With Cheltenham only around five weeks away now things are really starting to heat up in yards up and down the country and across in the UK.
And to help us make sense of all the information that is flying around we welcome to the Turf Talk team, form and betting expert Jim Gallacher and we also announce the launch of the Turf Talk Racing page on facebook.
A former owner, Jim who wrote his own racing column for both newspaper and internet is a bit if a guru when it comes to Form and aims to try and help point punters in the right direction with two favoured anti-post chances each week.
Jim is a regular visitor at Irish race-meetings and told me this week that he was excited about getting involved at Turf Talk.
The facebook page is also a welcome addition as we aim to keep our readers up to date with all the news. the facebook page can be reached by simply putting Turf Talk Racing in the search field.
Sizing to run at punchestown
Henry de Bromhead is hoping Sizing Europe’s run at Punchestown today will put him spot on for the defence of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Sizing Europe was third behind the ill-fated Golden Silver in the Boylesports.com Tied Cottage Chase 12 months ago, and the County Waterford trainer believes the timing of the Grade Two contest is just right, having not raced since winning the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.
De Bromhead told At The Races: “Things have been good since the Tingle Creek. He had a break after he got back from England for a few weeks, then we started stepping it up with him after Christmas and he seems in good form.”
He added: “It’s a shame it isn’t a Grade One. It’s a race all the top Irish two-milers run in before Cheltenham.”
Bumper entries for Supreme Novices
A total of 91 entries have been received for the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
Jessica Harrington’s Steps To Freedom is the 8-1 favourite with the sponsors, with his trainer raising the prospect earlier in the week of him having a prep race on the all-weather at Dundalk. He is one of 31 Irish possibles, with Willie Mullins responsible for nine, among them Sous Les Cieux, Terminal and Midnight Game.
Noel Meade is also well represented in a race he has won twice before, with the unbeaten Monksland and Dylan Ross engaged. Galileo’s Choice and Lord Windermere are other Irish possibles.
Nicky Henderson, without a win in the race since Flown’s success in 1992, has more entries than anyone this year with 12 engaged. Tolworth Hurdle winner Captain Conan, Tetlami, Simonsig and Darlan are among his huge team.
Donald McCain’s Cinders And Ashes, the Philip Hobbs-trained Colour Squadron and Alan King’s Montbazon are others that catch the eye, while Paul Nicholls has entered Prospect Wells and the four-year-olds Dildar, Hinterland and Pearl Swan.
Charlie Longsdon also has a strong hand with Hazy Tom, Magnifique Etoile and the former smart Flat performer Vulcanite entered.
Cracking Triumph in prospect
A cracking renewal of the JCB Triumph Hurdle looks on the cards with quality to the fore amongst 77 entries.
Featured among that list are 28 Irish entries, including Dessie Hughes’ Minsk, winner of the Irish Cesarewitch for John Oxx but yet to jump a hurdle in public.
Ut De Sivola, Darroun, Sportsmaster and Shadow Catcher are other eyecatching Irish entrants.
The first two from an informative trial last weekend, Grumeti and Pearl Swan, are likely to lock horns once again.
Mullins mob handed in Novice Hurdle
Willie Mullins has a bumper crop of 17 entries for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, March 14.
The champion trainer’s team is spearheaded by the Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned Boston Bob, while Noel Meade’s Monksland is prominent in the ante-post lists after his win in the Slaney Hurdle and he is another expected to head straight to Prestbury Park.
Ruby ban upheld
Ruby Walsh has had his appeal against a three-day careless riding ban dismissed following a hearing at the British Horseracing Authority.
Walsh was handed the suspension and demoted from first place after last Saturday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham when his mount, Pearl Swan, leaned on to Grumeti inside the final furlong.
After crossing the line a short head in front, the raceday stewards deemed the interference serious enough to have affected the result of the race. The ban rules him out of the Betfair Hurdle fixture at Newbury on February 11, which also features the Game Spirit Chase and Denman Chase.
The BHA’s Nicky Lander said: “I can confirm that Ruby Walsh’s appeal against his three-day ban has been dismissed.”
The BHA later tweeted that Walsh had successfully requested to defer the second day of his suspension due to there being Grade One action in Ireland.
Walsh will now be free to ride at the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup meeting at Leopardstown with the jockey being banned on February 11, 13 and 14
No flies on imperious Hurricane
Willie Mullins is thrilled to report Hurricane Fly none the worse for his spectacular seasonal reappearance at Leopardstown. The eight-year-old enjoyed a stellar campaign last season, with victories in the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham featuring among five Grade One triumphs.
His comeback had been delayed up until his defence of his Irish Champion Hurdle crown on Sunday as Mullins had not been entirely happy with his stable star in the first half of the season. But Hurricane Fly showed he had lost none of his dash with a truly magnificent performance which left even his trainer slightly stunned.
Mullins said on Monday: “He’s fine this morning, which is great news. He really surprised me how well he did it. He was very quiet in the parade ring beforehand, but maybe he’s just maturing.
“He was very good in the race and I hope he can improve, but, having said that, if I can get him to Cheltenham in the same sort of form as he was yesterday I think I’d be happy enough. We have six weeks until Cheltenham and I’ll just train him as I see him between now and then.”
Jockey Ruby Walsh was pleased with the performance of Hurricane Fly, but felt one or two of his beaten rivals failed to show their best form.
He said: “He was very impressive, he settled beautifully and jumped really well in a true-run race. It was a good jump at the second-last. He jumped past Oscars Well, joined Thousand Stars, and he came alive and the race was over. It’s good to see him back. It was a great performance.
“I probably was surprised (he won by that far). I don’t think Thousand Stars ran as good as he can run. They went a really good gallop and Paul (Townend) gave him a breather down the back but he just didn’t quicken again, which is unlike him. Obviously Unaccompanied didn’t fire, she ran considerably worse than she did at Christmas, and Oscars Well has run a really good race. You’d hope (there’s a lot left).”
Improving Well excites Harrington
Jessica Harrington is confident Oscars Well can make his presence felt in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival following his fine run in defeat at Leopardstown on Sunday.
The five-year-old is unlucky not to be a Festival winner already, having fluffed his lines at the final flight in last season’s Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. Although he has yet to find the target this season, his latest run behind Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle was easily his best to date.
Harrington believes Oscars Well can be an even bigger force on the sounder surface he is likely to encounter in March.
“I was very happy with his run and he is improving with every run,” said the County Kildare handler.
“If you look at his form from last season he did exactly the same. He got beaten first time out and then won his maiden and what was probably a weak Grade One at Navan.
“It wasn’t until early February that he really came to himself and it seems to be the same this time around, as he is certainly getting better.
“He didn’t like the ground either on Sunday, so it was a very good run to finish second to an incredible horse. We said early in the season that we wouldn’t be able to beat Hurricane Fly, but I think going to Cheltenham on better ground, we could be placed
Rubi heading to Gowran
Trainer Robbie Hennessy will follow a tried-and-tested route by running Rubi Light at Gowran before heading to the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old won the Red Mills Chase in 2011 on the way to finishing third to Albertas Run in the Ryanair Chase and the two-and-a-half-mile contest is again ideal as it comes just less than four weeks before his prime objective.
“We are going to give him a run in Gowran Park on the 18th of February in the Red Mills and that’s something to look forward to with him first,” said County Meath-based Hennessy.
“He won it last year and the weather forecast is bad for the foreseeable future, so I imagine the ground will be testing, which would play to his strengths.
“After that we’ll just keep him ticking over for Cheltenham. He doesn’t need long coming out of his races. He need the same last year.” Next week: Jim Gallagher’s horses to follow at Cheltenham
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