Irish Eyes: Kick On at Naas
Our Irish Eyes column has a 22/1 selection at Naas on Sunday while he suspects Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci have another star on their hands.
Ricci and Mullins team up with American Tom
Irish Eyes Selections
The Novice Chase at Naas never attracts a large field (between four and six runners over the past three years) but it's a race full of quality nonetheless with Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Henry de Bromhead and Gordon Elliott all represented and it is surely but a matter of time before it gains Graded status.
Whilst Mullins has grabbed all the headlines over the last few weeks, de Bromhead has also had a superb time of it lately with six winners from his last 10 runners including the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown and going further back, he also captured the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton with Special Tiara.
To add some further spice to this contest, Mullins took the race last year with the odds-on Shaneshill who was followed home by a de Bromhead inmate but the Waterford man took the 2015 edition, relegating a Mullins-trained odds-on shot into third place so the scene is set for this year's renewal.
American Tom represents the Mullins/Ruby Walsh combination and he is unbeaten in two Irish starts, going right-handed each time. He won his maiden hurdle at Gowran and following a 13-month enforced break he took a beginners chase at Punchestown.
He jumped to his left last time out so there's every reason to expect Naas should suit him better today. He was always held in high esteem – he started off in the same maiden hurdle as Douvan – and Mullins still believe he will rank highly over fences.
De Bromhead will have an idea what he is up against given he trains (the former Mullins-trained) Gangster who chased American Tom home last time out on his first run for the yard and he ran well enough again to fill the same spot at Leoaprdstown over the holidays.
Some Plan, formerly with Tom George and Paul Nicholls, represents de Bromhead. He won a two-runner beginners chase on his Irish debut (the runner-up has subsequently been beaten four times and has failed to win in nine chase starts) but he was travelling well in a Cheltenham Grade 2 on his last start before falling.
He's been given plenty of time off since (56 days) in order to work on his jumping and restore his confidence. As if to complicate matters, Elliott's representative Stone Hard started life winning a point-to-point with the Co. Meath-based trainer, then joined Mullins but has found his way back to his original trainer as a result of the Gigginstown/Mullins split.
He has a wind-op since his return, finished fourth on his 'second debut' for Elliott before beating the de Bromhead-trained Double Island by 12 lengths at Limerick. Mullins always believed he would be at his best over fences and he might just be maturing at the right time.
Finally, the fourth competitor, Road To Respect, also switched yards, having been with Eoin Griffin for his first eight starts. His first run for Meade resulted in a debut beginners chase win over this trip here in November from an Elliott-trained odds-on shot (with another of Elliott's in third!).
He competed in Grade 1 races on his only subsequent chase starts, finishing fourth in the Drinmore and third behind Min in the Racing Post Novice Chase.
So this is set up to be an absolute thriller with all four competing off levels and indeed you can make a case for all four but is it must be significant that Mullins has chosen to go to war with American Tom today as opposed to other recent impressive beginners chase winners Royal Caviar and Yorkhill.
Strong as this race is, it looks a good opportunity for him to take the next step forward required in order to live up to his big reputation.
In a bid to record a fourth successive win in the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle, Mullins supplies two of the six runner field, as does Elliott.
Walsh has chosen Augusta Kate, presumably in the hope that her mares allowance will help level the playing field but realistically it is a huge ask to expect her to graduate from winning a mares maiden hurdle to take an open Grade 1.
From six runs to-date, the only time she finished out of the first two was the one occasions she competed in open company, for all that she ran well in the Cheltenham bumper to finish seventh.
Death Duty has only twice been beaten in seven starts, and Mullins supplied the winner on both those occasions. However, since he has gone hurdling, he is unbeaten in three starts, all over two-and-a-half miles.
Despite the fact he is the only Graded winner in the field he obviously escapes a penalty here given this is a Grade 1.
Having had three weeks between winning his Grade 3 and his Grade 2, he had another perfect three-weak break coming into this, which has always been the plan for him.
His future lies in staying chases but in the interim, there are plenty of top hurdle races to be won with him and for all that he is the obvious selection, it's impossible to look past him in this event especially given today's course, distance and going will make it an extreme test up that hill.
Kick On Boss is the complete outsider of the nine runners in the handicap chase but there are aspects of his form that suggest if he can recapture the best of it, he has a chance in this event.
Having won his bumper of his first start, he finished second to subsequent Lexus winner Outlander in a bumper at this venue. He also won his maiden hurdle here by no less than 12 lengths.
Having left Willie McCreery's yard, he has made five starts for Henry de Bromhead over fences, the best of which was when he was runner-up to Rossvoss (admittedly beaten some 15 lengths) but his mark of 113 looks reasonable considering he had the 143-rated Tennis Cap back in third that day.
His two starts this season leave plenty to be desired, a fall and a moderate ninth of 11, but his trainers string are in better form now and if he jumps a little better he could give us a good run for our each-way money at 22/1.
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