Connell aims his Tank at Royal Bond target
A week after Sean O'Brien highlighted the importance of a winning mentality in the aftermath of his valiant efforts for Ireland against the All Blacks, The Tullow Tank -- the horse named in his honour -- will attempt to justify its connections' faith at Fairyhouse.
O'Brien's mantra that he and his international team-mates must start "believing in ourselves" may be catching on, as Philip Fenton has succeeded in persuading Barry Connell to part with the €7,500 required to supplement The Tullow Tank for Sunday's Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
In truth, though, Connell won't have needed much convincing, as the manner of his five-year-old's Naas maiden hurdle victory this month surely did that. Sunday's mouth-watering triple Grade One spread is synonymous with identifying the most precocious of emerging talent.
At Naas, The Tullow Tank extricated himself from what looked a hopeless position approaching the last hurdle under Danny Mullins before scoring in some style. Having demolished Real Steel, Timesremembered, Carriganog and Lagan Canal in what proved to be a high-class bumper at Fairyhouse last March, he is clearly a horse of enormous potential.
Connell was one of the first to recognise as much, purchasing him off O'Brien and co-owner Paul Duffin after he finished second in a Lemonfield point-to-point in March 2012. Nearly a year later, on his second start over flights, The Tullow Tank was pitched into Grade Two company at Naas.
Beaten 22 lengths, he finished fifth of six, but that was no mean feat for a maiden given the quality of the four that finished in front of him, namely Annie Power, Defy Logic, Don Cossack and Moscow Mannon, between them the winners of 20 races.
He has a hugely progressive profile, so the opportunity to deliver the rejuvenated Fenton a second triumph in Sunday's €75,000 contest following Dunguib's 2009 rout is entirely warranted.
Standing in his way could be a raft of similarly upwardly mobile individuals. The all-conquering Willie Mullins, whose dual champion hurdler Hurricane Fly provided him with the first of three wins in the two-miler in the last five years, will choose from Alonso, Arctic Fire and Renneti.
JP McManus' smart Eddie Harty-trained Minella Foru is entered, as is his narrow For Auction victim Very Wood, Noel Meade's four-year-old being one of two potential Gigginstown House starters, the other being Dessie Hughes' Somethingwonderful.
Stuart Crawford's classy Beneficial mare Gilt Shadow and Jessica Harrington's Hawk Wing filly Gambling Girl, both impressive at Down Royal on their latest starts, complete the field.
Of course, 12 months ago Harrington's Jezki denied Champagne Fever in a thrilling climax to a vintage edition of the Royal Bond and he has been made evens favourite by Paddy Power to secure a fourth Grade One success in Sunday's Hatton's Grace Hurdle.
A maximum of seven will line out in the €80,000 two-and-a-half-miler, with Mouse Morris' Rule The World next best at 7/2, while fellow Gigginstown-owned Dedigout is 6/1 after being supplemented by Tony Martin.
Last year's winner Zaidpour and Diakali are Mullins' entries in that, though the champion trainer has nothing left in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack, second to Morning Assembly at Punchestown last time, has a share of the 2/1 market lead in that with Henry de Bromhead's hat-trick-seeking Sizing Rio. John Kiely's Galway Plate hero Carlingford Lough, also a veteran of other top-class handicaps like the Leopardstown Chase and the Irish and Kerry Nationals, could drop back to novice company for the Grade One.
Dessie Hughes' exciting Art Of Logistics, flawless in both his starts over fences to date, is also among the eight Drinmore entries.
Meanwhile, Nicky Henderson has hinted that Sprinter Sacre -- due to make his seasonal return in the Tingle Creek on Saturday week -- won't be rounding off this season with another trip to Punchestown.
"People have been saying what I've got to do for him to be a great chaser, but we've got a perfectly good programme for him," said the trainer.
"We could go to Aintree, but do we go to Punchestown again? It was fantastic, but I imagine there'll be a bidding war between Sandown and Punchestown. Sandown is a Grade One now, with lots of prize-money and we did go to Ireland last year."