Giant's Quest can show the way home
THE first instalment of Bellewstown's popular three-day July Festival is spearheaded by a cracking €25,000 handicap hurdle as Gordon Elliott's progressive Shadow Catcher is tasked with conceding weight to 15 rivals ahead of a tilt at the Galway Hurdle.
Impressive in a conditions race at Down Royal last month, Shadow Catcher has to be respected under Barry Geraghty but might be the sort to do better off a low weight in the Ballybrit spectacular.
Elliott's Clonmel chase winner Esporao is one of five others bringing winning form to the table in the Fast Shipping-sponsored two-miler, as Ruby Walsh takes the reins on Willie Mullins' useful mare Letherbelucky.
However, with the ground likely to stay on the quick side, the Harry Rogers-trained Giant's Quest, which Walsh steered to a bloodless maiden hurdle triumph at Gowran Park a fortnight ago, gets the nod to prevail.
Placed in five of its six previous outings over flights, Andrew Thornton's mount is brilliantly consistent, so his Gowran win was not before time. On his only other start in a handicap, Giant's Quest finished third to Rawnaq in a decent heat at Punchestown in May. He gets into tonight's Crockafotha feature off just a 2lb higher mark, so he should go very close under 10st 5lb now that he has found winning form.
Walsh should also have a chance on Tony Martin's easy Tipperary victor Green Dragon in the Anglo Printers Novice Hurdle, with Noel Meade's useful Kilbeggan winner Honourable Emperor another that warrants consideration.
Fancied to prevail, though, is Private Treasure, a full-brother to the 2008 Irish Derby winner Frozen Fire that makes his jumping bow here.
Second to Liz Doyle's smart Le Vent D'Antan on its racecourse bow in a Leopardstown bumper in January before winning in style at Limerick in April, Paul Nolan's Ballydoyle cast-off ought to have the class to compensate for his inexperience under Danny Mullins.
The JP McManus-owned Hurricane Season can atone for a narrow defeat at Roscommon in a first-time visor when he tackles the Hibernia Steel Products Handicap, while the nap goes to Liberty To Rock in the Inter Vintners Pub Challenge Race Nite Handicap.
A course and distance winner off a mark of 48 last August, Jim Gorman's charge has dropped back down to 47 now, but showed renewed promise under Wayne Lordan last time out.
On Wexford's busy card, Drumlister stands out on his return to fences in the handicap chase.
Arthur Moore's seven-year-old looked progressive when winning here this time last year, and the booking of 7lb claimer Gareth Malone helps to negate his revised rating.