Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball

Huge weekend of horseracing on both sides of the Irish Sea

Fairyhouse, Newbury and Newcastle command the attention of horseracing fans this weekend. Four Gr...

Huge weekend of horseracing on...

Huge weekend of horseracing on both sides of the Irish Sea

Fairyhouse, Newbury and Newcastle command the attention of horseracing fans this weekend.

Four Grade One races and the old Hennessy signal the end of the early season phony wars and the first real battles on the road to Cheltenham will be engaged.


While the action of the Meath track is over both days of the weekend for the Winter Festival, Sunday is the unmissable one. Three Grade One races, The Porterstown, the first Irish Grade Two juvenile hurdle of the year and a bumper won last year by Envoi Allen make for the best day of jump racing in the season thus far.

The Bar One Hatton's Grace is a mouth-watering clash. Hat-trick seeking Apples Jade will have a fight on her hands to retain her crown against the up and coming Honeysuckle. Willie Mullins has not declared Benie des Dieux, but will have half the field. Dual Grade One winner Penhill, Bacardys who conquered Apple's Jade at Navan in the Lismullen and the enigmatic but high-quality Killultagh Vic represent the master of Closutton.

Both Apple's Jade and Honeysuckle are unbeaten at Fairyhouse, something will have to give on Sunday. Honeysuckle can de-throne the Queen.


The two novice contests rightly see the hottest properties in their respective divisions lining up. Samcro is favourite for the Drinmore while Envoi Allen tops the market for the Royal Bond.

The jumping of youngster Fakir D'oudairies at Navan was breathtaking and will give Samcro his first chasing test. The birds were singing about Fakir putting in a performance like that ahead of the Navan race and he didn't disappoint.

Joseph O'Brien's horse gets a weight-for-age allowance from Samcro in the Drinmore allowing him to carry ten pounds fewer than Gordon Elliot's star. On previous ratings, that should not be enough. It's time for the real Samcro to please stand up.

In the Royal Bond half an hour earlier, Envoi Allen's stablemate Abacadabras provides the main opposition to the Champion Bumper winner. Abacadabras was a revelation at Navan, having been somewhat luckless and occasionally uncontrollable in his early career.

Envoi Allen is a very different beast though and can win any way he likes, Sunday should be no different.


There are few races with as much sense of tradition as the Hennessy (Ladbroke Trophy as it's now known) at Newbury as December approaches. The roll of honour is populated with some of the all-time greats of the equine world, including Arkle and Denman.

Three Gold Cup winners are among the last ten names on this trophy, a repeat this season looks unlikely, but that's due to the depth of the Gold Cup field, not a slight on Newbury.

OK Corral tops the market but the Willie Mullins trained Cabaret Queen, owned by Syndicates Racing may threaten for favouritism closer to the off.

Mullins' mare is unique in that ownership shares in this horse were marketed and sold entirely through social media. Such winning connections would provide a welcome contrast to the multimillionaire owners also populating the paddock on Saturday.

Mister Malarky though has the right profile to win and trainer Colin Tizzard has won this race twice in the last three years.


The Grade One Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on Saturday is the first step for Buveur D'Air on his path to Champion Hurdle redemption. Nicky Henderson's star is a much-maligned figure among racing fans, most likely due to the way his trainer campaigns him.

Generally Buveur D'Air takes a four-race plan for the season, starting at Newcastle, then Kempton at Christmas, dropping to listed company at Sandown in February and then the Champion Hurdle.

Things didn't go to plan last year when Buveur D'Air was beaten by unfancied stablemate at Christmas. Then he hit the deck at Cheltenham before he was beaten by Supasundae at Aintree.

The dual Champion hurdler bounced back at the Punchestown festival and returns to action this weekend with a point to prove. Unfortunately, Nicky Henderson's charge will prove little bar his existence on Saturday, such is the paucity of opposition.

A defeat though would be catastrophic to his hopes of regaining his Champion Hurdle crown.

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Fairyhouse Fighting Fifth Gordon Elliott Hattons Grace Hennessy Ladbroke Trophy Newbury Royal Bond Samcro