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Davy Russell: I’m hoping the better ground will help Zabana as he goes for Gold

10 Feb | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Davy Russell: I’m hoping the better ground will help Zabana as he goes for Gold

The Betway ambassador previews an enormous meeting at Leopardstown, including the Irish Gold Cup...

With just over four weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, this is a pretty important weekend – both here in Ireland and over at Newbury – for horses having their final prep runs.

Plenty of bubbles will be burst, while others will have their credentials bolstered.

Over at Newbury, Cheltenham Gold Cup second-favourite Native River looks to have a real match on his hands against Bristol De Mai.

If he wins that, he is a serious contender for the big one next month.

Altior also steps out of novice company in the Game Spirit Chase, so we’ll get a real chance to see how good he actually is.

Naas on Saturday

I’ve three nice rides at Naas, starting with Sanibel Island for Gordon Elliott in the novice hurdle (2.10pm).

He carries a penalty for his maiden hurdle win at Wexford last October and followed that up with a decent run at Clonmel.

You can put a line through his Punchestown run last time and I’m hopeful of a bold showing.

Next up I’m aboard Midnight Escape, again for Gordon Elliott, in the huge field maiden hurdle (2.45pm).

He ran really well on his hurdling bow at Navan last November and followed that with a fair showing in a warm bumper at Leopardstown over Christmas.

With 23 rivals, it’s pretty hard to single out a danger, but if I had to it would be Noel Meade’s Tamlough Boy.

My final ride of the day comes aboard Solita in the Opera Hat Mares Chase (3.20pm).

There may only be six runners, but it looks fiercely competitive with Listen Dear and Slowmotion looking particularly hard to beat.

If my mare can finish in the three I’d be delighted.

Leopardstown on Sunday

Wow, what an unbelievable day’s racing we have to look forward to at Leopardstown on Sunday, with Cheltenham Festival clues aplenty.

My opening ride of the day comes aboard Head Turner in the mares’ handicap hurdle (1.30pm).

She won at Limerick over Christmas, but was then well beaten in a competitive handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last month.

Back in calmer waters, I’m hoping she will run well.

I ride Mega Fortune for Gordon Elliott in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (2.30pm), the first of the Grade Ones on the card.

It looks an unbelievably competitive race on paper, with the two unbeaten talented fillies at the foot of the card and the likes of Bapaume and Housesofparliament too.

The more rain that falls the better for my fellow, as his ability to handle bad ground is his strength against the likes of these.

I’ve no ride in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle (3.00pm) where Willie Mullins runs just the six.

Saturnas won well last time, although I’ve always had a soft spot for Bacardys who I think can go well.

I’m also sitting out the Flogas Novice Chase (3.30pm) where I reckon Disko has a good chance of reversing recent form.

My final ride of the weekend comes in the big one, where I ride Zabana ({ODDS:136385823:9/1}) in the Irish Gold Cup (4.00pm).

It looks a real quality race on paper and the better the ground, the better the chances for my fella.

I suppose we will learn a lot more about him as to whether he wants this trip or whether he needs to come back a bit.

He has the option of going for the Cheltenham Gold Cup if all goes well, or dropping back in trip for the Ryanair Chase.