Cilaos Emery – Red Mills Trial Hurdle, 13:44 Gowran Park (Saturday)
Cilaos Emery has emerged as a left-field contender for the Champion Hurdle in recent days, with his entry in this race appearing to be the origin of that move – Willie Mullins’ charge is now no bigger than 12/1 for the feature race on the opening day of the Festival, though it’s worth remembering that he would need to be supplemented.
The likelihood of that happening will increase should he win on Saturday, when contesting a race that Hardy Eustace won en route to Champion Hurdle glory in 2005. Admittedly, Cilaos Emery hasn’t raced over hurdles since December 2017, but he ran to a Timeform rating of 157 that day, when filling the runner-up spot in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, and that form is superior to anything his four rivals here have achieved over hurdles, including last year’s winner Darasso (153).
Champion Chase contender?— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 8, 2019
Cilaos Emery makes it three from three over fences with a cosy success in the Hilly Way Chase for Willie and Danny Mullins at @corkracecourse
Results ➡ https://t.co/glajGV55GR pic.twitter.com/IsGo02nn8C
Cilaos Emery may yet have more to offer, too, if the top-class form he has since demonstrated over fences is anything to go by. He is currently rated 166p in that sphere after recording an impressive success in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in December, quickly asserting on the run-in to beat Ballyoisin by seven lengths.
A first-fence faller in the Dublin Chase last time, his entry here suggests connections have put the Champion Chase to the back of their minds, a race for which he would possibly lack experience after only three completed chase starts. The Champion Hurdle, on the other hand, may now be entering the equation, and it will be interesting to see what he can achieve here in the context of what looks a wide-open renewal of the day one highlight.
Real Steel – Red Mills Chase, 14:54 Gowran Park (Saturday)
Real Steel appears to hold leading claims of completing a big-race double for Willie Mullins on Saturday’s card at Gowran Park, with the form of his Grade 2 win at Thurles last month very much setting the standard in a seven-strong field.
Admittedly, his rivals last time were all comfortably below their best, but Real Steel still proved at least as good as ever in recording a wide-margin success, easily beating stablemate Footpad to make it three wins from his last four starts. His only defeat in that time came in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown in December, when keeping on well at the finish to be beaten less than four lengths into fourth behind another stablemate, Min.
That rival is likely to be in Real Steel’s way again if he heads to the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, while another concern for Real Steel at the Festival is that he is yet to conclusively prove his effectiveness when racing left-handed – all six of his wins for Mullins have come at right-handed tracks, while his record when going the other way around stands at 0/5.
We won’t learn anything new in that respect when lines up on Saturday, but we can still expect the 14/1 currently on offer for the Ryanair to disappear if he wins as he is entitled to on paper. There was no obvious bias in his jumping when successful on his most recent outing, either, and the ‘p’ attached to his denotes that we still haven’t seen the best of him yet; he rates an interesting outsider for the Ryanair at this stage.
Tiger Roll – Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle, 13:50 Navan (Sunday)
Tiger Roll’s Aintree heroics have been a big talking point in recent days – specifically the weight he has been assigned for his hat-trick bid in April – but his record at the Cheltenham Festival will come into sharper focus in the coming weeks, with the 10-year-old set to bid for a no-less remarkable fifth win at that prestigious fixture.
As well as the 2014 Triumph Hurdle and the 2017 National Hunt Chase, Tiger Roll has won the last two renewals of the Cross Country Chase, with his success at the meeting last year arguably his most impressive yet. Indeed, he pulled fully 22 lengths clear of his nearest pursuer in the closing stages, not coming off the bridle to do so, and it goes without saying that he holds standout claims if arriving in the same sort of form for his hat-trick bid – en route to Aintree, of course.
Tiger Roll is set to use Sunday’s Boyne Hurdle at Navan to ensure that he once again arrives at Cheltenham in peak shape, just as he did so accomplishedly last season. Sent off at 25/1, his connections seemed as surprised as anyone by the way he cruised to victory in this Grade 2 prize, putting the finishing touches to his Festival preparation with a four-length defeat of Off You Go.
Unlike 12 months ago, Gordon Elliott’s charge doesn’t have the benefit of a previous run this season – he was ruled out of the first part of the campaign after a minor setback – and his trainer has warned that he will improve for the run on Sunday, but it will simply be great to see this marvellous racehorse back on track ahead of what has the makings of a memorable spring.