The questionable decision to extend the Festival in 2005 has resulted in a diminution of the product to the extent that today’s top-flight action centres around just the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase.
Formerly the Spa Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle, the market for today’s Ladbrokes promotion is dominated by Francois Doumen’s Kasbah Bliss (pictured), in the enforced absence of the injured Inglis Drever.
Twice earlier in this decade Doumen and his then jockey son Thierry combined with the mighty Baracouda to plunder the championship in the staying division and the veteran French trainer cannot see Kasbah Bliss beaten now.
The shorter Ryanair Chase which deservedly was accorded Grade 1 status 12 months ago when Irish-bred Our Vic did the business is the obvious alternative to yesterday’s feature for Voy Por Ustedes which needed every yard of two miles to capture the 2006 Arkle Trophy and 2007 Champion Chase.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle, 3.20
Fifth two years ago and runner-up last season after a tremendous duel with record-maker Inglis Drever, Kasbah Bliss and his 42-year-old multiple French champion jockey Christophe Pieux turned in a sparkling display at Haydock last month that impressed everyone and transformed the ante-post market.
Prior to that runaway success the perception was that French imports Punchestowns and Big Buck’s for the Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls stables would be the heirs apparent to the Inglis Drever throne.
Although Big Buck’s mastered Punchestowns in the Cleeve Hurdle over this route in late January, Ruby Walsh’s mount was getting 8lb then and, with the ground drying out, will hardly manage to confirm that form at level weights.
Often beaten at short odds in small fields at home, Powerstation seems to thrive in this kind of contest and might creep into a place ahead of compatriots Shakervilz and Whatuthink which is blinkered for the first time.
Verdict- Kasbah Bliss to outpace Punchestowns.
Ryanair Chase, 2.40
At their best here last season, Our Vic which deservedly plundered this good prize after several near misses in the past and runaway Arkle Trophy victor Tidal Bay each have something to prove at this juncture.
Imperial Commander, which landed the Paddy Power Handicap Chase over the course and distance last November, should be right in the mix and there could possibly be more to come also from Gwanako and Schindlers Hunt.
Monet’s Garden, which is entitled to healthy respect on his best form, possibly is better suited these days to a flatter track, unlike Voy Por Ustedes which thrives in the heat of competition here and skated up at Ascot.
Verdict- Voy Por Ustedes ( nap)
Jewson Handicap Chase, 1.30
Finger Onthe Pulse did the business for the Irish a year ago when holding off Barbers Shop and the Irish have a live chance again with Northern Alliance which should be better suited to this longer trip than when third at Navan last month to Made In Taipan which was a fine fourth here on Tuesday.
Naiad Du Misselot, Tranquil Sea and Straw Bear have been struggling to transfer their good hurdles form to fences in the current campaign. Watch out in case the money comes for Chapoturgeon or Isn’t That Lucky.
Verdict- Try a flutter on Northern Alliance.
Pertemps Hurdle Final, 2.05
Should that selection come up trumps, you could do worse than invest a minor amount on stable companion Green Mile whose recent form figures don’t do him justice. He stays well and is at his best with a light weight.
Although another Irish runner P’tit Fute has paid for his good record by topping the ratings, he still looks a better proposition than Don’t Push It which has been the pick betting-wise so far of Jonjo O’Neill’s runners.
Verdict- Green Mile catches the eye.
Freddie Williams Festival Plate, 4.00
Finger Onthe Pulse, which registered a brave win over the course and distance at last year’s festival, appeals more than Oslot, which plundered the Galway Plate last summer, and Clarified, going here instead of Northern Alliance.
Perce Rock is another likeable Irish competitor on a hat-trick and you could give Notable d’Estruval a second look for a shrewd stable.
Verdict - Finger Onthe Pulse should go well.
Kim Muir Handicap Chase, 4.40
A difficult contest to end the session in which Irish runners have failed to hit the target since Greasepaint in 1983, though amateur riders have fared much better.
Poker de Sivola has been a long-term fancy for Ferdy Murphy’s stable that supplied the 33/1 winner You’re Special in 2006 and Lambourn colleague Nicky Henderson bids for a third success with Shouldhavehadthat.
Verdict- Go with Shouldhavehadthat.