Willie Mullins feels the weight of Betfair challenge

Saturday, Feb 10 2018

Willie Mullins thinks Bleu Et Rouge is up against it in Saturday's Betfair Hurdle.

The JP McManus-owned grey was a decent fourth at Ascot just before Christmas but must shoulder 11st 10lb in the big Newbury handicap.

Mullins said: "Bleu Et Rouge is in good form but has a nice steadying weight so it's going to be tough from that position for him.

"I don't know what the statistics are for horses with those sort of weights and it's going to be a tough challenge."

Permit holder Peter Atkinson is hoping to make the most of what he feels could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

A pig farmer by trade, Atkinson trains just a couple of horses from Yafforth Hill Farm in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, but Irish Roe is proving to be a genuine diamond in the rough.

The seven-year-old was snapped up for just €2,000 as a store horse four years ago and has since won three bumpers and four hurdle races from just 11 starts under Rules.

She produced a career-best performance when pushing the similarly prolific Maria's Benefit all the way in a Grade Two at Doncaster a fortnight ago and is favourite with some bookmakers to claim one of the most prestigious and lucrative handicaps of the season, but Atkinson is not getting carried away.

He said: "Just because she's favourite doesn't mean she's going to win, but she seems well and we're happy with her at home.

"She went up 11lb for the run at Doncaster, so she's rated 145 now and runs in this off 134. She's not going to have the chance to run in a handicap off 134 again, or at least not for a while.

"There's a huge amount of money on offer and this probably won't happen to us again.

"The main thing we want is for her to come out of it in one piece and we can live to fight another day.

"Horses like this don't come around too often for people like us."

There would be no more popular winner than Lalor if he can strike gold for Kayley Woollacott and her late husband Richard.

The racing world was left shocked after it was announced late last month that Woollacott, who was based in South Molton in Devon, had died aged 40.

Lalor, the winner of a Grade Two bumper at Aintree last spring, has been placed on each of his three starts over hurdles to date and has undergone a wind operation since finishing second on his latest appearance at Cheltenham in December.

Daryl Jacob rides Lalor for the first time since steering him to a Wincanton bumper success last March, and said: "I'm looking forward to it. I schooled him yesterday and he seems in really good form.

"The rain that is supposed to come will help him. He has run some very good races and hopefully off 133 he will have a great chance."

Amy Murphy is expecting a big run from her stable star Kalashnikov.

The five-year-old won each of his first three starts before finishing second in last month's Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Murphy told At The Races: "I just hope they don't get as much rain as forecast. Hopefully he goes there with a live chance.

"I think we'll learn a lot about where we go after this. He's shown a turn of foot so far, but he's got plenty of stamina in his pedigree."

The Ben Pauling-trained High Bridge won the Gerry Feilden over the course and distance on his most recent start and is once again partnered by amateur rider Alex Ferguson.

"He's had a very uninterrupted preparation for the race and we're going there all guns blazing," said Pauling.

"It's a track he particularly likes and we're very much looking forward to having him there."

Gary Moore has claimed this prize three times in the last 10 runnings with Heathcote (2007), Wingman (2008) and Violet Dancer (2015).

This year the trainer saddles Boxing Day Fontwell winner Knocknanuss.

He said: "He won well at Fontwell although, in fairness, it was a bad race that day.

"He is a very low-mileage horse and he has run more times this season than his whole career beforehand.

"Once he won on Boxing Bay, it was always the intention to go for the Betfair Hurdle. I hope he has it in him to run well in a race like this."

Moon Racer makes his first appearance of the season having suffered a bout of colic and undergone a wind operation since his last run.

Trainer David Pipe said: "Whilst he is probably not as quick as he was, he is still in good form. He is probably a bit overpriced but I am not worried about that.

"At the same time, he has got to bounce back from a disappointing run at Aintree and obviously what he has been through over the summer."



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