The decision to give the Morgiana Hurdle a Saturday slot instead of the more traditional Sunday fixture makes this a real bumper day of racing and while Cheltenham will get plenty of headlines, the chasing debut of veteran Faugheen could raise the roof at Punchestown if the Machine can get over the line. However, Willie Mullins has picked perhaps the most competitive beginners’ chase of the season as 17 are due to go to post.
It may be wise to leave that race aside but here’s a few selections from day one of the Winter Festival at the Kildare track.
12.15 Anything Will Do (11-4)
Young Yorkshire jockey Oakley Brown takes off a useful seven pounds from Joseph O’Brien’s horse in this novice hurdle over an extended two miles. Anything will do – no puns intended – in that regard in what looks a cracking heat with five or six of them having a chance. The big danger looks set to be Willie Mullins’ Authorized Art, but the selection won at Wexford last time and should still be improving.
1.25 Moon Over Germany (11-4)
Davy Russell is back in the Gigginstown colours for this Grade 2 novice chase, also a two-miler, but his mount Eclair De Beaufeu is not the most talented in the O’Learys’ ranks. Indeed another in the maroon silks is favourite for this and Rachael Blackmore will surely have Notebook on the premises. However, the nod goes to the other Henry De Bromhead horse in the line-up. Mark Walsh takes over from Blackmore on Moon Over Germany, who has bags of chasing experience and has been in with plenty of good things, beating many of them. There is a suggestion that the trip is just about ideal.
2.00 Sharjah (4-1)
Willie Mullins thinks Klassical Dream could join the ranks of his champion hurdlers. Maybe so, but he often finds a way to win with a second or third string and the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle may be no different. Sharjah was brought down in the Champion Hurdle and has been off the track since. Patrick Mullins has had plenty of big-race success himself and could upset the odds again.
3.10 Treacysenniscorthy (6-1), Sir Ector (12-1 EW)