Grand National Hurdle Stakes (Grade 1) (9.05)
THIS time last year few outside his own stable had heard of Hewick but the seven-year-old has hit the headlines with wins in the bet365 Gold Cup and the Galway Plate which have seen him rise to the level of a possible Gold Cup contender and to a 167 rating.
The two miles and five furlongs over hurdles here presents a different task and it remains to be seen if he has the speed to stay ahead of the home team.
Of the Americans, Snap Decision was the dominant jumps horse two season ago but gave way to The Mean Queen last season. He still won the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap in August where he carried top-weight of 11st 10lbs, giving some of his rivals 20lbs and with Belfast Banter and Song For Someone well behind. He had also beaten Pistol Whipped by over seven lengths in the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle Stakes in May.
He was then surprisingly well beaten by Noah And The Ark last time in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct.
He’s never finished worse than second in 17 starts over hurdles. He’s versatile and can sit close or he can settle and make a later challenge and Graham Watters should be alert to the visitors tactics.
Global Citizen could be a right fit for this race. A classy hurdler, he returned to form to win the Grand Annual at Cheltenham in March. He was reported to have lost his confidence when pulled up last time out after a mistake in May at Worcester. It would be a big pay day for Mullingar-born Kielan Woods in the saddle.
Danny Mullins rides Ask Paddington for last year’s winning trainer Keri Brion and if improving on his third in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct on his first US start where he did not jump well, he should have a major say here.
A win for Hewick and connections would be terrific but over this distance, a top form Snap Decision might have too many guns.
WHILE Shark Hanlon grabs all the headlines, Gordon Elliott has hit the jackpot at this meeting in the past with Jury Duty and has good prospects on the rest of the card.
Ted Hastings is on a four-timer and must have a great chance in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle over two and a half miles.
Soviet Pimpernel should also go close in the six runner Appleton Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs. Keri Brion again runs the danger in Theocrat.
Elliott runs The Insider in the two-mile–one-furlong Gladstone Hurdle for three-year-olds. Keri Brion runs the Leopardstown Christmas winner Howyabud and Baltimore Kid.
JESSICA Harrington sends the three-year-old filly Paris Peacock to chase a hat-trick of wins in the $600,000 Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Presented by Dixiana (Sky 10.14pm).
Last time out she won the Grade 3 Denny Cordell Lavarack & Lanwades Stud Fillies & Mares Stakes. Confined to three-year-old fillies, it’s a great opportunity to gain Grade 1 blacktype with only seven runners. Florent Geroux take the ride from stall seven.
Favourite is Klaravich Stables’ McKulick, winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational this summer and most recently winner of the Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational.
The Frankel filly is one of two trained by Chad Brown, who has won this race four times including 2021 with Shantisara. Never worse than third in seven career starts, McKulick will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., who won three stakes victories at this track last Saturday.
Brown’s other runner is Peter Brant’s Gina Romantica. Runner-up in a Grade 3 in her most recent start, she won her grass debut in the Listed Riskaverse Stakes in her previous race. Flavien Prat has the mount.
The Brendan Walsh-trained New Year’s Eve also should be involved in the finish as she is a Grade 2 winner earlier at Churchill Downs though she was behind McKulick at Saratoga.
The Irish-bred Bellabel, a daughter of Belardo also has decent graded on the west coast.