Willie Mullins has won this race four times in the past five years, including with Sempre Medici and Un De Sceaux, but surprisingly holds no entry this year. Instead, our tip for the race will come from one of just five runners competing for this €26,550 first prize with the going expected to be Soft to Heavy.
IN SUMMARY: 2014 Champion Hurdle winner Jezki has had his injury problems but remains rated well above the rest of this small field and impressed on reappearance last month. This is an important race in his Cheltenham Festival build up and we expect his class to shine through here. Main danger Tombstone remains unexposed but has struggled to win against top horses, while Rashaan is one to keep an eye on for the future on better ground.
1 RASHAAN – A solid stayer on the Flat, he comes here in fine form having won at Dundalk 8 days ago on the All Weather following a winter break. Prior to that, he was the impressive winner of the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, beating both Apple’s Jade and Petit Mouchoir, who has franked the form impressively with two Grade 1 wins since. However, trainer Colin Kidd has previously stated that he wants good ground, and he will find things very difficult this weekend because of that. He has to give at least eight pounds to all the other runners in the field despite being the only five year old, but could well be one to watch later in the season.
2 JEZKI – The top rated in the field by 20lb, this top class hurdler won the 2014 Champion Hurdle. 2015 Aintree Hurdle and then followed up over further with the 2015 World Series Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. A lengthy injury break followed that win but he reappeared last month with a comfortable win at Navan, beating Tombstone (who reopposes today) by just under 3 lengths having been in receipt of 6lb. Off level weights, he has more to do today, but that was an impressive reappearance having been off the track for so long and he’s proved in the past that he is versatile groundwise. Trainer Jessica Harrington is in good form, with her charge Sizing John taking the Irish Gold Cup last week, and Jezki will be tough to beat today in this small field contest.
3 RORY O’MOORE – Rated just 117 – 50lb lower than Jezki but running off equal weights – Ronald O’Neill’s horse has it all to do here. He’s won just 2 of his 23 hurdle starts, the latest of those coming in November 2014, and hasn’t finished within 10 lengths of a winner since that day. With just five runners entered he is guaranteed €900 for just placing but is unlikely to do better than 4th without a serious error by one of the three more likely winners.
4 TOMBSTONE – The least exposed horse in the field, Gigginstown purchased this 7 year old back in June 2013 for €100,000 long before his racecourse debut. Three wins from eight starts have followed, with a disappointing strike rate of just 1 win in 6 attempts over hurdles. However, he has been highly tried, and has finished 2nd twice in Novice Grade 1 Hurdles. His defeat to Jezki last time out was his first run since the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and he is entitled to gain race fitness for that run. However, he remains rated just 147 – compared to Jezki’s 167 – and his strike rate is off putting despite his apparent liking for heavier ground. He should finish second today and is entitled to continue to improve over the coming seasons.
5 ROCK ON ROSIE – The lowest rated horse in the field, her 7lb allowance will do nothing to help her overcome the gulf in class here and the odds reflect that despite the booking of promising young jockey Jack Kennedy. Her last hurdle run saw her beaten by 80 lengths off a mark of just 104, and her sole win over hurdles came off a mark of 94 back in August 2015. Another who will be happy to pick up reasonable prize money for finishing the race.