Rain would give boost to Un De Sceaux's Cheltenham claims
Faugheen all set for Irish Champion Hurdle repeat
Any rain they get at Cheltenham will be welcome for Un De Sceaux in his bid to win the rescheduled Spectra Cyber Solutions Clarence House Chase (1.45) for the second year running.
Further ease in the ground would definitely boost his chance of landing the prize which he won at Ascot a year ago. He's in good form and we've been happy with him since his battling win in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown last month. He knows Cheltenham well and is all set to try for a sixth Grade 1 over fences.
Also at Cheltenham, we're trying something new with Alelchi Inois by running him in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (2.50). He's got top weight for his first attempt at the discipline so it will probably be a hard task for him. But if he runs well it will give us the option of sending him back there for the cross-country race at the festival.
Vroum Vroum Mag will be on duty for us at Doncaster where she runs in the Grade 2 OLGB.com Mares Hurdle (3.05) over 2m1f. We could have waited to run her over a longer trip, but this race fits in nicely to her schedule and looked a good opportunity for her. And she has shown herself to be quite versatile in terms of distance.
It's taken much longer than anticipated to get Faugheen back on track and that day has finally arrived with the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, a race he won so impressively last year.
He hasn't run since that 15-length win and had to miss defending his Champion Hurdle crown due to a suspensory injury. He had another hold-up this season but we're very happy with him now and looking forward to it.
He is the highest-rated horse in the race by some way but he has been off a long time and we'll have to see what effect, if any, the layoff might have. People are saying he won't need to be at his best to win but we'll just have to wait and see. Petit Mouchoir won the Ryanair Hurdle very easily at Christmas and Henry de Bromhead's horse has to be respected as he looks on the up.
We also run Nichols Canyon, who was below his best when beaten seven lengths behind Petit Mouchoir at Christmas, and Footpad. I was disappointed with Nichols Canyon's performance as he never showed his usual zest. We gave him an easy time after that Leopardstown effort and he seems to be in better form now. As a seven-time Grade 1 winner, he certainly deserves his place in the line-up.
Footpad, who looks well held on Ryanair Hurdle form, is a difficult horse to place. He won a couple of Grade 1s as a juvenile last season and we decided to let him take his chance in the hope he might run into the money.
Melon, who starts off over hurdles in the 2m maiden (1.30), was placed on the Flat in France. It's taken longer than anticipated to get him ready but he shows us plenty at home and has schooled well. He seems in good form and we're looking forward to getting him started.
Her form and her official rating suggests that Let's Dance, who is on a four-timer, should be the pick of our three runners in the Grade 2 novice hurdle (2.00). She's getting weight from all her rivals and looks to have an excellent chance of maintaining her winning sequence.
However, Montalbano, who won his maiden hurdle over the course and 2m4f trip at Christmas, and Kemboy, who won over a slightly shorter trip at Limerick early last month, have both been working very well. They lack the experience of Let's Dance but we need to find out more about them and they're going into the race in good form.
King's Wharf faces a tough task with top weight in the 2m1f handicap chase (3.00) but with the ground much better than it usually is at this time of year, we decided to let him take his chance.
It had been the plan to run Min in the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Chase on Sunday (2.30), but he banged a knee, probably when schooling during the week, and we decided against running him.
He was actually declared but I decided not to risk running him and we took him out before the deadline. It doesn't appear to be anything serious. We'll see how he is over the next few days before deciding if he will have a run before the Arkle at Cheltenham.
In his absence we're relying on Bleu Et Rouge and Royal Caviar, who take on two of Henry de Bromhead's in a four-runner renewal. Bleu Et Rouge did well to come from off the pace to win over the course at Christmas and if he jumps better this time, he will have a very good chance. Royal Caviar won well on his chasing debut at Thurles last month and although he faces a bigger task this time and will need to improve, he's in good form and we think he deserves to take his chance.
Naas on Saturday
Ivan Grozny returns from a break in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle (1.30). The race conditions suit him quite well and although he hasn't run since winning a Grade 2 at Tipperary in October, he's in good form and the forecast yielding ground will suit.
He won his maiden hurdle over the course and distance three years ago and we're looking forward to a good performance from him. With Ruby Walsh on duty for us in England, David Mullins, who won a handicap on him at Aintree last season, rides.
We're two-handed in the other Grade 3 on the Naas card – the Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase (2.35) – with Briar Hill, who fell in a Grade 1 at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, and Haymount representing us. The 3m trip will suit Briar Hill and we're hoping his fall won't have dented his confidence. Hopefully, he'll put in a clear round and, if he does, then he'll have a good chance.
Haymount has done well over fences, winning on his chasing debut at Punchestown and then running a good second to Bellshill in a Grade 2 at Limerick last month. He jumps and gallops and I don't expect the step up in distance to be a problem. He's very well and has a realistic chance of finishing in the money.
Augustin, who makes his hurdling debut in the 2m3f maiden (2.00), won a bumper at Thurles last season and has plenty of stamina. He hasn't run since April, but he jumps well.
For Syl, who makes her debut in the 2m3f bumper (4.20), has had her problems. She's a seven-year-old by Presenting and, while she is a nice mare who should win a bumper, this race might prove a tough ask.
Bearing in mind a length beaten is roughly equal to 1lb in weight, do you weigh your horses as part of their training regime and what difference would an additional 5-10lb in horseflesh make to a horse's performance – Marten Whittaker, Middleham
Moment of the week
Downer of the week
Having to rule Annie Power out of Cheltenham. She worked very well on Tuesday but picked up a knee ligament injury. It will probably be another week or so before we'll have a better idea of whether she might be able to make it back for Punchestown or will have to miss the rest of the season.