Tuesday, May 24

Kevin Blake: Ireland to have the stronger storm at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day

Goodbye 2021, hello 2022! I won’t be making any bigger-picture forecasts for what 2022 holds for us, as the cheerful optimists have taken a beating with their New Year hopes and dreams for the last two years. Twice bitten, very shy!

Regardless, those of us that are content to stay tucked in tight in our racing bubble have some competitive action at Cheltenham to ring in the New Year with and that will do me!

Get with Botox to inject some profit

The Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham (14:35) is a wide-open content and the one I want to be with is the Gary Moore-trained Botox Has.

The five-year-old was a promising juvenile hurdler back in 2019/20, but has been more miss than hit since then, including an abortive attempt at chasing last October that ended in a fall.

The son of Dream Well has since been returned to hurdling and whether it was a calculated plan or a hopeful roll of the dice, they landed on a good one when trying him in first-time cheekpieces at a much longer trip over this course and distance last time. He was ridden with a bit more patience than has often been the case, presumably with a view to helping him get the trip, and he ran a much-improved race to finish second to Kansas City Chief.

The winner had the benefit of an easy lead that day and now that the connections of Botox Has know that he stays this far, he can be expected to sit closer to the lead in this contest. He looks well handicapped on the pick of his form and one suspects there is more to come from him at this trip, so he makes plenty of appeal.

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Stormy can make a bold bid from the front

The other race of interest at Cheltenham is the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (15:10).

Brewin’upastorm is going to be the short-priced favourite following his impressive return to action in the Betway Hurdle at Aintree in November, but I’m inclined to take him on with the Irish raider Stormy Ireland.

The seven-year-old has long been a smart performer, but she had a particularly eventful time of it last season. Having been switched from Willie Mullins to Paul Nicholls, she ran four times without winning and was sent to the sales in January, being bought for £75,000.

Rather than being sent to the breeding paddocks as might have been expected, her new owners sent her back to Willie Mullins and in quite a remarkable turnaround she returned to the track to win a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse and a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival.

While she ran below form on her return in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, that run appeals as being forgivable, as she set a stronger pace than ideal and made a couple of jumping errors. That run should knock some of the freshness out of her and hopefully put her spot on for this race.

One of the most appealing aspects of her chance in this race is that it looks as though she could well get the lead to herself.

On The Blind Side can often help force the pace, but more so over longer trips than this and he might well be content to let Stormy Ireland get on with it. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see her make a bold bid from the front.

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