THE quality on offer in Listowel cranks up a notch today, and that is highlighted by a wide-open edition of the €45,000 Lartigue Hurdle.
Willie Mullins' game Galway winner Call Me Bubbles tops the weights in the four-year-olds' handicap, with Foot Soldier and Hurricane Jojo – first and second at Ballinrobe a month ago – in at the bottom of the page.
Call Me Bubbles also won at the Mayo track en route to Galway, and he is sure to be thereabouts again off an eight-pound higher mark.
Of the 13 runners, though, Bayan appeals as the most likely winner. Trained by Gordon Elliott (right), he was a winner at Cork on heavy going in March and then scored on the level at Dundalk, before finishing the guts of 12 lengths behind Call Me Bubbles at Ballinrobe.
Since then, he has won a pair of novice hurdles at Perth, either side of running Curley Bill to a head in deep ground at Galway. He is progressing well, and the fact that he is a stone better off with Call Me Bubbles now ought to give him a real chance of scoring for Davy Condon.
Ruby Walsh is sure to figure aboard Tony Martin's dual bumper winner Lagan Canal in the concluding Kerry Petroleum Maiden Hurdle. Eoin Doyle's Mutiska is one of a number of others to consider in the 18-strong field, but preference is for the consistent Donatis Comet. Pat Martin's seven-year-old, a triple bumper winner in 2011 before landing a Clonmel Flat maiden last year, has finished second in each of his three hurdle starts to date. At Galway last week, he looked as though he would collect until Run For Firth battled back gamely.
While some might suggest that his decreasing win ratio is a concern, he didn't really seem to do much wrong at Ballybrit. Run For Firth is no slouch and got the run of the race at Ballybrit, so Donatis Comet warrants the nap vote to frank the form under Barry Geraghty.
Seven runners are due to go to post for the John F Maguire Novice Chase, and a case could be made for the four recent winners – Ancient Days, Rockshandy, Sizing Symphony and Shanpallas. All of the quartet are ground dependent to varying degrees, maybe none more so than Sizing Symphony, which returned from a lay-off with a fine win at Tipperary in July.
Henry de Bromhead will doubtless be anxious that the conditions don't deteriorate markedly. However, if the ground holds up, Sizing Symphony is surely the one to beat, as Andre Lynch's mount really looked the part when completing a treble over flights at Cheltenham back in October 2011.
On the Flat, Cheval Rouge catches the eye for Harry Rogers and Pat Smullen in the mile fillies' handicap. Danny O'Sullivan's improving three-year-old Lake Louise is another to consider, but Cheval Rouge finished second in this last year and loves juice in the ground. Up just six pounds on her mark from 12 months ago following a triumph at Sligo in August, she could have a big say again now.
* Robert Thornton gets back to business after six months on the sidelines when he partners Letsby Avenue at Stratford today. Thornton has been out of action since breaking his right arm in a fall on Our Phylli Vera in a two-mile handicap hurdle at Southwell on March 4.