Conditions just perfect for Twinlight's attempt at Fortria double
As Willie Mullins gradually unleashes his elite winter battalion, Twinlight will tomorrow strive to secure back-to-back editions of Navan's Fortria Chase.
Not unusually, the field for the €42,500 Grade Two is more about quality than quantity. Just six horses contest the two-miler, but joining last year's winner is Flemenstar, which won the two previous editions. At 10 years of age, he will be looking to complete his hat-trick for a third different trainer, with Anthony Curran, son of the former star's owner Stephen, following in the footsteps of Peter Casey and Tony Martin.
Brian Hayes takes over from the retired Andrew McNamara on Hidden Cyclone. John 'Shark' Hanlon's stalwart is always a force in these races, likewise Henry De Bromhead's duo, Special Tiara and Days Hotel.
Special Tiara, which won its second Grade One at Sandown in the spring, has to concede weight to all bar Twinlight. That might prove beyond him in the conditions, with the soft ground sure to suit Twinlight.
Mullins's eight-year-old danced up from Days Hotel on his seasonal bow last year. He would then go on to beat Hidden Cyclone and Bright New Dawn - which also re-opposes here - to secure his first Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Twinlight added the Normans Grove to his haul at Fairyhouse in April, before struggling on better ground at Punchestown. All told, he appeals as the most likely winner of this under Ruby Walsh, albeit he might not have it as easy as last year.
Arguably, the return of Mullins's Arctic Fire is the most fascinating strand to the Navan card. A revelation in defeat last term, he was placed in each of his six completed starts, five of which came in Grade Ones behind marquee names like Hurricane Fly and Faugheen.
He might also have won the Aintree Hurdle but for crashing at the last flight. Arctic Fire now has a second stab at that two-and-a-half-mile trip in the Lismullen Hurdle.
On form and ratings, he should win, but he wasn't at his best on his first run last term. Over this trip on slow ground, then, he might be worth opposing, and Monksland could be the one to foil him.
Noel Meade's charge has a fine record when fresh. On his return from a lay-off last term, he was an excellent third in the Hatton's Grace, before getting chinned by Dedigout at Gowran Park. Come Cheltenham, he simply misfired on decent ground. Here, though, he will relish conditions, so he is fancied to give Sean Flanagan a deserved big-race victory.
In the Grade Three For Auction Novices' Hurdle, it will be interesting to see how Mullins's Galway winner Thomas Hobson fares. If he improves for that flawed performance, he will surely figure prominently.
Still, he faces a potentially formidable foe here in Tycoon Prince. Gordon Elliott's five-year-old has won three bumpers and a hurdle, absolutely skating up on his recent jumping bow at Punchestown. An above-average prospect, he gets the nod to confirm that impression and justify the nap vote for Bryan Cooper.
Edward O'Grady's JP McManus-owned Kitten Rock is an exciting first-timer in the beginners' chase, while at Limerick Karl Thornton's in-form stable can strike with Round Tower in the third maiden.
Ger Fox's mount fell early last time but has shown plenty promise in a couple of other hurdle starts.