Another fine weekend of National Hunt horse racing in the Emerald Isle saw Punchestown horses to follow emerge for the rest of the season.
The Irish angle can be key for the Cheltenham Festival. Plenty of jumps horses have enhanced their chances and pressed claims on the road to the four-day extravaganza in March.
While there is still a long way to go until Cheltenham and other spring festivals like the one at Punchestown itself come the end of April and early May, it’s well worth reflecting on what we saw the County Kildare venue.
With graded races taking place and hot prospects in other spheres, OpenOdds experts review Punchestown horses to follow after their top autumn action.
Notebook among Punchestown horses to follow
The aptly named Notebook went into plenty of racing punters’, well, notebooks, after leading home a one-two for trainer Henry De Bromhead in the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase.
It was a good weekend for this particular handler with his 2m novices over fences as Put The Kettle On pulled off a shock in the official Arkle Trial at Cheltenham.
While that mare made the most of receiving weight from course winner Al Dancer on Sunday, Notebook improved again from a beginners’ chase success at Punchestown a month earlier.
— Punchestown (@punchestownrace) November 16, 2019
This six-year-old Samum gelding chased home Gardens Of Babylon when giving him 8lb in a hot novice hurdle contest during the Festival here in May.
Notebook has posted his best form going right-handed, so – while that does raise a few questions about his Arkle credentials – he does need to try and score anticlockwise to further enhance a Cheltenham bid.
It can be done though, and De Bromhead himself managed the Arkle double with Sizing Europe in 2009-10.
He has now saddled five of the last 11 Craddockstown winners and consistently aimed some of the best horses in his stable at it. Notebook is in very good company after scoring a maiden Grade 2 success here.
Identity Thief, who ultimately didn’t take to fences, and Sizing John – now with Jessica Harrington – are among other De Bromhead inmates to have won this particular race.
A five-length defeat of 151 rated stable companion Moon Over Germany, who was so impressive when landing the Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree in April, puts Notebook bang up there among leading Irish novices in this sphere.
Saldier makes Champion case in Morgiana Hurdle
The feature Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle on Saturday was supposed to be all about Klassical Dream – Willie Mullins’ exciting champion novice from last term.
However, it’s not always the first string from his Closutton stables that wins this particular race.
And so it proved again with Saldier. Off the track for a year after breaking his nose when falling at the final flight at Naas, Mullins’ patience paid off.
Saldier has won both his starts at this venue which have been in Grade 1 company, so that makes him one of the Punchestown horses to follow.
Scalping stable companion Klassical Dream, who was only third on reappearance behind Petit Mouchoir, is a big step forward.
With last season a total write-off because of the unusual injury Saldier suffered, there still looks to be plenty more to come from him.
He was travelling just as well, if not better than subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen when taking that tumble 12 months ago. That was the leap of faith any punters had to make on Saldier.
Owners Rich and Susannah Ricci also had last year’s Morgiana winner Sharjah in the race, but the soft surface blunted the speed he had showed in defeating Faugheen on good ground 12 months ago.
Off the back of beating his two stablemate, Saldier obviously enters the Champion Hurdle picture. As with last season, there doesn’t look to be tremendous strength-in-depth to the 2m hurdling division on either side of the Irish Sea.
Buveur D’Air, a dual Champion Hurdle winner who came to grief at the third flight at Cheltenham in March when bidding for a hat-trick, will again use a familiar programme of races en route to the Festival. Saldier has made his case, but bookmakers have this event wide open.
Blue Sari the latest to advertise Champion Bumper form
The Cheltenham Champion Bumper is always a useful pointer to hurdles prospects for the following season.
This year’s race is working out very well indeed as the winner Envoi Allen, third Thyme Hill and fourth Abacadabras have all transitioned to timber nicely.
Thyme Hill, the sole British representative in the first four, has twice gone in at Grade 2 level.
It was now the turn of Champion Bumper runner-up Blue Sari to make his bow over obstacles.
Trained by Mullins and owned by one of horse racing’s greatest supporters in JP McManus, the four-year-old made a winning debut over 2m 4f in maiden company.
Champion Bumper runner-up Blue Sari gets off the mark at the first time of asking over hurdles in the 2m4f maiden hurdle at @punchestownrace ?
What did you make of his performance? ? pic.twitter.com/5rqbXq9wtW
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) November 16, 2019
Those powerful connections will be happy enough with a half-length victory in a massive field.
These Punchestown maiden hurdles don’t always necessarily tell you much, but Blue Sari made just one slight mistake on way round.
The intermediate trip was fine and smart bumper performers can often want more than 2m even as a starting point.
Blue Sari was a well-backed 30/100 favourite here and, while he didn’t win like that starting price suggests, there is tons of scope for improvement.
It’s still too early to say what his Cheltenham Festival target will be. Mullins has a habit of entering his novice hurdlers in all the races there.
As Blue Sari started life over obstacles at 2m 4f, then it follows that the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett are more logical events at Cheltenham to aim at.
Yanworth enters Cross Country picture
Sunday saw Cross Country races happen on both sides of the Irish Sea. Cheltenham had to rearrange theirs from Friday’s abandoned card, while the Risk Of Thunder Chase gave horses in the Emerald Isle a first outing of the banks.
Yanworth is a high-profile recruit to this specialist discipline and there’s no trainer better at preparing him for its unique demands than Enda Bolger.
Also owned by McManus, this high class hurdler didn’t make up into a top notch chaser for Alan King.
This is a different ballgame, however, and Yanworth made a winning start in this sphere for his new handler.
He was well-backed on course and sent off odds-on before tackling the various obstacles on Punchestown’s banks course well.
There have been stronger renewals of the Risk Of Thunder but, other than fluffing the last, Yanworth looked comfortable.
Officially been the week of dreams!
Douvan, Faugheen and now the incredible Yanworth ❤️ pic.twitter.com/nzKTVrGjao
— Abbeigh (@Abbeighx) November 17, 2019
He also responded for pressure on the run-in and a winning bow in Cross Country contests sees him clear second-favourite behind Tiger Roll come Cheltenham.
Not every horse takes to the banks. Fellow British import Vyta Du Roc – a peak 150 rated hurdler now with Gordon Elliott – was last to finish and beaten almost 150 lengths.
Yanworth may be among more obvious Punchestown horses to follow after that Risk Of Thunder success, but the Cheltenham Cross Country race will test his stamina like never before.
The Festival contest is over three-quarters of a mile further. That is uncharted territory for Yanworth stamina wise despite a top career official rating of 164.
Endurance is everything at Cheltenham, so before piling in on him it would be interesting to see if he gets the trip.
Battleoverdoyen solid enough in Florida Pearl win
For the third time in four years, County Meath handler Gordon Elliott took the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase scoring this year with the Gigginstown House Stud owned Battleoverdoyen.
Over the somewhat unique distance of an extended 2m 6f, he followed-up on a taking debut success in this sphere.
This was a rough race at times with runner-up Any Second Now and Battleoverdoyen jumping into each other over a few fences.
However, he responded for pressure and asserted on the run-in to beat the Kim Muir winner by five lengths.
Battleoverdoyen remains unbeaten over fences as he puts in a a brave performance to land the Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Chase pic.twitter.com/wNOTzZMnJv
— Punchestown (@punchestownrace) November 17, 2019
It wasn’t an authoritative display, but Battleoverdoyen did more than enough to ensure victory.
He was expected to win and backed as such by punters, but winners of this race can either go up or down in trip.
The way Battleoverdoyen shaped, it looks as though he may be suited best by the former.
There is the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse before Christmas, yet they may come a little too soon after the Florida Pearl.
Looking further ahead towards the Cheltenham Festival, most bookmakers still have Battleoverdoyen at double figure prices for the RSA.
As a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, he clearly has class and endurance.
Battleoverdoyen wasn’t travelling well on his sole visit to Prestbury Park so far in the Ballymore, so that may be a factor in the lukewarm response from bookies.
That is the only blemish on his CV, though. We have Battleoverdoyen among our Punchestown horses to follow as a result, and he retains the scope and potential to go to the very top of the chasing tree.