jetz matched his best hurdling form when third in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse last month and is respected now dropped back into Grade 3 company, though he was below par last time. Instead, the one to side with could well be Winter Escape. He was lightly raced when with Alan King, but regularly appealed as a well-handicapped type over hurdles, and he has taken big strides forward over fences since joining Aidan Anthony Howard, looking a smart prospect when winning a Grade 3 contest at Cork last month. It looks significant that connections were eyeing up a tilt at the Drinmore on the back of that, and with more improvement to come, he can land a second success at this level.
Of the remainder, Gordon Elliott runs four, the most interesting being last year’s Martin Pipe Handicap winner Blow By Blow. He has been pitched into Grade 1 and 2 company since winning a novice event on chasing debut in October, and has generally held his own, with one blip at Fairyhouse last month sandwiched between useful performances here and at Leopardstown. Whilst there could be more to come, he’s shown his best form on more testing surfaces and long-distance handicaps are probably where his future lies.
Sunday’s feature is the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle, due off at 14:50, a race which has become a key indicator for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in recent years – four of the past five Moscow Flyer winners have gone off favourite for the Cheltenham Festival curtain opener.
All four of those winners came from the Willie Mullins yard, which has won seven of the last ten renewals of the race, and they have another exciting prospect in the form of the five-year-old mare Buildmeupbuttercup. A useful performer on the Flat and a dual winner in bumpers for the Mick Channon team, Buildmeupbuttercup impressed when making a winning debut for the yard in a novices’ hurdle at Navan last month, ultimately prevailing by half a length though value for more like five. She’s sure to improve and win races in this sphere, particularly when there’s more of an emphasis on speed. In receipt of a sex allowance, she may prove a tough nut to crack.
Jetez is 4 lb clear of Buildmeupbuttercup on Timeform’s weight-adjusted ratings, and is far more experienced than the Mullins runner, with 10 starts over hurdles to date. He took a big step forward when winning a useful-looking handicap at Leopardstown last time, though it is worth noting that he was well positioned in a race which very few got into, and he may struggle to repeat that form now stepped up into graded company.
The biggest threat could therefore come from Buildmeupbuttercup’s stablemate Harrie, another exciting import from France that the yard excel with. He was a runner up in a bumper last January, before returning from a 316-day absence to get off the mark over hurdles at Tramore last month, where he was forced to work a bit harder than seemed likely for most of the way. He has plenty to find on ratings, but is open to any amount of improvement and looks a fascinating contender, his position in the betting suggesting that he could be something special.
The remaining three runners are all owned by Gigginstown, with two trained by Gordon Elliott; Felix Desjy and Swordsman. Felix Desjy has proven consistent rather than progressive in four starts over hurdles so far, and has failed to build on debut win at Galway in October in two starts since. As such, it is Swordsman who is the more interesting runner from the yard. A brother to last week’s Grade 1 novice winner Battleoverdoyen, Swordsman looked a useful prospect in his own right when winning at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day, prevailing by 12 lengths. This is a big step up in grade, but he’s respected with more to come. The field is completed by the final Gigginstown runner, Jan Maat. He’s shown only fairly useful form over hurdles so far, finishing sixth on handicap debut at Leopardstown last time, and he should find this too tough.
In conclusion, this race could well be dominated by the Closutton pair of Buildmeupbuttercup and Harrie. The latter has plenty to find on form, but the support for him in the market at the time of writing is interesting and he is respected, however preference is for Buildmeupbuttercup, who looks a nice prospect herself.