Like its English cousin, the Irish Cesarewitch is one of the most difficult handicaps of the entire season from a betting perspective, throwing up a 25/1 winner last term in the form of the Harry Rogers-trained Lord Erskine.
Willie Mullins has won two of the past three renewals of this race, and just like at Newmarket 24 hours previous, he is represented by seven runners here, all of whom have solid claims. He boasts the top-rated runner in the field, too, in the form of Exchange Rate, who has had starts on both the Flat and over the Jumps during the summer.
Whilst he failed to justify strong market support on two occasions over hurdles during the Galway Festival, he has shaped well on his two most recent starts, both of which came on the level, just failing to peg one back who got first run at Killarney two starts ago, before going one better in effortless fashion at Listowel over 1m6f last month. He won on the bridle that day, value for far more than the winning margin, and he is very interesting off a mark of 89 with more improvement to come.
Like Exchange Rate, several of the Mullins septet are better known for their exploits over the Jumps, including Sharjah, whose exploits over hurdles include winning the Galway Hurdle in August. He failed to meet expectations on his first start on the Flat since switching from France at Leopardstown last month, but he is a smart hurdler and can’t be ruled out in this sphere just yet. Pleasure Dome is having her first start on the level since joining this yard, but she was fairly useful on the Flat when with Peter Chapple-Hyam and is another that could prove to be on a lenient mark, as could Makitorix, a useful hurdler, who looked as if he was on a good mark when finishing third in a big field amateur race at the Curragh in August, and heads here off just a 2 lb higher mark.
Mullins’ three other runners have some solid Flat form to their name, including Nessun Dorma, who completed a double at Galway in August. He was a faller when sent over hurdles on his most recent start at Killarney, but is of interest off his current mark returned to the level, as is Chelkar, who was fourth in the Ascot Stakes in June. He was below par next time out at Galway, but he can be forgiven that run (reported to be coughing post-race). The septet is completed by Legal Spin, who is making just his fifth career start here. He found his opening assignment in handicaps at Leopardstown too tough last month, and could well struggle again here, though he would have claims on the pick of his form and remains with potential.
Leading the opposition against the Mullins team is Brazos, who has won twice on the level this year, most recently at Killarney in August, and he ran at least as well when finishing third at Listowel last time, deserving extra credit the way things unfolded that day, conceding first run and nearest at the finish. He is an interesting alternative, as is Davids Charm, who got off the mark in this sphere at Gowran last month, and the step up in trip should suit him.
One who looks open to improvement is Newcross, whois lightly-raced for a five-year-old, with just six starts to date. He has shown fairly useful form since switching to A.J. Martin two starts ago, winning a handicap at Roscommon in June before shaping better than the bare result when second at the Galway Festival in August, arguably unlucky not to win considering he was denied a clear run to the line, and he is interesting off his current mark.
However, it is the three-year-old Cliffs of Dooneen who makes the most appeal. With just three runs to date, he is the most unexposed runner in the field, winning on his first two starts at Bellewstown and the Curragh respectively. He found handicap company coming too soon into his career when seventh at Leopardstown last month, and whilst it could be that this again proves too daunting for him, he should have learned plenty from that experience and there should be more to come from him yet considering his pedigree (brother to useful 11f/1½m winner Triplicate and French 11.5f winner You Only You). Representing the powerful Aidan O’Brien yard, who won this as recently as 2014 with El Salvador, he is fancied to prove better than his mark of 101.
Like the Cesarewitch 25 minutes before it, Sunday’s Munster National is a highly competitive affair, and it has an impressive recent roll of honour, too, with its two most recent winners, Total Recall and Tiger Roll, both going to win high profile races subsequently.
It remains to be seen whether the race is able to produce another big star this time around, but the standard is set on Timeform ratings by Alpha Des Obeaux, one of five runners for Gordon Elliott, who could well dominate this race. The eight-year-old has joined this yard from Mouse Morris, and he generally raced at higher levels than this last term, falling at the chair when travelling strongly in the Grand National on his most recent start in April. He is potentially the class act in this, and it will be interesting to see how he fares for his new trainer, though he can be opposed for win purposes under top weight.
Our Father is another runner who has switched to Elliott, having been with David Pipe, and he is due to make his first start for over three years, not being seen since finishing second at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day in 2015. He’s a useful chaser, and though he is entitled to need the run, his prominence in the market at the time of writing suggests that he will be ready to go first time out. Its All Guesswork meanwhile has been busy of late, most recently winning a novice chase at Navan last month. He made the most of a good opportunity that day however, and whilst he is open to improvement he will find this tougher.
Timiyan was first past the post in a similar race to this, the Midlands National at Kilbeggan in July, before being subsequently disqualified for failing a drugs test. He can have a line drawn through his most recent run at Listowel, when all but coming down at the first, and is of interest here. Preference, however, is for his stablemate Rogue Angel, who was awarded the race at Kilbeggan, and backed that up with an excellent effort to finish third in the Kerry National last month. He received an attacking ride that day, something which perhaps counted against him in the closing stages of the race, but he is in excellent heart at the moment and looks to have leading claims off just 3 lb higher with Jack Kennedy booked to ride.
Surprisingly, Willie Mullins doesn’t have a declared runner in this, and though Steel Wave is a reserve at the time of writing, he would need to find more if he is to have a serious say. The biggest threat to the Gordon Elliott quintet could therefore come from Black Scorpion, wholooks a big danger for Eric McNamara. He improved to resume winning ways at Listowel last month, scoring in decisive fashion, and he looks well treated off a mark of 129. Another on a workable mark is Blast of Koeman, though he seemingly failed to stay over 3 miles at Listowel last month, which is a concern.
Back Cliffs of Dooneen to win the Irish Cesarewitch at 12/1
Back Rogue Angel to win the Munster National at 5/1