Horse Racing – 2012 Easter Festival – Fairyhouse Racecourse

Aon Novice Handicap Chase 2014 – Runners & Odds

For punters who like a meaty handicap to get stuck into, then the Aon Novice Handicap Chase at Punchestown on Friday over 2m5f (4.20) provides the perfect opportunity.

The first port-of-call when scanning the runners is trainer Willie Mullins, who sent out the victor of this valuable prize three times since 2007. Interestingly, Mullins relies on just two entries this time around in Balnaslow and Abbey Lane – the first of whom arrives in good form having won a small chase at Tramore three weeks ago (2m6f, yielding).

Prior to that victory, Balnaslow was fourth (beaten 22l) in the Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham (3m2f, good), while filling the same place in the Thyestes Handicap at Gowran Park in January (3m1f, soft). His victory last time will have given him confidence and having won at Punchestown over hurdles, he’ll handle the track.

Stablemate Abbey Lane meanwhile, has yet to win in four outings over fences, including when a 10l fourth in a novice handicap at Fairyhouse last time (2m1f, soft). As a hurdles winner over 3m, the trip should be fine, but he’ll need to improve his jumping having made several errors.

Top weight of 11st10lb should not be seen as a negative, as three winners of this handicap defied such a weight since 2007, which offers hope for Don Cossack, who won a Grade 1 back in December (2mf, yielding) and retained his form with a second in another Grade 1 at Aintree (3m1f, good).

Elsewhere, Dessie Hughes looks to win this race 10 years after winning it in 2004, and relies on Some Tikket, who was a big improver when landing a valuable handicap at Fairyhouse several weeks ago – Shamiran was 5l in second, and The Way We Were a further 5l back in third (2m1f, soft). Having won a hurdle over 2m4f, there could be more to come over the bigger fences.

Arthur Moore’s runners should always be respected in these big handicaps, and Pass The Hat bagged a big prize last time out when landing the Carrickmines Handicap Chase (2m5f, soft) two months ago. He has since been kept fresh for this, and went well at this meeting a year ago when fourth over 2m.

Another last time out winner to be respected is Jessica Harrington’s Operating, who finally got off the mark in a beginners chase recently (2m4f, yielding) and could be well handicapped, though Noel Meade’s Road To Riches, may have too much weight and makes mistakes at the fences.

The British haven’t had much luck in this race bar Philip Hobbs winning three years ago, but Nicky Henderson tries his luck with Ericht, who won a 2m4f novice before being pulled up at Cheltenham. He could be involved if bouncing back here.

However, with improving 7yo’s having won this race five times in the last eight years, the vote goes to Willie Mullins’ Balnaslow, who arrives in fine fettle and has form in similar big handicaps.