Follow The Plan, a brilliant triple Grade One winner for his Rathcoole handler Oliver McKiernan, tops the weights today in a high-quality edition of the Galway Plate that boasts a 22-strong field of rare depth.
A shock victor of the Betfred Bowl at Aintree before chasing home China Rock in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Tom Doyle's 160-rated mount is joined in the stellar line-up by the winners of four other top-level races. Blackstairmountain -- which continues to shade the market lead for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh -- Muirhead and Shot From The Hip are the others to have enjoyed success in the highest echelon.
Finger Onthe Pulse, triumphant in the €200,000 www.thetote.com-sponsored showpiece handicap for Tom Taaffe, JP McManus and AP McCoy in 2010, also takes his chance in a contest that lacks a single British runner. This time, however, the perennial champion jockey will get the leg-up on last year's John Kiely-trained runner-up Wise Old Owl.
On its first start since going down to Mullins' Blazing Tempo in a thrilling duel 12 months ago, Wise Old Owl will need to leave behind a slightly dubious record of three second place finishes in three previous efforts around Ballybrit's unique circuit. Likewise, Out Now has a question to answer after tamely succumbing to Lion Na Bearnai when victory seemed imminent in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.
Given the marathon trip traversed there, Edward O'Grady's otherwise progressive eight-year-old might be happier over this evening's two-mile-six-furlong journey, and he is one that won't be too inconvenienced by the considerable rainfall that hit the track yesterday. Equally significant is Barry Geraghty's booking on Out Now.
The accomplished Meathman has yet to win the most cherished steeplechasing prize of the summer jumps campaign, and he will endeavour to do so here on an empty stomach, with his mount's allotted weight of 10st 2lb a target that he has not met for quite some time. If hunger counts for anything, then maybe this will be his day.
3.0 Tote Pick Six Maiden Hurdle 2m
Gold Ability, Moiqen and Too Scoops should all have what's required to win a race like this at some stage, with Too Scoops, second to Maxim Gorky on his hurdling bow at Gowran Park last time, possibly the pick of that trio today.
Leopardstown bumper winner Ted Veale, representing Tony Martin and Ruby Walsh, competed in a better class of race through the winter. He reappeared with a fine second on the Flat at Killarney and sets the standard in this.
Verdict: Hurdling debutant Ted Veale might be a class apart in this company.
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Five recent winners feature in this, with Monday's ready scorer Kalellshan lining out under a 6lb penalty. He has now won his last three starts over hurdles here.
Cork scorer Our Girl Lucy was held at Killarney, but had the subsequent Ballinrobe winner Two In A Row behind there. First-time handicapper Ballyhoura is another to consider.
Verdict: Kalellshan's effectiveness on this course is paramount.
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Of the four to win last time, Baresi appeals most. He has come on massively this year, winning two on the spin and might not be done with yet off a 13lb higher mark than last time.
Dunroe Boy has been thriving and is up just 4lb following a third hurdling win since May. He and Roving Lad are two light-weights with live chances.
Verdict: Baresi is marginally preferred to Dunroe Boy.
4.45 Bet 10, get 10 at the Tote Marquee Qualified Riders' Maiden 1m 4f
Three Kingdoms should have a big say in first-time blinkers. Fourth to Regulation at the Curragh, he has the assistance of the excellent Jane Mangan.
Fatcatinthehat sets a solid benchmark. Placed four times in five starts at two, he was conceding weight to Backbench Blues and Coolnagree, which have franked the form in style since, when third in a Leopardstown nursery on his last run in November. Caliente and Circle are two others that have shown definite potential already.
Verdict: Three Kingdoms should build on its respectable debut.
5.25 www.thetote.com Galway Plate Handicap Chase 2m 6f
Follow The Plan concedes weight but is a classy animal that won't mind a cut in the ground. Blackstairmountain, an easy Flat scorer here in 2009 and even more impressive on his first run on the level since then at Bellewstown, is another that has won at the top level and will cope with soft going, though he might prefer it better.
Finger Onthe Pulse looks past his best, while the opposite may be true of last year's second Wise Old Owl. AP McCoy's chosen mount is 10lb higher on his first outing since then, having failed to see it out after hitting the front turning in last year.
Dermot Weld's Daffern Seal, successful in a beginners' chase here in 2011, is also unexposed, as is the novice Carlito Brigante. Shot From The Hip and Out Now are the pick of Edward O'Grady's four, with Out Now having confirmed his potential when second in the Irish National. A relative lack of stamina might have been his downfall there.
Verdict: Out Now gets in off a low weight and is progressive.
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Diplomat is going to be of interest here for the Weld stable, but breaking from stall 12 is a negative for an otherwise appealing and unexposed three-year-old. With the ground turning, recent dual all-weather winner Go On Murt may be discommoded.
Kendleston is a rock-solid performer that is on the up and doesn't mind plenty give.
Our Conor, a winner of two of his first three starts, was conceding a stone to the subsequent dual winner Sure Reef when just a short head behind that one last time. Ronan Whelan's 5lb claim only adds to the appeal.
Verdict: Our Conor appeals under a bang in-form claimer.
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If Moonbi Creek makes a quick reappearance, he will have a mountain to climb under a huge weight from the worst possible draw. Toufan Express, a winner here in 2010, is running brilliantly and handles the soft.
Xsquared, Eighteen Summers and Curl Cat are others of note. Curl Cat has made the frame in his last four starts on the Flat and has tumbled down the handicap.
Verdict: Curl Cat is consistent and has a favourable draw.
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Curia Regis, sporting first-time headgear, has shown modest form, while Ballydoyle's Exact looked limited when eighth on his Navan debut back in April.
Tandem, which had the Leopardstown winner Unanimous behind when second to Loreto at Naas three weeks ago, is going to take all the beating for the Weld-Smullen partnership.
Verdict: Tandem can justify short odds in similar conditions to when he ran at Naas.