There is brilliant racing across the Irish Sea at Punchestown with Samcro (2.05) one of several potential superstars making their seasonal reappearances for the Gordon Elliott yard. The selection changed hands for a small fortune after winning his maiden point and followed-up with three bumper successes by a cumulative 30 lengths last season.
He will make connections a brilliant chaser but prior to that makes his hurdling debut under Davy Russell and is unopposable this afternoon. He is 16/1 with BetVictor for the festival curtain-raiser in the spring but should come into his own over further and is 7/1 for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f.
The Irish Daily Star Chase is a G3 in name only with Carlingford Lough, Road to Respect Outlander and Zabana all winners at the highest level and Minella Rocco (4.10) a gallant runner-up in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Jonjo O’Neill’s dual-festival hero stayed on strongly to chase home Sizing John up the Cheltenham hill but I expect him to improve again this term and like his current price of 16/1 with BetVictor to go one better at Prestbury Park in the spring.
Counter Shy (2.55) started a purple patch for the O’Neill yard when getting up late to collar Banditry last time out at Worcester and is confident selection to defy a penalty at Uttoxeter. The selection is bred to make a smart hurdler and built on the promise showed in a Market Rasen bumper winning cosily last time out under Richie McClernon.
The form of that race has been franked subsequently and he looks a potentially useful novice for connections this term. Dan Skelton’s Cause Toujours is the obvious danger however, is best watched on his hurdles debut after disappointing in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
The Skelton brothers unleash second season hurdler No Hassle Hoff (3.25) with the 5yo fancied to make a winning reappearance in a competitive renewal of the 3m Handicap. The son of Craigsteel could end up over fences before the end of the season but prior to that could win a few nice pots over the smaller obstacles.
Based on his efforts last season as a novice he looks well-treated from a mark of 134 and is likewise a confident selection to give weight and a beating to his six rivals under regular partner Harry Skelton.
I can see Get on the Yager being popular for the same combination however, I expect the Harry Fry-trained Sir Ivan (3.55) to relish today’s forecast good ground and claim a second chase success under Noel Fehily. The selection hasn’t been sighted since lowering the colours of former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Cole Harden over fences in May but has a good record fresh and comes from a yard in form..
Jump racing returns at Carlisle where Ballyben (3.15) can defy a 9lb rise for his recent chase success at Perth. Brian Hughes delivered the 9yo with perfect timing to make a winning return however, runners from the Malcolm Jefferson yard often improve for their initial outing and I expect him to be hard to beat from his revised mark.
Mark Johnston’s W G Grace (7.15) never went a yard last time out at Catterick when struggling in very soft ground and should bounce back on his return to an all-weather surface. The selection made a winning handicap debut when well-punted earlier in the season at Kempton and should remain competitive from just a 4lb higher mark.
Connections of Lewinsky (8.15) look to have found the perfect opportunity to shed the maiden tag at the fourth time of asking. The daughter of Famous Name was beaten just two lengths last month at Chelmsford but sets a fair standard based on her previous efforts on turf and is well-drawn in stall one to get her head in front under Louis Steward.