The weekend ahead of Cheltenham can often throw up poor quality meetings, but this weekend's Irish action is not without real talent as the focus falls on Gowran Park on Saturday and Naas on Sunday.
Saturday, March 11 - Gowran Park
The 14:30 maiden hurdle is an interesting contest involving some of the big Irish yards, including Gordon Elliott, who enters probable favourite BROKEN SOUL. His most recent run saw him brought down in a similar event on March 5, which is hardly ideal preparation for this. He does possess the most eye-catching form with his run to be second behind MELON at Leopardstown in late January. MELON is now a warm order favourite for the Supreme Novice's Hurdle at Cheltenham, so BROKEN SOUL'S effort to be ten lengths behind the Willie Mullins charge looks solid.
However, the nod here goes to SIZINGUPTHEAMAZON (9/2) who will go well on the expected heavy ground at Gowran. His run in similar conditions at Thurles in February 2016 looks solid as he finished nine lengths behind ROAD TO RESPECT who has gone on to better things, keeping higher quality company. The only negative is the fact that SIZINGUPTHEAMAZON has been off the track for a year, but he gets further than the trip on Saturday and so should be going through the ground better than most coming to the finish. DRUMCONNOR LAD (5/1) is another to consider based on his recent run to be 2nd to WEST COAST TIME, who is now prominent in the Champion Bumper reckoning at Cheltenham.
The 15:40 Handicap Chase at Gowran is a very competitive heat but the vote goes to WINTER MAGIC (7/2), ridden by Davy Russell. The heavier the ground gets, the better this one seems to go, and he has won on heavy and yielding ground in the past. His win over a little further on yielding to soft ground at Thurles looks good, especially given that he was third when carrying a big weight in defeat to KILLARO BOY at the same venue last month. NEW KID IN TOWN (3/1) is likely to be the favourite but it is too hard to forgive him two falls in both his most recent runs, while he's also not guaranteed to act on the swamp-like surface likely to be at play at Gowran.
The 16:15 Beginner's Chase has a number of improvers in the field, but it might be worth going with Mullins over Elliott in this one. Gordon Elliott sends GENERAL PRINCIPLE to this one following a credible effort in a hot race at Naas recently won by Joseph O'Brien's EDWULF, but he was 26 lengths in arrears on that occasion. He was a good second to BACHASSON is his most recent race before that, but the nod here goes with DICOSIMO (13/8) for Willie Mullins.
He was second to ALAMEIN at Fairyhouse last month, but it is his run before that which catches the eye. He was just three lengths second to Jessica Harrington's DON'T TOUCH IT at Thurles on soft ground over two miles, and a slight step up in trip may suit the six-year-old. DICOSIMO (13/8) and GENERAL PRINCIPLE (4/5) should be too good for the rest and the Willie Mullins charge will be partnered by the able pilot, Paul Townend. Even at a likely 13/8, DICOSIMO is worth backing in what may become a two-horse race, and I think he can outwit the odds-on favourite in testing conditions.
Sunday, March 12 - Naas
The 15:45 Novice Chase at Naas on Sunday sees just two owners accounting for all five runners. Four of those are for Gigginstown House while the fifth runner, OSCAR KNIGHT, goes for JP McManus. Recent winner BALL D'ARC (5/4) will be the favourite after he got the better of TULLY EAST by the length of the straight at Navan last month, but GANGSTER (9/4) has some seriously eye-catching form. He is yet to win in his three chase starts to date, but does have two placed efforts in the book against classy rivals. He was just seven lengths behind JLT favourite YORKHILL at Leopardstown in January and the Henry de Bromhead trained seven-year-old will eat up the heavy ground.
The 16:50 three-mile chase is a competitive affair where SAMBREMONT (11/2) is likely to be the favourite for Willie Mullins following his good run to be a close-up second to BAIE DE ILES at Punchestown last month. However, THUNDER AND ROSES (14/1) is a good each-way option, even under top weight. A five-pound claimer can help alleviate the weight burden and his run to be second to PLEASANT COMPANY, who is one of the market leaders for the Aintree Grand National, on heavy ground at Fairyhouse, is solid form. TEXAS JACK, who is similarly priced, will be partnered by a seven-pound claimer and that swing in the weights, paired with the pick of his form, should see him involved.
Gowran 14:30 - SIZINGUPTHEAMAZON (WIN) - 9/2
Gowran 15:40 - WINTER MAGIC (WIN) - 7/2
Gowran 16:15 - DICOSIMO (WIN) - 13/8
Naas 15:45 - GANGSTER (WIN) - 9/4
Naas 16:50 - THUNDER AND ROSES (EW) - 14/1 or TEXAS JACK (EW) - 14/1
Suggested Weekend Double:
WINTER MAGIC (7/2) and GANGSTER (9/4)
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