Orders worth following for cross-country repeat
The Irish challenge on day one of Cheltenham's two-legged December fixture is concentrated solely on the cross-country race.
Tomorrow's card should promise more in terms of quality. In the featured Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, Willie Mullins will reintroduce Mozoltov for a first time in over a year, while Noel Meade relies on Texas Jack, which will be ridden by Barry Geraghty.
With the first three from the Paddy Power Gold Cup, Annacotty, Buywise and Sound Investment, all declared again for the £100,000 handicap, it promises to be a cracking contest.
Mullins is also expected to declare Sempre Medici alongside the likes of Top Notch and Old Guard for what should be an informative edition of the International Hurdle.
Today, nine of the 14 runners in the three-mile-six-furlong cross-country race hail from these shores, with Mullins's dual course winner Uncle Junior, last month's victor Josies Orders and the March Festival hero Rivage D'Or all among the travelling delegation.
The insatiable champion trainer will also saddle the 2014 Gold Cup runner-up On His Own, while the presence of last year's Martin Keighley-trained winner Any Currency, which split Josies Orders and Bless The Wings here a month ago, lends further intrigue to the novelty event.
Based on the November contest, Any Currency is well in at the weights. Going by the manner of Bless The Wings' triumph for Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy at Fairyhouse, he might have finally found his niche over extreme distances.
However, it is hard to get away from Josies Orders, and not just because he is trained by the banks king Enda Bolger, albeit that adds to his appeal. Since joining Bolger's renowned Bruree, Co Limerick yard from Jonjo O'Neill, the JP McManus-owned Milan gelding has looked deeply progressive at this job.
First time up at Punchestown in the spring, he unshipped Derek O'Connor two-out when running well. Two days later, he made amends with a stylish win for Nina Carberry.
This term, he built on that by fending off Any Currency and Bless The Wings here last month. That was a fine performance that saw Carberry at her nuanced best on this intricate circuit.
Most importantly, at just seven years of age, Josies Orders has the scope to keep developing at this job. In total, he has run just eight times over fences, so he remains unexposed enough to rise to the challenge again for Carberry today.
O'Neill can get among the winners at his local venue with Minella Rocco and Monbeg Gold. Two horses that started out with precocious point-to-point displays here, Minella Rocco and Monbeg Gold, are in different places now.
Despite two victories over flights last term, Minella Rocco was disappointing on his Haydock fencing bow over an extended two-and-a-half miles, fading behind Silsol.
Given his towering reputation, it was a tame turn that raises a slight question about his constitution.
However, the likelihood is that Minella Rocco is simply a staying chaser that is still maturing, so he can make amends now that he steps up to three miles. Monbeg Gold, in contrast, initially took a few runs for O'Neill to find his feet.
He has since twice won tidily at Exeter and, while today's handicap hurdle is a step up again, there is a very real chance that he is good value for a mark of 130.
Jason Maguire, meanwhile, has admitted that there is still some uncertainty about whether he will be able to race ride again. The Co Meath-born Grand National-winning jockey slipped discs when he got a fall at Musselburgh in February.
"It has dragged on and in February it will be a year," Maguire said. "It's a decision I'm going to have to make soon, I suppose, one way or another. I am riding out. I'm 100pc up for trying to get back riding but it's not 110pc.
"I'm still getting problems in my right leg, and it's to do with my back. My sciatic nerve gets trapped and makes my right leg go dead. It's just something that's been niggling for a while and that's been the hold-up and I need to get it sorted."