'Queen' can defy penalty to score again at Galway
Fahey's in-form mare fancied to plunder spoils
As ever, revellers rolling into Ballybrit tonight for the weekend finale will be welcomed by a trying card.
A year ago, the €100,000 Guinness-sponsored feature went the way of Clondaw Warrior and Jack Kennedy.
Punters were drawn to what was then a recent Royal Ascot hero and its prodigious young rider, and they duly stepped up. This time, 14 runners will vie for the lucrative spoils.
It looks doubtful if there's a springer with similar star potential in amongst them this time. It looks a wide-open and highly competitive renewal, with Peter Fahey's Queen Alphabet and John Joe Walsh's Lady Giselle the only two that arrive on the back of a success.
Both mares would be popular winners of a contest that has been a source of much joy for the bigger stables in recent years, not least because they represent two of the most efficient small-scale operations in the country.
Incredibly, 23 years have passed since Dermot Weld last won the race with the Mick Kinane-ridden Garboni. He relies on the classy Alveena now, as he strives to end a barren run in the daily features at the festival that stretches to back to Northern Rocked's 2013 Ahonoora triumph.
The Curragh legend also has Waaheb in the Galway Blazers Handicap Chase, plus a raft of others with serious chances. Confused punters looking for answers might be best advised to stick with the simplest solution. They won't go too far wrong with Weld.
5.10 Guinness Handicap Hurdle 2m
Gordon Elliott's Automated was a little unlucky in running when last seen over hurdles at Punchestown. He ran on nicely here on the Flat on Tuesday and looks a leading contender.
The form of Heartbreak City's Tipperary win has worked out well, with both of the placed horses winning since. The impression was that Tony Martin's charge won with more authority than a head margin suggested, and a nine-pound penalty might not stop him, bearing in mind that Donagh Meyler takes five pounds off.
Chatham House Rule has been running well over fences and isn't that badly treated, while Prickly and Afatcat are others to consider.
Verdict: Heartbreak City looks the one.
5.45 Guinness 17:59 EBF Maiden 7f
The Joseph O'Brien-trained Epitaph showed a modicum of ability of Bellewstown. It's hard to know how much he can improve, while Hailstone has shown a little bit more in its two starts.
They may be vulnerable to something with a touch of quality, and Ballydoyle's well-bred Wings Of Eagles is potentially smart but it's never easy to win here first time up.
Lost In Silence showed plenty when second to Ellery Lane at Limerick on her bow. Weld's filly is in against the boys now, but could be up to the task.
Verdict: From an admittedly poor draw, Lost In Silence gets the nod to collect.
6.15 Galway Blazers Handicap Chase 2m 6f
A wide-open renewal, with Waaheb switching back to fences after blowing away the cobwebs over flights.
Third to Shantou Flyer at the meeting last year, he is a mixed bag over fences, but his second to Lord Scoundrel here in the autumn reads well now. Francis Flood's Kylestyle was third behind Elegant Statesman and Shantou Flyer last time. He is a decent operator, and won't mind the bit of give underfoot.
Sir Abbot has been knocking on the door, while As De Pique, Pops Well and Kilcrea all bring winning form to the table. On Fiddlers Green just got run out of it by Duckweed at Limerick. He's a progressive chaser for Henry de Bromhead that might be suited by this slight drop in trip.
Verdict: On Fiddlers Green is fancied to keep improving under Davy Russell.
6.50 Guinness Handicap 1m 4f
Queen Alphabet has been a revelation on the Flat. She is on a four-timer under Niall McCullagh here, and carries an effective six-pound penalty for her decisive win at the weekend, although she mightn't want it to get much softer.
Alveena, a winner here in September, sports first-time blinkers. She won well off a mark of 90 at Cork, before running well to be third in Group Two company at the Curragh.Although poorly drawn and burdened with plenty weight, she is a fair stayer.
Jim Bolger's Ringside Humour is another that has been in form. She is drawn better than when a respectable sixth over an inadequate trip on Tuesday, so this is a more suitable test.
Le Vagabond has been in good heart, but would prefer drier ground. Lady Giselle is a pound out of the handicap, and plenty of the others above her have lives as well in a competitive race.
Verdict: It's worth speculating that Queen Alphabet can defy her penalty.
7.25 Guinness Race 1m 6f
Obviously a lot will depend on Quick Jack's participation. He won when turning out similarly quickly at Listowel in 2013, so he can do it. He is the top-rated and would take a bit of beating.
Good Tradition was second to Dark Crusader in this last year. That was a solid turn and he should figure again, although he did disappoint here in the autumn, and his hurdle outings lacked any zest earlier this year.
Willie Mullins's Ivan Grozny is interesting. He is a versatile and much improved hurdler, but didn't get the run of the race on switching to the Flat at Ascot. Zafayan has a bit to find, but Petuna could have a say for Maurice Phelan. She beat Swamp Fox quite tidily at Ballinrobe, and that form reads well now.
Verdict: Good Tradition is napped to atone for last year's near miss.
8.0 Arthur Guinness Handicap 1m
Three Majors has just three pounds more to carry for his narrow Leopardstown win. He wore first-time blinkers then, and should be thereabouts again over this slightly longer trip.
Smiling Emily has been chinned on her last two starts and is overdue some luck, but she is creeping up the ratings at the same time.
Zebgrey disappointed here on Monday, and Emily Square has a visor applied now, after running below expectations when fourth at Killarney.
Kandahari is progressing nicely for John McConnell. She posted a career-best effort to be second to Laws Of Spin at Ballinrobe.
Verdict: This could be a good opportunity for Kandahari to score for Julie Burke.
8.30 Guinness EBF Maiden 1m 4f
Zulu Alpha stayed on to good effect when third to Siamsaiocht and Toccata Blue at Leopardstown. He looked as though this sort of trip would suit, so he sets a fair standard. Triplicate was third at Dundalk recently, and looks the main danger, while Jensen is a brother to Pyromaniac. The market will be the best guide to his chance.
Verdict: Impossible to go against Zulu Alpha in a race that lacks depth.