Hughes hoping for rain to aid Roberto
Roberto Goldback and Finger Onthe Pulse will fly the flag for the raiding party in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham tomorrow after Willie Mullins elected not to declare Quel Esprit as a result of the prevailing ground conditions.
Although the Prestbury Park course has been watered, the going remains good to firm in places. Dessie Hughes, who teams up with Paddy Brennan for Roberto Goldback, is anxious that today's predicted rainfall for the Cheltenham area materialises.
"We are hoping that the forecast rain arrives as he wouldn't want it too fast," he said of the 25/1 shot. "The main worry would be that when he ran in the Ryanair Chase over the same course and distance in the spring he didn't run well. However, things like that do just happen sometimes, and he is a better horse than that."
Third behind Joncol and Cooldine at Thurles on his first start for Hughes since switching from Jessica Harrington's yard, Roberto Goldback is set to carry 11st 4lb after the top-weight Woolcombe Folly, one of two Paul Nicholls runners, stood its ground. Ruby Walsh will ride Ghizao for Nicholls, who goes into today's meeting just one shy of his 150th winner at the illustrious Gloucestershire venue.
Tom Taaffe has booked Will Kennedy for Finger Onthe Pulse, while AP McCoy has opted for Sunnyhillboy over that one and ante-post favourite Quantitativeeasing, which Barry Geraghty will ride for Nicky Henderson. Third last year, the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Sunnyhillboy filled the same spot in the Irish Grand National in April and his price was slashed from 12/1 to as low as 6/1 yesterday following McCoy's decision.
Also in the 18-runner field is David Pipe's Paddy Power Gold Cup hero Great Endeavour. A tired fourth in the Hennessy, the return to two miles and five furlongs will suit Timmy Murphy's mount.
Irish trainers are mob-handed in today's Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, with seven of the 11-strong line-up having crossed the water. Enda Bolger's two-time winner Garde Champetre shares top-weight with Willie Mullins' November course and distance winner Uncle Junior, successful then under the trainer's son Patrick.
This time, Patrick is on Punchestown banks winner Scotsirish, while A New Story, Chamirey, Saddlers Storm and De Danu complete the delegation.
The only remaining Irish runner on the card is Stuart Crawford's Killyglen in a three-mile handicap hurdle, with eight others scattered across Doncaster, Southwell and Wolverhampton.
Jonjo O'Neill has stated that, although Synchronised is more likely to bid for a repeat triumph in the Welsh National on December 27, he hasn't ruled out a tilt at the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown the following day.
However, he stressed that: "The Welsh National is favourite and, if everything is okay, that's where we are going."
Paul Barber has confirmed that Ruby Walsh will be riding Denman in the Lexus Chase before he switches focus to the Gold Cup.
"What I would love to happen is win this and then go and win the Gold Cup. I would say those two races will be it this season," Denman's owner said.
Eddie Lynam, meanwhile, has expressed his satisfaction with Sole Power's draw in stall eight ahead of Sunday's Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin.
A fast-finishing third when beaten a head in the Prix de l'Abbaye in October, last year's Nunthorpe winner will be ridden by Keagan Latham in the Group One, with Johnny Murtagh due to partner the Golden Jubilee victor Society Rock for James Fanshawe.
Elsewhere, former smart hurdler Blackstairmountain made a perfect start to his new career with an effortless victory over fences in the Clonmel Supporters Club Only 85 Euros Beginners Chase.
Given a typically confident ride by Walsh, Blackstairmountain (8/15) never came off the bridle in beating 100/1 chance Marble House by three lengths. He was introduced into the Arkle betting at 20/1 by Paddy Power.
Winning trainer Mullins had earlier won with the promising French import Ut De Sivola (4/11) in the Powerstown 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle, earning a quote of 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.
Walsh and Mullins completed a treble when Allee Garde (evens) held off the persistent challenge of Son Amix in the Kilsheelan Beginners Chase.