Two wonderful day’s racing at Cheltenham

Irish racing this weekend on Saturday is at Cork and the 4-day Easter Festival starts at Fairyhouse. On Sunday there is also National Hunt racing at Cork and Bank Holiday Monday sees the start of the flat season on the turf, also at Cork.   The main races at the Fairyhouse meeting are the Irish Grand National on Monday and the Power Gold Cup on Sunday.   On Saturday Eric McNamara’s Bellflower Boy should complete a 5 timer in the EBF Novice H’cap Hurdle from Western Gale which has won its last two races for Jessica Harrington.   Colm Murphy’s Big Zeb and Willie Mullins’ J’y Vole head the 14 horses entered for the Powers Gold Cup over two and a half miles on Sunday. Other big names include Conna Castle, recent Grade Two scorer Escrea, Tom Bailey’s Lenrey and Sky’s The Limit, twice a winner at the highest level.   Big Zeb, who has fallen twice, has to find 5l on J’y Vole on their run in Leopardstown and with a clear round should win this time. FAIRYHOUSE: In the Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Monday the Denis Hickey trained Ballistraw will run. After the winning the Red Mills Chase at long odds of 33-1 at Gowran Park he will be out to prove himself again. He had Knight Legend and former Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Kicking King behind him in Gowran and this looks solid form.   John Berry’s seven-year-old Abbeybraney has not raced over three miles and is very prominent in the ante-post betting and if he runs must have a great chance on foot of his 3 rd to J’y Vole and Big Zeb – even though he has not won over fences. Sunday’s Power Gold Cup will give a pointer to this form. Berry says a decision will not be made until closer to the time.   Willie Mullins’ Pomme Tiepy had won 4 times over fences before falling in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last week. She’s none the worse for that fall and returned to winning ways on Monday.    In a very competitive handicap Tony ‘Harvey’ Martin runs Newbay Prop which pulled up in the Kim Muir last week and Harvey has a knack of placing his horses to win big handicaps, so watch this one.   Nicanor, the only horse to have beaten Denman, in 2006 Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle, is set to make his first start for nearly two years at Fairyhouse next week. ‘Nicanor will work this week and if he works well and is OK, then he will run at Fairyhouse,’ said Meade. CHELTENHAM: Two of the greatest racing days ever took place on Thursday and Friday at Cheltenham when 3 days racing was run over 2.   On Thursday 10 races were run including the Queen Mother Champion Chase carried over from Wednesday. Paul Nichols and Ruby Walsh produced Master Minded to win easily by 19l from the Champion Voy Por Uestedes and Fair Along in 3 rd 16l further back. Paul Nicholls is considering running his brilliant 5-Y-O in the Kerrygold Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival.    In The World Hurdle, the main race of the day, the champion Inglis Drever prevailed up the hill to a record 3 rd win in the race for Howard Johnson and Cork jockey Denis O’Regan. This was the highlight of the meeting for this scribe as the winner retained his crown by 1l from Kasbah Bliss with the Irish Kazal 7l back in 3 rd .    There were two Irish winners on Thursday when Fingeronthepulse, in the colours of Kicking King, won the Novice Handicap chase by a neck and in the bumper once again Willie Mullins provided the winner in Cousin Vinny, ridden by his son Patrick. Corskeagh Royale, owned by a Roscommon based syndicate and ridden by Nina Carberry, finished an unlucky 2 nd when he did not get a run ’til late in the race. Irish trained horses filled 6 of the first 7 places.     Patrick was following in the shoes of his father rode his own Wither Or Which to win this race in 1996, the first father and son to complete this double.   On Friday the highlight for all took place when stablemates and next door neighbours at home went to battle in the Gold Cup, Denman challenging the Champion Kauto Star and both trained by Paul Nicholls. Denman, under Sam Thomas, ran his rival, Ruby Walsh’s choice, into the ground and prevailed by 7 lengths with Paul Nicholls’ Neptune Collonges renewing his challenge a short head back in 3 rd kindling memories of Michael Dickinson’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 way back in 1983.    Friday provided 3 Irish winners when Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh combined to win the Ballymore Properties Hurdle with Fiveforthree. Irish horses filled the first 4 palces Venalmar 2 nd , Trafford Lad 3 rd and Forpadytheplasterer 4 th .    In the Grand Annual Chase Arther Moore produced Tiger Cry to win for owner Chris Jones. The winner was ridden by Davy Russell.     And in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle the Irish produce a 1, 2 when the outsider Silver Jaro, 3 rd in the Pierce Hurdle at Leopardstown, held off the late challenge of Physco by ¾l. The winner was ridden by Noel Fehily for Nenagh based Tom Hogan at 50/1. Physco, 5/1 favourite, trained by Tony Martin and ridden by Paul Carberry looked an assured winner 2 out but left his challenge too late.    A great winning start for the Irish at the Festival as Captain Cee Bee and Garde Champetre the Irish ended up with 7 winners out of 25 a very good haul for what was considered an average team before racing.    One issue which will have to be resolved is the whip issue as at the festival, no fewer than nine jockeys fell foul of whip regulations, including top jockeys Ruby Walsh and Robert Thornton who were before the stewards on two separate occasions and Tony McCoy was given a four-day ban for one incident, and a caution after another. POINT TO POINT: On the point to point scene there are 3 meetings this weekend –  on Sunday at Lingstown in Wexford with the first race 1.30, at Durrow between Kilbeggan and Tullamore and the standing Easter Sunday meeting at Dromoland in Clare both starting at 2.00. There is also a 2 day meeting in the North on Monday and Tuesday when the East Antrims race at Loughanmore starting both days at 2.00.    There was a change of luck for Roscommon on Monday at Oldcastle in Co Meath Haile Deadly won the last race the 7-Y-O maiden for Martin Lynch and Roscommon’s Brian Keenan, of Sir O J fame. The Lord Americo gelding was having his first run and was ridden by young Aaron Murphy from Mullingar who was riding his 4 th winner. May be he will turn up for the Winners of 1 at Roscommon in Lisbride on the 13 th April.   The grand old man of the game Arctic Copper after 2 third place finished this year finally kicked 2008 off in style winning at Kirkstown on Saturday and at Oldcastle on Monday. Trained by David Christie he was ridden as usual by Claire McMahon and he now has won 16 point to point races over 4 seasons. Hopefully he will be back in the Open at Lisbride on the 5 th April where he has won for the last 3 years at the November meeting.   Claire McMahon also rode the winner of the 4-Y-O Mdn Penharold for Colin Magnier and doubled her tally for the season to 6 and is clear leader of the Ladies Championship.   Derek O’Connor with only 1 winner last weekend moves on to the 54 mark. Jamie Codd with 5 winners has cut his lead to 9 and is back in contention for the title on 45 and M J. O’Connor with 3 winners in 3 rd on 32.