A busy Easter weekend of racing is ahead, both on the Flat and over jumps, with enough action to keep punters content.
The highlight arguably doesn’t arrive until Monday when Fairyhouse takes centre stage with the Irish Grand National (17:00).
Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are engaged in another battle for the trainers’ championship, with the pretender Elliott once more holding sway over the master going down the home straight.
But Mullins pulled out the stops to win last term and will be eager to do so again. If either man can snare the 270,000 euros on offer for winning the Irish National, it will be a decisive blow.
Class outed in this race a year ago, when Our Duke turned it into a procession, and Bellshill, winner of the Grade 3 Bobbyjo Chase at the track recently, could emulate him now.
He was a Grade One-winning hurdler and, despite being relatively inexperienced after just five starts, looks to have a bright future over fences.
He jumped well and cast aside any fitness concerns when seeing off A Genie In Abottle at the track last time and 9/1 looks a fair price about the high-class performer now switched to a handicap.
Our first bet for the weekend comes at Carlisle (15:25) on Saturday where Verona Opera is tipped to score for in-form trainer Stuart Crawford.
Verona Opera won on debut over fences at Cartmel last summer and produced a fine effort over this C&D in December in a Listed race behind Mullins’ Benie Des Dieux. We saw that rival grabbing a Cheltenham Festival win, albeit over hurdles, recently.
Trainer Crawford had a double at the track last weekend and looks to have found a useful opportunity for his King’s Theatre mare, with a price of 6/1 perhaps underestimating her.
Richard Hannon’s team are typically starting to find their range recently and his Qaysar should take some stopping in the 7f Novice Stakes (15:05) at Kempton on Saturday.
The Choisir colt looked a useful sort when just foiled on his debut at Newmarket in October and confirmed that suspicion when scoring on his all-weather bow over C&D next time out.
Off his winter break, Qaysar should be ready to come forward again and can justify odds of 1/1 to score.
Like Hannon, Mark Johnston has got his team coming to the boil with a 23 per cent strike-rate lately. One of the more improbable of those wins came via Fire Fighting at Lingfield. He came from miles back – turning last for home – to sluice through the field and get up on the line.
He is a smart performer and, having gone up 2lb, there’s some scope left in his mark even though this is a stronger race. He shouldn’t be allowed to get as far back this time and can go close again at an each-way price of 10/1.
The star of the show at Fairyhouse on Sunday will be Cheltenham Festival winner Laurina. An outstanding winner of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, it is hard to quantify her potential for the Mullins team.
She’s an odds-on favourite for the Grade 1 Mares’ Novice Hurdle Championship (14:50) but could make up into a Champion Hurdle contender so is well worth a look.
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