Dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll finished fifth in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday – a race he had won 12 months ago – but connections were delighted with the comeback run of the 10-year-old who will bid to win at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth time when he lines up in the Cross-Country Chase next month. Gordon Elliot’s stable star remains 5/1 favourite with BetVictor for an unprecedented third successive National success at Aintree in April.
Taunton and Bangor on Dee have fallen foul to the elements, but Punchestown have rearranged a card for Tuesday which has twice been forced to postpone in recent weeks. Let’s hope it is third time lucky. Zero Ten (2.15) was no match for Cash Back at Naas last month but that form was given a boost when the winner finished runner up – beaten less than a length – in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. The selection jumped out to his right at times at Naas and today’s return to a right-handed track ought to suit.
Lord Royal (3.20) steps up to 3m having easily landed the odds in a maiden hurdle at Clonmel last month on his first start for Willie Mullins, having been previously been trained in France where he had just the one start on the level. The selection receives 5lbs from Elliot’s Floueur who has won his last three including a smooth success at Navan on his first start for the yard last month. Note the principles hold engagements in both the Ballymore and Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdles at the Festival next month.
Pencilfulloflead (4.20) was a beaten favourite at Naas last month over the minimum trip, but the form was boosted when the winner – Asterion Forlonge – bolted up in a Leopardstown Grade 1 next time and Gordon Elliot steps his six-year-old up in trip on Tuesday afternoon. The selection must jump better than was the case last time, but he looks sure to have been extensively schooled by his handler although he doesn’t hold any fancy engagements at the Festival.
Over at Musselburgh and First Account has left Donald McCain since finishing runner up at Hexham on his first start over fences back in November. The six-year-old is 3lbs higher today and gave the impression he will be better served going right-handed last time, but McCain should know where he stands with the Keith Dalgleish trained runner given he saddles top-weight Pogue (2.30) who looked a novice chaser going places when scoring at Doncaster last time from an 8lbs lower mark.
That success in south Yorkshire was gained on good to soft ground and the Musselburgh executive described their ground as soft on Monday with further showers forecast for Tuesday which does temper confidence in a fascinating little heat.
The feature race is the valuable 2m handicap chase and Duke Of Navan (3.35) is dropping like a stone in the weights and can roll back the years for Nicky Richards. The 12-year-old would ideally want better ground but that sentiment, arguably, also applies to his four rivals and he ran well in third at Doncaster last time on ground described as good to soft.
Paul Nicholls has a good record at Musselburgh and brings a couple of runners up from his base in Somerset including Christopher Wood (4.05) who has been given a wind operation since disappointing in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury – a race won by the Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante. The selection travels north in the hope of good ground but do note it was soft ground when he scored at Fontwell on his hurdles debut.