Go Native can spring Meade into the big time
Ten years after Noel Meade broke his Cheltenham Festival duck, the Co Meath trainer stands on the verge of closing out a coup that would land connections in excess of £1m.
Should Go Native oblige in today's Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, however, victory will amount to far more than anything quantifiable in pounds sterling.
For all his seven Irish trainers' titles and three brilliant novice hurdle winners at Cheltenham, Meade still craves the recognition that only success in one of the game's marquee events can deliver. The inscrutable Harchibald came agonisingly close five years ago in a Champion Hurdle that will long live in the memory, while Harbour Pilot filled the third spot behind Best Mate in the two previous Gold Cups.
Neither horse ever had the glorious chance that Go Native is presented with today. Last year's Supreme Novices' winner will tackle 11 opponents in his quest to secure the £1m bonus dangled by the betting exchange WBX for any horse that lands the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles en route to sealing the deal here.
Charles Byrnes' Solwhit leads the opposition after overcoming a bout of coughing. Having drifted to fancy prices, the cynics will have a field day if Davy Russell's mount completes his remarkable recovery by winning hurdling's crown jewel just a week after his handler stated that Solwhit was doubtful to make the race.
The remainder inspire little confidence in light of the way trials have panned out in recent months, though Khyber Kim is fancied for a place. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge has undergone an incredible turnaround this season, he could still be on the up, and few will be better served by the fast pace.
That said, Go Native will also thrive off a proper gallop, and he can now embellish Meade's CV with a suitably high-profile triumph. On ground that is guaranteed to suit, he has the strongest credentials on both form and profile coming into the race, regardless of the question mark surrounding Solwhit's well-being.
With stamina Solwhit's forte, Russell will have to commit early, which is expected to leave him vulnerable to Go Native's finishing kick. Like Meade, Paul Carberry also awaits a career-defining victory such as this. No better man to deliver the goods.
On a day when Irish-trained challengers are very much to the fore, Voler La Vedette, the only horse to defeat Go Native this season, is also strongly fancied in the David Nicholson Mares' Race. Colm Murphy, who is in search of his third festival winner, brings his six-year-old here on the back of four successive wins.
Based on previous form, Willie Mullins' Quevega is Voler La Vedette's chief threat, but that one suffered two defeats subsequent to her rout here 12 months ago and hasn't run since. If Voler La Vedette is at the top of her game, she should collect.
The Irish Independent Arkle Chase is also expected to throw up an away result. Two years after running out a brilliant winner of this afternoon's opener, Captain Cee Bee returns to the scene of his greatest triumph, but his fencing hasn't entirely convinced and such deficiencies are invariably found out here.
At around 5/1, Sizing Europe is the one to side with. Granted, he may have been beaten had Captain Cee Bee not fallen last time, but Henry De Bromhead's horse looked below par from the start on that occasion.
Ultimately, Sizing Europe still came away with the result, maintaining a 100pc record over fences in the process. He will have been freshened up for this, and is taken to once again remind us of the horse that pulverised a high-class field in the 2008 Irish Champion Hurdle.
Of the remainder, Riverside Theatre and Somersby are two serious operators. Should Captain Cee Bee's jumping prove his undoing, both are well capable of pushing the selection to the limit.
In the opener, Dunguib is fancied to land at skimpy odds, and the only hope is that he can be backed at even money before the off.
Get Me Out Of Here, which had Oldrik -- runner-up to handicap snip Qaspal at Sandown on Saturday -- behind in fifth when successful at Newbury last month, should give him something to think about.
Blackstairmountain is also fancied for the place market. Ruby Walsh's mount lacks experience, but not quality.
1.30 -- Dunguib
2.05 -- Sizing Europe
2.40 -- The Package
3.20 -- Go Native
4.0 -- Preists Leap
4.40 -- Voler La Vedette (Nap)