Classy Shaneshill won't perish on this 'Rock'
The second running of the Lawlor's Hotel Novices' Hurdle as a Grade One is the main event at Naas tomorrow, but the preceding novices' chase could prove a more intriguing contest.
Bellshill will be long odds-on to give Willie Mullins his fifth win since 2009 in the recently promoted €90,000 hurdle.
He faces just four rivals, including his stablemate Stone Hard, which is a fair prospect in his own right but not nearly as far down the line in terms of development or achievements.
Tony Martin's smart Navan winner Anibale Fly and Alan Fleming's facile Punchestown scorer Marakoush clearly have potential. However, Bellshill is a far superior proposition at this moment in time.
Second in Aintree's Champion Bumper in the spring, he won the Grade One equivalent at Punchestown in style. The King's Theatre gelding then danced up on his hurdle bow over this two-and-a-half-mile trip at Cork in November, before destroying Tycoon Prince in a Navan Grade Two.
Ante-post favourite for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Bellshill simply loves a slog.
With that in mind, and given the manner in which his calibre has been established, it is practically impossible to make a case against Ruby Walsh's mount here.
The same omnipotent partnership might also plunder the novices' chase with Shaneshill. However, there is a rival of real note here in Edward O'Grady's JP McManus-owned Kitten Rock.
Successful in his first four outings last term prior to finishing a commendable sixth in the Champion Hurdle, Kitten Rock looked the part when he beat Sizing Titanium on his fencing debut at Navan. He is another that loves soft ground and clearly is an exciting prospect at just six years of age.
Again, though, there is a sense that Shaneshill might be more the finished article.
Runner-up in the 2014 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham before impressing at Punchestown the following month, he is another of King's Theatre's esteemed offspring that filled the runner-up berth behind the mighty Douvan in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle prior to winning at Fairyhouse.
On his fencing debut at Thurles in November, he toyed with Walk To Freedom, which has since won easily at Navan.
Like Kitten Rock, Sizing Codelco is another in this with scope to do better. That doesn't mean either will ultimately land a blow on Shaneshill, but it will at least be interesting to see how the contest unfolds.
Mullins and Walsh should also take the opening mares' beginners' chase with the classy Uranna.
Fairly Legal gets the nod in the maiden hurdle. This is a pretty decent affair, with Henry De Bromhead's Hurry Henry maybe the selection's most potent threat on the back of its nine-length second to Bellshill at Cork.
Fairly Legal also made its track bow for Robert Tyner at the Mallow venue in November.
The 2014 Dromahane point-to-point winner travelled like a good horse and jumped well for the most part, keeping on gamely to be third to Okotoks.
It was a fantastic introduction, so he is fancied to build on it here under Barry Geraghty.
Tyner also has a chance with the Vicangelome in the handicap hurdle, while the Eric McNamara-trained Irish Bulletin might secure an overdue success in the handicap chase. Mark Walsh's mount has fallen in the ratings and goes well in the mud.