Sunday racing: what's on TV and who to watch
Love Cheltenham? Cannot wait for next month's festival? Then you will not want to miss Sunday's action from Leopardstown and Exeter as there is sure to be plenty of clues.
When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival no card is more informative than Leopardstown's Irish Gold Cup card – in the last five years five winners and six placed horses have gone on to win at the festival.
Add a star-studded card at Exeter and those that like to be prepared will realise an extra set of batteries will needed on stand-by as the remote control is going to take a pounding flicking between the two meetings.
What must not be missed
If you only watch one race from Exeter (Racing UK – Sky 432; Virgin 536) then make sure you catch Colin Tizzard's exciting Neptune favourite and Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian's Oscar as he bids to give 8lb and upwards to five rivals in a race in which Spirit Son, Melodic Rendezvous, Vibrato Valtat, Native River and Politologue have won the last five renewals.
The first of the Leopardstown Grade 1s is the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (2.30), which has featured the subsequent Triumph Hurdle winner in four of the last five years.
Tune in to At The Races (Sky 415; Virgin 534) and watch. Then rewind and watch it again, and again, because Our Conor (2013) is the only one to do the double. Tiger Roll (second in 2014), Countrywide Flame (third in 2012) and Ivanovich Gorbatov (fourth in 2016) all improved for their first taste of Grade 1 company.
An exciting field goes to post, with the 'shortlist' just as long. Six of the nine feature in the first 11 in the Triumph Hurdle betting – including third, fourth and fifth on that list Meri Devie, Dinaria Des Obeaux and Bapaume.
Next comes the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle (3.00), a race won in 2013 and 2014 by Supreme heroes Champagne Fever and Vautour and in which the 2015 Neptune winner Windsor Park was beaten by Nichols Canyon.
It is a race Willie Mullins loves to target and this year he saddles six – yes, SIX – of the ten. Saturnas looks the first string with Ruby Walsh up, but Bunk Off Early (Paul Townend), Chateau Conti (Mikey Fogarty), and Aintree bumper winner Bacardys (Patrick Mullins) all have obvious chances. Gordon Elliott saddles three of the remaining four in a race that entirely reflects the two men's current dominance of Irish racing.
At 4.00 John Kiely's Carlingford Lough bids for a third consecutive success in the card's feature, the Irish Gold Cup, but faces a stacked field. All seven of his rivals have Cheltenham aspirations. That it is 7-2 the field and no horse is bigger than 20-1 for an eight-runner Grade 1 is reflective of the race's competitiveness.
What else to look out for
Carlingford Lough is not the only hat-trick seeker on Leopardstown's card – Liam Cusack's Who's That makes her own bid for a three-timer in the opening mares handicap hurdle (1.30). She is 6lb higher than for last year's success, but Rachael Blackmore's 5lb claim help offset the majority of that.
It is not the only handicap on the card worth watching as the 2m handicap hurdle (2.00) has thrown up clues for both the County Hurdle and Coral Cup in recent years, while there is every chance the concluding bumper could contain a festival horse.
The Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase (3.30) may lack the same Cheltenham connection as some of the other Grade 1s on the card but this year it features RSA Chase favourite – the Willie Mullins-trained Punchestown bumper winner Bellshill.
His biggest rival looks to be Our Duke, already a Grade 1 winner over fences despite his less than fluent jumping. Connections are so sure he is a Gold Cup horse for next year they have opted to skip this year's festival and it looks a mouthwatering clash.
Perhaps the biggest festival clue on the card may come in the hunter chase (4.30), with Salsify and On The Fringe – between them winners of four of the last five renewals of the Foxhunter – taking on Ireland's heir apparent to that crown, Foxrock.
It is a similarly strong undercard at Exeter. The opening 2m2½f novice hurdle (1.50) has been won by the likes of Wishfull Thinking and Many Clouds in recent years, while the Pertemps qualifier (2.50) already has an incredible honour roll.
In its three-year history it has thrown up two festival winners with the back-for-more Fingal Bay, who went on to win the Final at the festival in 2014, while last year Unowhatimeanharry took last year's renewal en route to Albert Bartlett glory. Reve De Sivola, Barney Dwan and Red Sherlock – yes him, last seen 1,068 days ago when sent off 7-2 against Faugheen in the 2014 Neptune – add further class.
Buywise, Harry Topper, Perfect Candidate and Theatrical Star all turn up for the veterans chase (3.20) while one-time Gold Cup dark horse Alary, the talented but injury-prone Carraig Mor, King George fourth Tea For Two and the talented but accident-prone Henri Parry Morgan clash in the 3m graduation chase (3.50).