The first Grade 1 of 2017 in Ireland takes place at Naas on Sunday, with the Lawlor’s Hotel Novice Hurdle over 2 ½ miles.

Bel Ami De Sivola showed raw promise when placing in two novice hurdle races in the autumn of 2015, but has come back looking a very smart horse this term. The Noel Meade trained 6 year old won a Punchestown bumper very easily in October and in early November landed a maiden hurdle at Down Royal with a 3 ¼ lengths defeat of Turbojet. He completed his hat-trick at Fairyhouse the following month, beating Teacher’s Pet by ¾ of a length.

Blood Crazed Tiger took his time to find his form, but comes into this race seeking a five-timer. The Gordon Elliott trained 6 year old failed to win in any of his first four bumper contests before winning at Roscommon in May. In early October he was a 13 length winner of a Gowran Park maiden hurdle and later that month added a Cork novice hurdle with a 2 lengths defeat of Oathkeeper. He completed his four-timer with a 1 ¼ lengths victory over Screaming Rose in a Listed novice hurdle at Cork in early November and now steps up in class.

Death Duty winning the Monksfield Hurdle
Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

Death Duty proved a smart bumper horse and is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles so far. The Gordon Elliott trained 6 year old won a point to point before winning two of his four bumper starts last season, including finishing 1 ¾ lengths second to the smart Blow By Blow at Fairyhouse in late March. He impressed on his hurdles debut, beating Couer Joyeaux by 8 lengths in a Roscommon maiden hurdle in October and followed-up with a 7 ½ lengths victory over She’s A Star in the Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan in late November. His hat-trick of victories over timber came with another flawless display to land the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle in December by 3 ¾ lengths from Monalee.

Turcagua showed reasonable form in bumpers last season, although a well beaten 15th of 23 behind Ballyandy in the Weatherby’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The Willie Mullins trained 7 year old finished 3 ¾ lengths third of 13 to Monalee on his hurdling debut at Punchestown in November. He got off the mark in impression fashion when beating Champagne Classic by 9 ½ lengths at the same track earlier in December.

Stand Up And Fight put up a fine performance on his hurdles debut to finish ½ a length second of 20 to The Barrowman at Navan in early April. The Enda Bolger trained 5 year old went one place better in a Punchestown maiden hurdle in October, impressing with a 5 ½ lengths defeat of Kagney. Just over a month later he contested the Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan, coming home 8 ¼ lengths third of 6 to the very smart Death Duty. That leaves him plenty to find on the formbook with that rival.

Augusta Kate proved a smart filly in bumper races last season, winning her first two starts before running 7th to Ballyandy in the Grade 1 contest at the Cheltenham Festival. The Willie Mullins trained 4 year old was then ½ a length second of 17 to Kayf Grace in a Grade 2 mares’ bumper at Aintree in April, before later that month landing a Listed mares’ bumper at the Punchestown Festival by 3 lengths from Forge Meadow. She made a winning debut over hurdles at Thurles in November, beating Ask Susan by 3 lengths.