Halo can shine for Nicholls
THE Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle should provide further clues as to the true hierarchy of the best two-milers around at Leopardstown this afternoon.
Solwhit and Celestial Halo are both major fancies for Cheltenham. The former's trainer, Charles Byrnes, has talked up Paul Nicholls' son of Galileo as if he thinks that Celestial Halo should be disputing favouritism with Solwhit this afternoon.
The English raider has questions to deal with after what seemed a somewhat flat performance at Cheltenham last time. However, the heavy ground today will place considerable emphasis on his staying prowess and, on overall form, Celestial Halo has every chance of winning this Grade One.
Sublimity, which is hard to fancy on the forecast terrain, is not a certain runner, which is a negative for those considering an each-way punt at a bigger price. Whereas Donnas Palm is the most likely winner of the bottom six in the betting, Torphichen is worth considering at around 25/1. Edward O'Grady's five-year-old relishes deep ground and -- while he has no realistic chance on official figures -- he has only five hurdle runs to his name and is obviously open to progress.
The same remark could apply to Sports Line, which Ruby Walsh rides, in seeming preference to the favourite Take The Breeze, in the Irish Arkle. This contest is all the more captivating because both of these are front-runners, which arguably enhances the chance of Zaarito.
However, Sports Line has the makings of a top-class chaser after hacking up on his debut in this sphere in what looked a strong race. He has been very well-backed in this race since Friday's declarations.
Walsh's best chance today of a winner may be in the Novice Hurdle. It is still hard to ascertain quite how good Quel Esprit is, an imponderable that victory today may well not solve. Hollo Ladies has stamina to prove and it would be somewhat surprising if any of the remaining six was up to taking this.
Coole River is held on bumper form by the selection and by Hollo Ladies on a line through Saludos.
Rite Of Passage, in victory in the opener, might well emerge as the chief threat to Dunguib's prospects of Supreme Novices' Hurdle success. Grey Soldier is the most obvious each-way alternative, though there are some fascinating flat recruits in Sufren, Mountain Pride and Andre Mon Ami (rated in the 90s on the level).
Both of the handicaps at Foxrock are quite open. Kings Advocate may reverse Christmas running with Show Blessed and Jaamid on this more testing ground in the chase, particularly as that was his first outing in close to a year.
Slieveardagh has only his fourth career run in the hurdle race and does not seem over-burdened by a rating of 116, while the bumper may not be too hot by Leopardstown standards and Gormanstown Cuckoo ought to be thereabouts.
Willie Mullins has a strong team in Limerick, too, though it is a shade surprising that he has no runner in a very poorly-contested novices' hurdle. Sunwake can outstay Satu under Robbie Colgan in what may well prove a match.
The opening mares' hurdle is well-contested -- which is in keeping with the relatively decent purse on offer -- and Qeasy can build on a pleasing run behind Rhyl Accord, form that Prairie Call has since endorsed. Quiscover Fontaine is the obvious one on his chasing debut, while Mullins can double up in the finale with the well-treated Compelled.
Leopardstown: 1.10 Rite Of Passage 1.45 Sports Line 2.15 Kings Advocate 2.45 Celestial Halo 3.20 Quel Esprit 3.50 Slieveardagh 4.20 Gormanstown Cuckoo.
Limerick: 1.25 Qeasy 1.55 Vast Consumption 2.25 Sunwake 2.55 Satwa King 3.30 Our Girl Salley 4.00 Quiscover Fontaine 4.30 Compelled (Nap).