Inis Meain in frame to be instant hit for Connell
INIS MEAIN, one of the latest high-profile mid-term acquisitions on Barry Connell's increasingly potent team of jumpers, is the 5/1 favourite to make an immediate impact for its new owner in the Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown later in the month.
Since Connell, a Carrickmines-based stockbroker and fund manager, called an end to his 10-year Corinthian-style riding career at the age of 51 in 2010, a renewed focus on sourcing potential big-race contenders over proficient bumper horses has emerged.
Last week, he completed a €375,000 swoop for Sean O'Brien's exciting Cork bumper winner Golantilla. Fellow esteemed point-to-point graduates Mount Benbulben (£250,000) and Old Kilcash (£300,000) are among other expensive purchases, while the 2011 Irish Cesarewitch hero Minsk also boasted a hefty – undisclosed – price tag.
Inis Meain, which managed a solitary triumph in six hurdling starts for his equally single-minded young Cloughjordan handler Denis Hogan last term, won't have been cheaply prised away from former owner Liam O'Kelly, either.
Purchased out of Jim Bolger's yard after an abject performance in a 2010 Wexford maiden, the six-year-old built on his modest jumping record to prove a real money-spinner on the Flat, scoring four times in 2012, twice in valuable handicaps in the mud at Galway and Listowel.
In the 12-month period just ended, Inis Meain earned an impressive €85,750 and a 52lb hike in the Flat ratings, so Leopardstown's prestigious two-mile handicap hurdle on January 26 now beckons.
Connell revealed last month that he had purchased Inis Meain with the €60,000 prize in mind, no doubt keenly aware that a hurdle mark of 120 might prove favourable given his improved summer form.
One of 48 entries unveiled for the Foxrock feature, the American-bred gelding has been allotted just 10st 3lbs.
Should Connell's single entry successfully complete the coup, the man who finished fifth in last year's owners' championship will beat the title-holder to a feature event that has a rich history in its various guises.
JP McManus has six engaged in his quest for an elusive first victory in the race, including Eddie Harty's recent course and distance runner-up Grange, and Noel Meade's Sunday Navan winner Blissful Moment.
Ted Veale, whose trainer Tony Martin hosted a race launch at his Summerhill yard yesterday morning, is the sponsor's second favourite at 7/1, with hat-trick-seeking King Of Queens next best at 8/1 for Tom Mullins, whose brother Willie has six entered, his Rattan the current joint top-weight alongside Dermot Weld's Hisaabaat.
Should the eventual winner go on to follow up in any race at Cheltenham in March, as Final Approach did for the champion trainer in 2011, Boylesports have pledged to throw in a €100,000 bonus. They offer a similar €50,000 incentive for the winner of the Grade Two novice chase that they sponsor at the Foxrock venue on the same day, which Mullins' Sir Des Champs netted courtesy of his Jewson success last year.
The weights were also published for the Leopardstown Handicap Chase on January 26, with Seabass, last seen finishing an excellent third under Katie Walsh in the 2012 Aintree Grand National, one of three of the 50 entries to share the current top spot.
Gordon Elliott, meanwhile, has reiterated that his leading Gigginstown Stud-owned novice hurdler Don Cossack, a faller when held in a Navan Grade One last month, could give Prestbury Park in March a skip this year.
Charles Byrnes has also confirmed that Solwhit, second to Bog Warrior on his first start for nearly two years at Fairyhouse recently, will have his next outing in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
"I was happy enough with his first run back and I've been happy with him since," Byrnes reported. "His next run will tell us a lot more and we'll see where we stand after that."