Byrnes' Solwhit worthy of hype
Full-scale dress rehearsals for both the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham could entice a fair share of habitual armchair punters to Leopardstown tomorrow.
Racing enthusiasts Martin O'Sullivan (Toshiba) and local solicitor Frank Ward, who has taken over the Arkle Cup, as well as Douglas Taylor of MCR Group, have been rewarded with quality runners in this weekend's features. Proper trials for these coveted festival championships are scarce enough and, despite title-holder Punjabi seeking a bloodless victory today at Haydock instead, the Toshiba Champion Hurdle (2.45) should be quite informative.
Foiled by a neck for the hurdling crown last March, Celestial Halo makes an overdue Irish debut in the hurdle showdown, for which his Aintree conqueror Solwhit has been all the rage in the ante-post wagering.
Multiple winner Donnas Palm steps up in grade for Noel Meade's yard as the Hennessy family's 2007 Cheltenham victor Sublimity attempts to reverse last month's course-and-distance placings with Solwhit, trained by Charlie Byrnes.
Earlier (1.45), the gloves come off for the up-and-coming young speedsters over fences as Celestial Halo's stable companion Take The Breeze throws down the gauntlet to the likes of Sports Line, Zaarito and Major Finnegan. Only the other leading Irish contenders Sizing Europe and Captain Cee Bee are absent tomorrow as the countdown to the Irish Independent promotion in the Cotswolds intensifies with Take The Breeze right in the spotlight too.
No stranger to Grade One success both here and at Punchestown, Paul Nicholls will be on hand to watch habitual trail-blazer Celestial Halo presumably injecting plenty of urgency into the Toshiba promotion after mudlark Take The Breeze has attempted to extend his winning sequence over fences.
Not short of the requisite stamina, in addition to a rare charge of gear that's served him so well during the past 12 months, Solwhit can be relied upon to make it a baptism of fire in this country for Celestial Halo.
A relentless galloper, the Nicholls contender failed to cope with the late thrust of Khyber Kim in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham and likewise Ruby Walsh's mount could be a sitting duck for Solwhit tomorrow.
It's almost guaranteed that the Toshiba spoils will not be easily secured despite the ground maybe finding out Sublimity and the suspicion that Donnas Palm is not of the same calibre as stablemate Go Native.
This final top-flight Irish trial for the Smurfit Kappa championship rarely disappoints and those holding ante-post vouchers on Solwhit would take additional comfort here from a victory over Celestial Halo and Sublimity.
Walsh's decision to align himself with Sports Line in the Arkle warm-up rather than the Nicholls-trained Take The Breeze, on which he recorded a wide-margin win at Newbury after Christmas, is intriguing.
The Willie Mullins-trained Norwich gelding, which normally forces the issue, has long been Arkle Trophy material, according to Mullins, and certainly made short work of his Navan opponents when resuming nine weeks ago.
Supported by a back-to-form Zaarito and the free-going Major Finnegan, Sports Line should prove a different proposition for Take The Breeze to cope with in the hands of new pilot Tony McCoy than he encountered at Newbury.
Whatever their fate with Sports Line, the Mullins-Walsh partnership can take the Synergy Novice Hurdle (3.20) with Quel Esprit, which would appear better equipped for the two-and-a-half-miles trip than the penalised Hollo Ladies.
Down at Limerick, the going will be equally demanding and few will care to oppose either course specialist Quiscover Fontaine (Munster Beginners Chase) or Paul Gilligan's Naas winner Sunwake in a poor turnout for the novice hurdle.