Six key clashes in Britain and Ireland this Saturday

Buveur D’Air (Noel Fehily)

Buveur D’Air runs in an enticing clash with Cloudy Dream at Haydock

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

 By Stuart Riley 8:00PM 16 DEC 2016 

ON A day sure to be full of festival clues, we delve into the six key clashes sure to light up a sumptuous Saturday.

Buveur D’Air vs. Cloudy Dream (12.20 Haydock)

First up we have a straight head-to-head at Haydock, with JP McManus’ new purchase Buveur D’Air – a Grade 1 winner at Aintree over hurdles last season – making his chasing debut against the Trevor Hemmings-owned, two from two over fences Cloudy Dream.

Not only is it a clash of the two most famous sets of silks to contain the colours green and yellow/gold, it also happens to pit two of this season’s most exciting novices against each other.

Supreme third Buveur D’Air achieved more over hurdles (an best RPR of 154 versus 140), but the Scottish Champion Hurdle runner-up has looked brilliant in both of his starts to date over fences and has invaluable chasing experience on his side. It should be a cracker.

Yorkhill vs. fences (2.10 Fairyhouse)

Buveur D’Air is not the only Grade 1-winning novice hurdler to jump a fence for the first time in public on Saturday, with Willie Mullins’ Tolworth, Cheltenham, and Aintree winner Yorkhill another exciting debutant.

The winner Yorkhill (Ruby Walsh)

Yorkhill could be destined for big things over fences

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Ruby Walsh hadn’t even got off the horse after pulverising Yanworth, now no bigger than 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle, in last year’s Neptune when he stated Yorkhill would “win next year’s Arkle with his mouth open,” so expectations are sky high. He is currently a best-priced 9-1 and will likely shorten if living up to them at the first time of asking.

Unowhatimeanharry vs. expectation (2.25 Ascot)

Expectation appears to have finally caught up with Harry Fry’s remarkable Unowhatimeanharry. A sequence of six successive victories has seen him rise from a mark of 123 to market leader for Saturday’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

He is one of those horses who has just kept surprising. He was not expected to win the Albert Bartlett, or on his seasonal reappearance against Ballyoptic, but finally it would be a bigger shock were he not to win.

His six-length Newbury victim reopposes, as does three-time winner of this Reve De Sivola, Thistlecrack’s half-brother West Approach, the Paul Nicholls-trained stars Zarkandar and Ptit Zig, the ever-improving Lil Rockerfeller and French raider Alex De Larredya. All of which makes for a thrilling contest.

Mall Dini vs.Blazer vs. the Gigginstown battalion (2.45 Fairyhouse)

Another Cheltenham Festival winner, Pertemps hero Mall Dini, is also in action on Saturday at Fairyhouse, where he takes on Willie Mullins’ one-time Betfair Hurdle and Coral Cup hotpot Blazer and a crowd of Gigginstown runners headed by Noel Meade’s A Genie In Abottle, who chased home Martello Tower last time out.

Mall Dini

Mall Dini winning March’s Pertemps Final

  PICTURE: Patrick McCann (  

He is ably supported by the now Joseph O’Brien-trained Grade 3-winning novice hurdler Arkwrisht and the always Gordon Elliott-trained Be The Hero in a race in which it looks like it will take a good one to win.

Holywell vs. the handicapper (3.00 Ascot)

Holywell’s plummet down the weights has yet to result in him being competitive in anything other than discussions surrounding who is potentially the best handicapped horse in training.

But, given he won at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival with any amount in hand off a mark of 145 and then followed up a month later – winning a Grade 1 at Aintree by ten lengths from none other than reigning Gold Cup hero Don Cossack to earn a career high mark of 163, his current rating of 154 screams workable.

He faces a field of largely progressive young horses but, if Jonjo O’Neill’s nine-year-old can rediscover the sort of form that carried him to fourth in Coneygree’s Gold Cup, then they will need at least 10lb in hand just to see which way Holywell went.

HOLYWELL Ridden by A. P. McCoy

Holywell has been fourth in a Gold Cup

  PICTURE: John Grossick (  

Jolly’s Cracked It vs. Sternrubin (the rematch) (3.35 Ascot)

Last year not even a photo-finish could separate Jolly’s Cracked It and Sternrubin and their thrilling finish to the Ladbroke was called a dead-heat. Both are back for more in what will now be called the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle.

Jolly’s Cracked It – who has not been seen since – races off a 6lb higher mark, while Sternrubin – who has raced five times including a Listed win over course and distance in October – is officially rated a 10lb better horse this year.

They face all manner of competition from talented (Diego Du Charmil, Willow’s Saviour, Consul De Thaix), progressive (Brain Power, Modus, Who Dares Wins), seasoned (Waxies Dargle, Quick Jack, Rayvin Black) and hyped (Golden Spear) rivals in what is always a belter.

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