Fontwell Park stages a terrific Sunday race card this weekend as the National Spirit Hurdle takes top billing.
Named in honour of the dual Champion Hurdle winner who won at Fontwell Park on several occasions, the race has a fine history and was won by future Champion Hurdle winner Beech Road in 1989, while other big name winners include Baracouda, My Way De Solzen, dual winner Lough Derg and Celestial Halo.
The latter of course races in the Andy Stewart colours and is trained by Paul Nicholls – and that combination has the obvious candidate in this year’s renewal as their exciting 5 year old Saphir Du Rheu bids to complete a four-timer.
Having won the Lanzarote Hurdle, he followed up – just, in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las in heavy condition and carrying top weight. That performance saw him scramble home but it was still a tremendous performance for a young horse – who is probably still strengthening up – and it illustrated that he remains on an upward curve and holds a bright future.
Chris Pea Green had run consistently well all season before the Betfair Hurdle where he was only seventh. Gary Moore’s 5 year old now runs in a much smaller field and cannot be fully discounted although it is some time since he last got his head in front.
Kayf Moss comes here in good heart having won two small events at Leicester and Ffos Las but takes a big step up in class for this race. Meister Eckhart was second to Prospect Wells in this race last season before running a cracking race in the Coral Cup when second to stable mate Medinas. Alan King’s charge was then third in another competitive handicap at Aintree but was pulled up on his only run this season, when something was clearly amiss in a novice chase at Wincanton. That was in early November, so it remains to be seen how badly Meister Eckhart needs this run back over hurdles.
Princely Hero is one of the unsung heroes of jumps racing and remarkably has his 39th start at Fontwell Park on Sunday. He has recorded two victories at the track but his form falls a mighty long way short of some of these.
The same is true of Unowhatimeanharry who’s only victory came at Fontwell Park, but has been well held in lower grade competition ever since.
The legendary Josh Gifford is remembered in the opening Bet Placepot With totepool Josh Gifford Memorial Novices’ Chase and this looks a good opportunity for another useful Paul Nicholls’ inmate as Benvolio looks to put a disappointing Sandown Park effort behind him. Gary Moore’s Via Sundown came up against a potentially smart horse in Corrin Wood last time out but had won his two previous starts and will give the favourite something to think about, while Lamb Or Cod represents the in-form Philip Hobbs yard.
Over at Naas, Willie Mullins has strong chances in three Grade 2 contests on the card. Mozoltov drops down in grade in the Woodlands Park 100 Club Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase having finished third in the Arkle Chase at Leopardstown last time out. His main competition is likely to come from Folsom Blue, who ran out a fine winner of the Grand National Trial at Punchestown recently but now drops a mile in trip against a potentially very smart chaser. Ted Walsh runs the mare Summer Star who has struggled so far this season and even with a weight concession looks to have plenty on her plate.
The following Paddy Power Shops Better Value Novice Hurdle sees Mullins armed with two runners, with the AP McCoy mount City Slicker a likely favourite. The 5 year old won his first two starts of the season before travelling over to Ascot for the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle just before Christmas, which was run in atrocious conditions. That hugely competitive race proved too much for him at this stage of his career but he bounced back to form with a fine victory over the useful Un Beau Matin at Punchestown last time out.
Mullins has a second string in this race as he also runs the mare Vicky De L’Oasis, the mount of Ruby Walsh. In receipt of weight, her overall form might be a little short of what is needed here however she is in all likelihood improving at 5 years of age and was not disgraced behind stable mate Gitane Du Berlais at Fairyhouse.
Minella Foru is an interesting runner who won his first two starts before finishing a disappointing seventh in the Royal Bond. He hasn’t been seen out since and Eddie Harty reintroduces him at a lower level here. Philip Fenton has had a difficult week to say the least and will be hoping his consistent Real Steel can give the yard a boost after his recent third to the smart Wicklow Brave.
The trio of Grade 2 races is completed with the 2 mile Paddy Power Your Local Betting Shop Chase, which despite only having three runners, looks an open affair. Twinlight will probably start favourite for this, dropping back in distance after his disappointing effort at Kempton Park in January. He made one very serious error on that occasion which put paid to any chance he had but had won his two previous starts for the season in fine style, including a comfortable success in the Hilly Way Chase, where he had another rival Days Hotel over 14 lengths in arrears.
Days Hotel won this race last year but has since stepped up in class and found horses like Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy just too good. With only 3 runners in this race, tactics could prove important and Henry De Bromhead’s horse may well give Twinlight a better race on this occasion at a track he has winning form on.
However, both of these horses have to give 3 pounds in weight to the progressive 7 year old Toner D’Oudairies who has not been out of the first two in his last seven starts and most recently chased home Arvika Ligeonniere. That weight concession could prove the most telling factor as Gordon Elliott’s horse has figured in several high profile chases in Ireland and run well in each.
Racing connoisseurs will also keep an eye on the final race on the Naas card, which sees the return to action of Golantilla, the horse who finished third in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival last March.