John 'Shark' Hanlon, whose Bagenalstown stable is struggling to emerge from a slump that has lasted all year, will head to Gowran Park tomorrow confident that Hidden Cyclone will earn a tilt at Leopardstown's Lexus Chase on December 28.
So far in 2012, Hanlon – a larger-than-life former cattle dealer whose star rose rapidly when he began having runners just five years ago, has saddled four domestic winners. At the same juncture in 2011 – he had amassed a total of 36 in Ireland and England.
Through all the disappointment, however, Hidden Cyclone, an old-fashioned chasing sort, has been a beacon of hope.
In 10 career starts, his only two defeats came in hot graded events that were won by Sir Des Champs and First Lieutenant, and he began a campaign that has his popular handler dreaming of Cheltenham Gold Cup glory with a comprehensive triumph in the Poplar Chase at Naas three weeks ago.
"He came out of his last run perfect and I've been very happy with him since," Hanlon said of the seven-year-old that he has thus far avoided the lure of Prestbury Park with, but is now a 33/1 shot to claim the game's showpiece event there in March.
The going at Gowran is currently heavy but if the forecast for light showers in the area over the next couple days proves accurate, the meeting should survive.
The weekend has the potential to further boost the trainer's fortunes if the mud-loving Ardglen, third in the Cork Grand National recently, makes the cut for Sunday's Troytown Chase a Navan.
Yesterday's meeting at Thurles fell after 23mm of overnight rain left the track waterlogged. A replacement hurdle and bumper fixture is scheduled for this day week, which will follow a card consisting solely of chases next Thursday.
Meanwhile, six horses tackle tomorrow's Betfair Chase at Haydock. Long Run, runner-up to Kauto Star in the Grade One 12 months ago, is the 11/8 favourite to go one better, with the Ruby Walsh-ridden Silviniaco Conti next best at 9/4 and last term's shock Gold Cup runner-up The Giant Bolster a 7/1 shot.