A field of eight promising novice hurdlers go to post for the first race of the day at Naas on Sunday, see our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: As with nearly all Willie Mullins horses, Bleu Berry is likely to be very popular after his win at Fairyhouse and has to be respected as an improving sort with conditions to suit. However, this may well be best left to the promising MINELLA TILL DAWN, who has showed huge amounts of potential in two runs over hurdles. A point to point winner in March 2016, he was purchased by powerful connections and his debut second was a very promising introduction to hurdling. He went one better on his latest start at Fairyhouse in December when winning readily dispatching of his opposition, giving the impression much better could be expected in time. Mark Walsh picks him and he looks the winner in conditions that will suit, with perhaps Indian Monsoon the one to follow him home.
1 BLEU BERRY – Well beaten on his sole bumper outing at Newbury when thrown into the deep end against Ballyandy but showed a good deal of promise despite falling on hurdling debut at Clonmel in March 2016. He was in the process of running a good race, three lengths down in second, when coming to grief at the last which he really didn’t deserve. He did go one better on his seasonal reappearance at Fairyhouse in February in similar conditions to today’s, scampering clear up the run in for a comfortable success. Much better can be expected this time around and he certainly looks like a type to continue progressing for Willie Mullins. Likely to be a big player under Paul Townend and has to be respected.
2 INDIAN MONSOON – Perhaps the most exposed over hurdles but he has to be of strong interest on what he showed when winning at Cork in January, beating Veinard comfortably under a hands and heels ride from Davy Russell. Upped to Grade 3 company on his latest start he exited the seen early when unseating at the second hurdle, not telling us much. He remains with potential and if building upon that penultimate win he’d have to be considered a main contender, especially with similar conditions in this. Likely to be involved and has to be respected.
3 MINELLA TILL DAWN – Point to Point winner in March 2016 and swiftly joined the powerful connections of Gordon Elliott and JP McManus. Although not particularly fancied on hurdling debut, he pushed Moulin A Vent all the way to the line when second at Punchestown, showing abundant promise. He built on that when winning at Fairyhouse in December, readily dispatching his rivals and giving the impression much more could be expected in the future. Going down in trip is unlikely to be a problem and with conditions to suit, this looks like a perfect opportunity for him to add another win to his record. Mark Walsh prefers him over Outspoken and he looks the likely winner, so has to be greatly respected.
4 OUTSPOKEN – Smart on the flat with his achievements including a third in the Melrose Stakes at York in August 2015 and he transferred that to hurdling when second at Fairyhouse. He showed good promise that day despite some mistakes and likely would have won without pecking at the last, losing momentum. Nevertheless, he was a good second at Leopardstown on his second hurdling start when beaten soundly by Bunk Off Early, gaining his first victory over obstacles when comfortably winning at Naas twenty-nine days ago. He is another who remains with potential and will take well to the surface, but he does need to show further improvement if he’s to feature for win purposes. Mark Walsh prefers Minella Till Dawn and looks likely to be fighting for places only in this.
5 RIVEN LIGHT – Winner on hurdling debut at Thurles in December on first start for Willie Mullins and although he wasn’t disgraced when pitched straight into Grade 1 company at Leopardstown in December, he was let down badly by his jumping. That was again the case when well beaten in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle and he does having something to prove as a consequence. Likely more to come from him in time but if he continues to jump as he has been, he looks likely to struggle. Can’t be completely discounted but other are preferred on this occasions, place claims only.
6 BLACK KEY – Useful on the flat for Hughie Morrison but his limitations have been fully exposed over hurdles at this stage. He has failed to improve since his debut and is still a maiden after four attempts, well beaten at Thurles on his latest start, weakening rapidly. Looks very vulnerable against rapidly improving rivals and looks to be up against it here for Henry De Bromhead. Others readily preferred.
7 ZAHEER – Last seen in January 2016 when winning easily under a hands and heels ride at Naas on bumper debut, a very good starting point. Lots of promise in that run and cannot be fully discounted on hurdling debut, but he will do well to return from a 434 day absence in a field like this and win. Market will be crucial and he does need close attention, but others have less to prove and he’s entitled to need this for Alan Fleming.
8 MISS MARDAN – Steadily improver over hurdles and gained her first win over hurdles on the third attempt at Navan twenty-one days ago. She didn’t however impress in the jumping department and made a very bad mistake at the first, lucky to even survive it. She made further mistakes on the journey round and wont get away with those sort of errors in a field such as this. Possible place contender with conditions to suit, but only if she jumps with more fluency this time around.