Racing fans should be grateful for the rain that has fallen over Ireland in recent weeks. The soft ground has meant we’re seeing plenty of good horses early in the season and another exciting weekend is upon is with two fascinating cards at Naas and Navan.

Naas on Saturday

Blackbow gets his season underway in the opening novice hurdle (12:00) and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he’s going to be very hard to beat.

He is a big horse, so will love this soft ground, and you can bet that Willie [Mullins] will have him stripped fit for his first run. He was the best bumper horse at Willie’s yard two years ago and, if he has retained all his old ability, then he should start his hurdling career with a bang.

The Grade 3 Chase (13:05) should also go Willie’s way. He saddles Cilaos Emery , who was the stable’s best novice chaser last season. Sadly, he got an injury a couple of weeks before Cheltenham, which ruled him out of the Arkle. But he’s head and shoulders above these and I’d be surprised if he’s beaten.

Ross [O’Sullivan] runs Western Sea in the 14:15, who ran well enough last time out in a competitive affair. Ross’ horses are in grand form and we had a good winner yesterday. There will be better-handicapped horses in this race, but he gives his all and should run into a place.


Aintree on Saturday

There’s only one horse I really like the look of at Aintree on Saturday, and that is the ex-Irish trained Riders Onthe Storm   in the Handicap Chase (14:05).

He is now in the hands of Nigel Twiston-Davies and was previously trained by Tom Taffe. He was pulled up at Fairyhouse on his last start, but that wasn’t a true reflection of his best form.

Freshened up, he should take plenty of beating here.

Wincanton on Saturday

As ever, this Wincanton card is mightily competitive.

I spoke with Robbie “Puppy” Power, who is excited about two of his mounts, starting off with Fiddlerontheroof  in the opening novices’ hurdle (12:40). He was a great second in the Persian War at Chepstow on his seasonal debut, and a repeat of that form will make him very hard to beat.

He’s also looking forward to his ride in the Silver Trophy (15:35) on White Moon  , who was a faller at Wincanton last time. He looked to have the race sewn up that day and just slithered on landing, but they feel he’s still well-handicapped and ought to run a big race.


Navan on Sunday

National Hunt racing really does capture the imagination, and it’s horses like Apple’s Jade who just keep coming back year after year to compete at the top level that mean this sport is so well-loved.

Winning ‘her’ race (13:05) should be a formality, and it would be great if she can open her season with an impressive performance.

Gordon [Elliott]’s horses are still in red-hot form, and he unleashes his promising novice Andy Dusfresne in the Maiden Hurdle (13:35).

He arrived on the scene last year with a lofty reputation and was incredibly exciting after his bumper success. He’ll surely come on for whatever he does in this race and is one to follow all season.

In the Fortria Chase (14:10), I’m a huge fan of A Plus Tard, who absolutely toyed with his rivals in the Close Brothers at Cheltenham. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in the top novice chases at the Festival had they had decided to run him in either the Arkle of the JLT. Rachael Blackmore takes the ride again and she deserves top-race success as she’s been top-class for a few years now.

Finally, it will be great to see Melon on his first start over fences (15:15). He’s very consistent at the top level and seems to love Cheltenham, so all roads will be leading to the Arkle after this. He doesn’t win a lot, but this is an ample chance for him to get on the scoresheet. As with all of these novices, I hope they all have a clear round and come back safe.


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