Weather permitting we’re in for another exciting weekend of National Hunt action.
The Lanzarote is the feature at Kempton, whilst the Coral Welsh Grand National takes centre-stage at Chepstow. With heavy ground guaranteed, the latter will prove to be an absolute slog. As tipping is not part of my remit, I’ll gladly let the boss take care of this one. (Sorry Matt)
Instead, I wanted to focus on an exciting weekend in Ireland. Much attention will be focused on Punchestown with the Supreme Novices’ favourite Min hoping to further enhance his lofty reputation.
Willie Mullins has won The Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle five times in the last seven years. The past two victories have gone to horses trained by the Irish Champion and he will be hoping that the trend continues. Douvan and Vautour were the successful pair, both owned by Rich Ricci, with both going on to win at the Cheltenham Festival. Min is by the same sire as Douvan and after his debut demolition last month hopes will be high that this fella can prove just as successful.
However, at this stage there is little doubt that his reputation is built on potential rather than actual racecourse evidence. The horses in behind last time at Punchestown were a pretty ordinary bunch, and we will hopefully learn more about him on Saturday. Should Tombstone take up his entry we could be in for a real treat, though he ran at Christmas when second to Long Dog in a Grade 1, and it would be a surprise if he was sent out again so soon.
Similar can be said of Ball D’Arc, also trained by Gordon Elliott, who won impressively at Limerick over the holiday period. He lacks the class of Tombstone, but will certainly appreciate the heavy ground should he take up the entry.
There’s a danger the race could cut up badly, with the result that Min may find himself left in a rather uncompetitive Grade 2, with onlookers once again learning very little of his true ability. Mullins may well run Thomas Hobson, also carrying the Ricci colours, though this trip would prove plenty sharp enough after his win at the track over two and a half miles in December.
It’s fair to say that Douvan’s win in last year’s renewal came against staying types rather than classy two milers. Mullins would, I’m sure, be more than happy collecting a Grade 2 with the minimum of fuss, whilst at the same time allowing Min to gain valuable racing experience. If Min impresses, this may well be the last we see of him before Cheltenham in March. The same routine worked a treat last year, though Vautour took in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle en route to his Supreme victory.
Whatever we learn from Saturday’s race, I’m certainly excited at the prospect of seeing him on the track again. Mullins, Ricci and Walsh will hope that the hype surrounding this fella is justified.