Hurricane can blow rivals out of water
With the possible exception of the main event, Leopardstown's Christmas Festival comes to a conclusion with another brilliantly competitive card this afternoon.
A rejuvenated Hurricane Fly faces just four rivals under Ruby Walsh in the Istabraq Hurdle and is as short as 1/3 to account for last year's heroine Unaccompanied in a Grade One that he won with a trademark flourish in 2010.
Right now, if we accept he simply wasn't at his best when beaten at Cheltenham in March, Willie Mullins' star is still the most accomplished two-mile hurdler around, so this ought to be a formality.
At the end of a fantastic week's racing, the remainder of the programme is going to take plenty of figuring out. You wouldn't have it any other way.
Chase 2m 5f
Lascalahall is the form horse, having finished second for a second time in three starts when 12 lengths behind Robertstown Rover at Fairyhouse two weeks ago. With Mark Enright taking two pounds off, he could take plenty of stopping.
Misty Farmer and Healys Bar are others to consider, while Hasty Times is a handicap debutant that is worth a look under the useful claimer David Splaine.
When fourth in what was a decent beginners' chase at Thurles, he wasn't far behind subsequent winner Canaly.
Verdict – Off a fair looking first-time mark of 109, Hasty Times gets the nod.
12.55 Ryans Cleaning Maiden Hurdle 2m 4f
Ruby Walsh has been booked to partner Barry Connell's Paul Nolan-trained point-to-point winner Dick Dundee, so the market will be a guide to that one's prospects.
Morning Assembly, a Punchestown bumper winner, was third in a good maiden hurdle at the same track in April, while Sizing Gold has been second to Seefood and Don Cossack this term. Successful in a Navan bumper, he is a decent sort.
Verdict – Sizing Gold should confirm the promise he has frequently displayed.
1.30 Ballymaloe Beginners' Chase 2m 3f
The Real Article was the pick of these over flights. He made an early exit when trying fences for a first time at Clonmel, but will be a leading contender with a clear round.
Marassonien won a shocking Grade One at Punchestown in the spring. His runner-up finish to The Westerner Boy on his chasing debut at Navan is a more accurate reflection of his capability, though he has scope to improve. Toner D'Oudairies and Home Farm are contenders, likewise Lord Windermere. Second to Dylan Ross and Mikael D'Haguenet this term, he is built for this job.
Verdict – If Lord Windermere keeps progressing he is the one to beat.
2.0 Grade One Istabraq Festival Hurdle 2m
Unaccompanied has just her second start over flights since winning this last year.
She wasn't herself when thrashed by Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle and is likely to be in pole position to take advantage if the hot favourite happens to fluff its lines now.
Thousand Stars, second 12 months ago, is usually consistent. You can expect him to leave behind a dismal reappearance run at Tipperary in October, while Captain Cee Bee is the sort of horse that will keep them all honest.
Hurricane Fly, successful here two years ago, looked more like his old self with a fluent defeat of Captain Cee Bee at Punchestown in November.
The outstanding two-mile hurdler of the last few years, he will win a 13th Grade One if he manages to replicate that.
Verdict – Taking on Hurricane Fly in this sort of race is not advisable.
2.35 Grade Three ITBA
Fillies' Scheme EBF Mares' Hurdle 2m 4f
Glens Melody receives weight all round in a race with bundles of depth. A three-time bumper winner, she won a Clonmel maiden at her ease last time and her only defeat to date was when she finished second to the useful Minsk at Punchestown.
Her Willie Mullins-trained stable-mate Zuzka is another fantastic sort. She won a similar race at Limerick easily in October, and her two-and-and-half-length third to Jezki in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse reads especially well now.
Dream Function was a fortuitous chase winner on her Clonmel reappearance, but is, nonetheless, useful, while Burn And Turn and Mae's Choice are also well able.
Verdict – The concessions Glens Melody receives may give her an edge over Zuzka.
3.05 Pertemps Handicap Hurdle 3m
Last year's victor Jetson competes off a 12lb higher mark. He is consistent, and Thursday's winner Colbert Station was just two places in front at Navan last time.
The veteran Apt Approach is still potentially well treated over hurdles after his recent Fairyhouse win, with Si C'Etait Vrai, which was second to last week's Ascot winner Cause Of Causes at the same track back in November, a classy sort making its handicap bow.
Mart Lane was a fair bumper winner here in 2011. He hasn't fulfilled his potential, but was a fair sixth at Cheltenham in November and is five pounds lower now.
Verdict – Mart Lane has plenty of appeal now that he steps up to three miles.
3.35 Thornton's Recycling INH Flat Race 2m
O Maonlai, Outlander and Somethingwonderful all come here with fair winning form, while Dantes Firth did little wrong when second to Owen Mc earlier in the month.
Verdict – Nina Carberry might manage to get O Maonlai home again in a tricky contest.