Impaire Et Passe the star attraction at Sunday’s ‘Winter Festival’ action in Fairyhouse

Officials hopeful freezing weather conditions won’t impact Grade One action

Fairyhouse hosts the original ‘Winter Festival’ this weekend and it won’t be only those who argue it’s still the best that’ll be keeping everything crossed weather conditions don’t get in the way.

Saturday’s action is dependent on passing a 7.30 morning inspection although there is confidence freezing weather won’t impact on Sunday’s triple Grade One programme.

Overnight temperatures are due to reach minus three and it may not get above two degrees on Saturday.

“We were raceable at 8.00 this morning which gives me some confidence. But based on the forecast, which is due to get colder tonight, and not as warm tomorrow, we felt it was prudent to call an inspection,” the Fairyhouse manager, Peter Roe, said on Friday.


“It’s an improving forecast for Sunday and it’s not as cold on Saturday night. The fact we haven’t raced on the ground since Easter also means there is a great covering of grass,” he added.

It will be the 30th edition of a fixture – highlighted by the €120,000 Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle - that has had benchmark names like Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Don Cossack advertise their talents at over the years.

Half a dozen horses at last year’s meeting subsequently scored at the Cheltenham Festival, including Marine Nationale in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, and Gaillard Du Mesnil who finished runner-up in the Drinmore Novice Chase.

If, once again, questions will be asked about the quantity of runners in some of the big races, time tends to prove that quality quibbles are well off the mark.

Just a handful line up for a first Hatton’s Grace in five years that won’t be dominated by Honeysuckle who is instead enjoying retirement at stud.

The triple-winner even proved to be the headline story a year ago when she finally lost her unbeaten career record behind Teahupoo. The latter is back on Sunday and must try to put a first blemish on the hitherto spotless CV of Impaire Et Passe.

Last season’s leading novice is rated by some firms the most likely danger to Constitution Hill in March’s Champion Hurdle. If that’s to be justified, then he should be up to justifying short odds here.

Champion jockey Paul Townend has rated the Ballymore winner as very special although the task of taking on a tough and proven performer like Teahupoo can’t be underestimated.

Last weekend’s ‘Winter Festival’ version at Punchestown saw Impaire Et Passe’s stable companion State Man win at very short odds-on. The dangers of such wagering however were stamped all over Galopin Des Champs’ Durkan defeat behind Fastorslow.

On the face of it, Sunday’s novice Grade Ones appear more competitive despite just five lining up for the Drinmore.

The prospect of a top-flight victory over fences will enthuse Sharjah fans with the former prolific hurdle winner showing a real aptitude for the bigger obstacles to date.

I Am Maximus is back at the scene of his Irish Grand National success last Easter, but Burrows Saint couldn’t pull off the double in 2019 and he looked a classier type.

Gavin Cromwell holds a strong hand and his Letsbeclearaboutit has looked a natural over fences to date at both Cork and Gowran.

Marine Nationale trod a well-worn path by using the Royal Bond as a springboard to Supreme success at Cheltenham last season.

Gordon Elliott has three chances on this occasion including Farren Glory. Willie Mullins runs a pair with decent ratings although it will be something of an anticlimax if either of them proves good enough to win. If there’s a real top-notcher among them, it could be the course winner, An Tobar.

Sunday’s other big-money pot is a €100,000 handicap hurdle where Foxy Girl might emerge on top while Petit Secret, a half-brother to Analifet, looks one to note in the bumper.

Should Saturday get a green light, one man keeping a close eye on the finale will be Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary. His Jalon D’oudairies cost almost €550,000 after winning a point to point in March.

Earlier, there will be plenty interest in Read To Return’s appearance in an otherwise ordinary handicap hurdle given his last race over fences at Cheltenham resulted in his amateur jockey Billy Coonan getting a 20-day ‘Non Trier’ ban for “too sympathetic” a ride.

Tony Martin looks to take advantage of a lower hurdles mark of 98 with Philip Enright in the saddle.

Although Friday’s Newbury action went ahead there’s some uncertainty about Saturday’s Coral Gold Cup fixture passing a 7.30 morning inspection. Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth programme was called off early due to freezing conditions on Friday.

Connections of a trio of Irish hopefuls in Newbury’s feature will be anxious racing goes ahead although temperatures are forecast to dip dramatically overnight.

The sole Irish-trained winner since 1980 of a race formerly known as the Hennessy was Total Recall in 2017. It’s a statistic John McConnell hopes to break with Mahler Mission.

“The Irish don’t have a great record in the race, I don’t know if there’s a particular reason, but hopefully we can change that. It’s one of the iconic races I’ve grown up watching and to have a runner in it is great, to think about winning it is just unreal,” said the Co Meath-based trainer.

Gavin Cromwell’s Stumptown and Max Flamingo from Francis Casey’s yard also make the journey to Newbury for a race due to begin at 2.50.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column