Harrington's Jezki leads Supreme raid
The Supreme Novices' Hurdle has long been the perfect platform for Irish horses and punters at Cheltenham in March, and the traditional curtain-raiser for the marquee Festival promises plenty for the raiders once again.
Of the 94 entries unveiled for the William Hill-sponsored Grade One race yesterday, no less than 30 are Irish-trained, including Jessica Harrington's 7/2 ante-post market leader Jezki and Willie Mullins' fellow unbeaten hurdler Un Atout, next best at 7/1.
In all, the champion trainer has seven engaged in the two-miler and hopes will be high that, come March 12, one of the quality-laden travelling contingent can end the four-year drought since Go Native's triumph in 2009 – the longest barren spell in the race for Irish horses since Destriero stopped an eight-year void by plundering a famous gamble for Andy Geraghty, Pat McWilliams and Noel Furlong in 1991.
Mullins' representatives are similarly conspicuous in the three other Grade One novice hurdles, with Sunday's Leopardstown scorer Pont Alexandre appearing in the lists for the Neptune Investment and Albert Bartlett editions.
Ballycasey, impressive in low-key affairs at Clonmel and Thurles, is also in the two races.
Both horses are owned by Rich Ricci and vie for favouritism for the respective staying events.
After Pont Alexandre's Grade Two rout last weekend, Mullins suggested that he would be aimed at the Neptune over two miles and five furlongs, with Ballycasey set to head up his three-mile team in the Albert Bartlett.
Mouse Morris has put Rule The World, a runaway winner at Naas last time, in the three aforementioned contests, though he is understood to be leaning towards running the Gigginstown Stud-owned six-year-old in the Neptune.
Noel Meade has entered Gigginstown's Road To Riches in the two longer events, with the Albert Bartlett believed to his preferred target.
Of the 15 Irish entrants in the Triumph Hurdle, Mullins is responsible for seven, including Blood Cotil, Diakali and Dogora.
Tomorrow's card at Fairyhouse is subject to an 8.0 inspection this morning, with the scheduled chases having been abandoned yesterday. The featured Dan Moore Memorial Chase, already switched from its new position in the calendar when the track's January 20 fixture fell, has been transferred to Punchestown on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Hilltop Tommy, a bumper winner at Cork in the summer and placed in Grade Two company at Navan in December, is to remain in training with Fethard handler Harry Kelly.
The six-year-old was reported to have been sold for £100,000 at Brightwells Sale in Cheltenham last weekend, but the deal did not go through.
Cross-channel, Musselburgh is set fair to stage a day of Cheltenham Festival examinations on Sunday, although only a handful of those in action there are likely to line up at the Cotswolds in March.
But one that surely will is last year's Champion Hurdle runner-up, Overturn, now making such a big impression over fences that he seems the only realistic danger to the brilliant Simonsig in the Arkle Trophy.
Donald McCain asked Musselburgh to add an Arkle trial to their programme and the course readily agreed.
Overturn is a dashing front-runner and Musselburgh is a sharp, right-handed track – two factors which should combine to spectacular effect. It will be surprising if he does not win in a canter, but it will provide a valuable workout before his encounter with Simonsig.