Cooper primed to crank up his title push at Ballinrobe
Bryan Cooper narrowly failed to reduce the deficit in his quest to put it up to Ruby Walsh in the jockeys' championship yesterday - when second aboard Siberian Vixen in Limerick's opener - but he could well be a couple closer after Ballinrobe's first card of the year.
Walsh's misfortune has handed the Gold Cup-winning rider a superb opportunity to have a rattle at securing a first championship, notwithstanding that the reigning 10-time title-holder might yet be back for Punchestown.
However, even if Walsh does return in time for the season finale in Kildare, Cooper will have every chance of at least keeping him honest, provided he can make decent inroads in the meantime.
Despite a determined effort on Siberian Vixen which lost out by a neck to Plain Talking, the gap still stands at 10. Cooper has two booked mounts at the Co Mayo venue this evening.
If both score, he will be within six of his first century, and they are expected to oblige. He will partner Blessed King in the two-mile-five-furlong Costello & McDermott Maiden Hurdle for Gordon Elliott. In truth, this is a poor race, but Blessed King has shown more than any of its six rivals.
In seven point-to-point, bumper and hurdle starts, Blessed King has been placed five times. His last run was at Gowran Park in March, when he kept on well to be third to Capture The Drama, with subsequent winner Alamein behind him in fourth.
It is a modest level of form, but it is better than anything else on offer, so Blessed King ought to justify likely short odds.
The Kerry native also teams up with Elliott for Le Grand Chene in the P & D Lydon Handicap Chase. This is a more competitive affair, with recent Limerick winner Wildcatted among the opposition, along with the consistent trio Coolnagorna Giggs, De Benno and Fergiethelegend. Having had 39 chasing starts, Le Grand Chene is exposed, but he has been operating at a decent level since joining Elliott last year.
In three 2016 outings, he has won and been second at Downpatrick, and he was second to Change The Rules at Fairyhouse last time.
He is a pound higher again now, but, given the heavy ground, he appeals off a light weight under Cooper.
In the €20,000 Monroe's Live Novices' Chase, Captain Hox is fancied to collect for Dublin-based Paddy and James Griffin, whose Maggio provided them with such a memorable triumph at Aintree on Saturday.
JP McManus's Vent De La Cote might be a danger, but Captain Hox has gone under the radar a little, having done most of his recent running in Britain. He won a non-event at Ayr in February, and ran well in defeat when second to fair sorts either side of that.
On his most recent start at Carlisle, he failed to get home over two-and-a-half miles. Captain Hox reverts to two here under decent seven-pound claimer Anthony Fox, whose twin Ger enjoyed a famous Irish Grand National success aboard Rogue Angel.
At Dundalk, the Johnny Feane-trained Zilbiyr warrants the nap vote in the 10-furlong maiden. Gary Carroll's mount ran nicely to be second here over a mile last time, and this longer trip looks ideal.