As though in sadistic collaboration with a bitter economic climate, the weather has been making life tougher still for the Irish racing community over the past three weeks. After serial postponements, however, the card at Fairyhouse today should redress many of their recent frustrations. It is unquestionably the best of their season to date, embracing not just three Grade One races originally scheduled here as many as 18 days ago, but also a couple of other good prizes salvaged from other tracks.
It is an especially important day for Willie Mullins, who restores several of his big guns to the front line – none more welcome than Mikael d'Haguenet, who has been sidelined for 593 days. Unbeaten since his arrival from France, he was last seen winning at the Punchestown Festival in April 2009, having previously beaten Karabak and Diamond Harry at Cheltenham.
Though he did run in a steeplechase in his youth, the Bar One Drinmore Chase clearly represents a pretty demanding start to this new chapter in his career, and his trainer was doing his best to temper expectations yesterday. "I'm hoping he gets a clear round, and that would be the priority," Mullins said. "If he can run well after that, then I'll be very pleased."
Opposition is headed by Realt Dubh, who finished in midfield behind Mikael d'Haguenet over hurdles at Cheltenham but has looked a better prospect over fences, really impressing in both completed starts.
Earlier Mullins saddles another potential champion whose physical problems have at least delayed the fulfilment of his potential. Hurricane Fly has been forced to miss both the last two Cheltenham Festivals, only to resurface at Punchestown the following month and leave connections to wonder what might have been. On the second occasion he memorably cruised into the lead before seeing off Solwhit by a neck. Unfortunately that same rival – with a winning comeback already under his belt – lies in wait in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, where any chinks in Hurricane Fly's fitness will surely be exposed over this longer distance.
"I don't think the step up to two and a half miles will be a problem," Mullins said. "But having his first run of the season against the likes of a race-fit Solwhit might be. He's in good form, though, and we have to get runs under his belt."
Mullins also has key contenders for both the other Grade One prizes. Zaidpour made a scintillating start to his new vocation at Punchestown last month but faces a more informative test in the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle – a race that has announced several future champions over the years. Certainly Zaidpour should have no problem with the drop in trip, having shown useful form over a mile on the Flat in France.
The John Durkan Chase, rescued from Punchestown, meanwhile represents a fresh start for Cooldine, who looked an authentic Gold Cup prospect when a dashing winner of the 2009 RSA Chase but essentially proved disappointing last season. "He might just need the run, and the trip might be a bit short for him as well," Mullins warned. "But he needs to get going."
Another champion trainer also profits from a rescheduled race to restore a forgotten horse to the fray when Breedsbreeze makes his comeback in the Totesport Peterborough Chase at Newbury today. Winner of the big novice chase at Kempton on Boxing Day 2008, Breedsbreeze disappeared after falling on his next start. Paul Nicholls also saddles Twist Magic, who has been showing signs of temperament and must now show his mettle for a longer trip.
He has been largely confined to right-handed tracks of late, and would presumably have been happier had Huntingdon staged the race. The change of venue has persuaded connections of the most interesting runner declared there, Riverside Theatre, to grasp the nettle and keep him fresh for a crack at Kauto Star himself in the William Hill King George VI Chase.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Fayre Bella (6.55 Kempton) Seemed to lose her way completely after winning a maiden at 100-1 in the spring, but almost exploited a much-reduced rating at Lingfield last time, rattling into fourth after being hampered on the turn.
Munlochy Bay (2.25 Bangor) Again suggested herself capable of winning off this mark when regrouping for a strong finish at Ascot last time, and the extra distance seems guaranteed to help.
One to watch
Connections of Art Professor (Venetia Williams) have had to be patient but he suggested he may well reward their perseverance when going powerfully for a long way on his return from a long absence at Cheltenham last Friday.
Where the money's going
Get Me Out Of Here is 8-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.
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