A seven-race card at Gowran Park this Thursday is one of those key Irish jumps meetings for the spring festivals. This County Kilkenny course some 80 miles southwest of Dublin is where Presenting Percy makes his eagerly anticipated reappearance in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle over 3m (13:50).
While that might seem an unusual prep race for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Ireland’s leading contender for the blue riband event of steeplechasing won this 12 months ago. Trainer Pat Kelly has been waiting for soft ground to run Presenting Percy on and he’s only rated 1lb higher over hurdles than when victorious here last year.
It’s a far hotter renewal this time around, however, and it seems as though the eight-year-old isn’t the only one using the smaller obstacles as a pipe opener. Presenting Percy faces a sextet of Willie Mullins trained runners and four from Gordon Elliott’s yard, plus a JP McManus owned French import now in the care of Joseph O’Brien.
While he’s not rated the best hurdler in the Galmoy with Coquin Mans 1lb better, Presenting Percy tops the chase figures and was a ready seven-length winner of the RSA at last year’s Cheltenham Festival on his final start. A 12lb differential between his rating over fences and this sphere still suggests he’s the one to beat first time out at 7/4 with Paddy Power.
Limini best at weights, but most improve
Getting a handle on those half-dozen Mullins mounts is tough, but Limini is 5lb well-in on the aforementioned Coquin Mans, who is officially top rated and the choice of Ruby Walsh. The sex allowance she receives from all 11 other runners is naturally attractive, especially in a stayers’ race like this and at first show odds of 12/1.
It is also Limini’s first run over the trip, however, and the mare has stamina to prove after finishing third in two previous hurdles outings against her own sex at two-and-a-half miles this term. Killultagh Vic may have needed the run at Punchestown on reappearance, meanwhile, but has plenty to find in this sphere on the re-opposing Darasso.
Bapaume is 5lb worse off at the weights with fellow Rich and Susannah Ricci owned animal Limini here from the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse when fourth, so that form shouldn’t be reversed. It’s the same for Shaneshill, while Coral Cup winner Bleu Berry is worst off at the weights compared to his rating of Mullins’ six.
With so many from Closutton in the Galmoy, tactics could play a major part in how the race pans out. Shaneshill is the sole course and distance winner of them after landing this two years ago, but is now 10 and not open to further progress.
Hard to fancy any of Elliott quartet
Of the four saddled by County Meath handler Elliott, Dortmund Park must carry top weight despite being on the joint second lowest rating of those with a mark. The six-year-old is penalised for his Grade 1 success at the Punchestown Festival and so can’t be fancied on these terms giving weight all-round despite – being capable of improving.
Don Poli had a crack at horse racing‘s ultimate test – the Grand National fences – and was pulled up in the Becher Chase last time out after 664 days on the sidelines. Now aged 10, this looks to be about giving him a run ahead of a switch back to the bigger obstacles. While Mala Beach won this back in 2014, he is now 11 and the oldest in the line-up.
As with Don Poli, connections will doubtless have their eye on a chase somewhere and this reappearance outing is one he’ll strip fitter for going forward. Prince Of Scars completes the field as the third of Gigginstown House Stud’s horses, but has been off the track for 683 days.
He hadn’t taken to chasing well in 2016-17, but was a useful staying hurdler the previous season when progressing through two handicaps to land the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. None of Elliott’s foursome really appeal, so Presenting Percy remains the one to be on in albeit deeper race than 12 months ago.
Some Neck has Thyestes Chase claims
The feature contest over fences is the 3m 1f Grade A Thyestes Handicap Chase (15:00) in which 14 of the 18 runners are either trained by Elliott or Mullins. Of the latter’s eight that are engaged, Some Neck is an improving stayer and course winner who landed the Grade 2 Florida Pearl at Punchestown when stepped up last time out.
Although put up 5lb by the handicapper for just a neck victory over Blow By Blow, connections have booked amateur Robbie Deegan for the ride who offsets the rise with his claim. Taking it into account, Some Neck looks great value at 8/1 with William Hill in a race where many bookmakers are paying extra places.
Also prominent in the Theystes betting are stablemate Invitation Only, who gets Walsh in the saddle but looks high enough in the weights here; Mall Dini – still a maiden over fences after 12 tries – and last year’s winner Monbeg Notorious. The latter must try to win this again off 15lb higher first time out, but did land the race impressively by 11 lengths.
Yet another Mullins mount Up For Review is also a course winner trying to win this on reappearance. The first two home in the 2018 Irish Grand National re-oppose here off the same terms with General Principle just prevailing by a head over Isleofhopendreams.
Step up a plus for bottom weight Mr Diablo
Creeping into the Thyestes at the foot of the weights is Troytown Handicap runner-up Mr Diablo and, of those at bigger odds, he looks another each-way bet to consider at 16/1 with Unibet. He was beaten just 4 1/2 lengths by Tout Est Permis in that ultra-competitive Navan contest and the winner has since landed a Grade 2 at Thurles.
The Troytown third, Magic Of Light, has also advertised the form with subsequent Listed chase and Grade 2 hurdle victories. Elliott trained pair Dounikos and Out Sam were well behind Mr Diablo, so the Dempsey’s runner shouldn’t have anything to fear from either.
As Alpha Des Obeaux gets a 7lb claimer aboard, top weight is actually carried by 2018 Aintree Grand National runner-up Pleasant Company. Now 11, he was pulled up in this last year but has had a spin over hurdles as a pipe opener for his campaign. This looks a big ask for the Malcolm Denmark owned veteran off 154 though.
Pairofbrowneyes, again trained by Mullins, is the only other horse in the field available at shorter than 25/1 at the time of writing. He won the Leinster National here over 2m 7f last March off 137 and races off 10lb higher here under an eye-catching jockey booking in Barry Geraghty.