Raiders ponder Festival options
Irish trainers continue to keep their options open ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, with most of our leading prospects for the meeting's primary novice events left in more than one race at the latest forfeit stage.
However, the curtain-raising William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle, which saw 61 horses stand their ground, is a contest that has a more defined complexion.
Dermot Weld's Galileo's Choice and Jessica Harrington's Steps To Freedom, currently vying for favouritism at around 8/1 for the two-mile Grade One on March 13, do not have multiple entries, nor do the popular Gigginstown Stud-owned pair Trifolium (14/1) and Midnight Game (10/1).
Make Your Mark, like Midnight Game a Gigginstown representative trained by Willie Mullins, has been left in the Supreme, as well as the two longer editions, the Neptune Investment Management and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdles.
The Noel Meade-trained Monksland, unbeaten in its last three starts, including a comfortable defeat of Lyreen Legend in the Slaney Hurdle at Naas last time, could run in either the Supreme or the Neptune, which is over five furlongs further than the Festival opener.
Mullins' Boston Bob, likewise unbeaten over flights after a two-length defeat of Lyreen Legend at Leopardstown at the end of January, is a best-priced 6/1 for the Neptune, but trades a point shorter for the three-mile Albert Bartlett.
Mount Benbulben, second to Boston Bob in a Navan Grade One before Christmas, also has the option of the two longer races, though his handler Gordon Elliott has indicated that he is likely to tackle the three-miler and he is as short as 7/1 second favourite for that.
Ahead of Minsk's jumping bow for Dessie Hughes at Fairyhouse on Saturday, the Irish Cesarewitch winner features among an entry of 66 for the JCB Triumph, the only other Grade One novice hurdle at the four-day gala.
A general 6/1 favourite for the four-year-old championship event, he could be joined by Weld's recent top-level scorer Hisaabaat, with Elliott's Shadow Catcher, second to Hisaabaat at Leopardstown recently, also engaged.
Over fences, Bog Warrior has been left in both of the Grade One novices -- the Arkle and the RSA -- as well as the Grade Two Jewson.
Having fallen at Leopardstown over Christmas, Tony Martin's exciting son of Strategic Choice enjoyed a morale-boosting victory at Naas recently, though Martin has yet to commit his mud-lover to running at Prestbury Park, and the fact that watering was due to commence there yesterday may not encourage him to travel.
Fellow Gigginstown representative Sir Des Champs is also in all three races, as is his Willie Mullins stablemate Call The Police.
That one finished second to Last Instalment in the Dr PJ Moriarty earlier this month and Philip Fenton's immensely talented victor was the highest-profile absentee from yesterday's publications, having been ruled out for the season with jarred tendons just days after his second Leopardstown Grade One success.
First Lieutenant, a top-priced 7/1 to carry Michael O'Leary's ubiquitous maroon and white Gigginstown silks to victory at the meeting for a second year in a row in the RSA, has also been left in the Jewson, for which Sir Des Champs is currently as low as 5/1 market leader.