Irish treated lightly for Cheltenham raid
It hasn't always been the case in recent years, but the English handicapper doesn't appear to have been too heavy-handed in his treatment of the various Irish-trained entries for the big races at Cheltenham's upcoming Open meeting.
The three-day fixture, which begins tomorrow week, is the first major event in the cross-channel jumps calendar, with Edward O'Grady's Tranquil Sea the last raider to plunder the featured Paddy Power Chase in 2009.
This time, O'Grady has engaged runaway Listowel winner Torphichen for the two-and-a-half-miler, and the JP McManus-owned gelding is just 3lb higher than he would be at home.
If current top-weight Poquelin stands its ground, that would leave Torphichen with 11st 1lb. Intriguingly, the next highest Irish entrant off 10st 13lb is Tom Cooper's former Arkle Trophy hero Forpadydeplasterer.
A rating of 150 for the habitual runner-up -- second to Sizing Europe on his Gowran Park reappearance -- is modest given that he often ran to over a stone higher than that at his best.
The home defence is led by the potentially high-class pair Grands Crus and Hunt Ball, both of which have 11st 6lb, with Grands Crus the ante-post favourite at 3/1 to give David Pipe back-to-back successes.
In all, there are seven contenders from here, including Tom Mullins' Fosters Cross (10st 5lb), Eric McNamara's Kerry and Munster National-placed Questions Answered (9st 7lb) and Leonard Whitmore's Galway Plate runner-up Casey Top (9st 13lb).
Although fancy prices can be had about an Irish victory in the Paddy Power, layers are more wary of our 10 prospects in the following day's handicap hurdle. After seeing Gordon Elliott's Cause Of Causes score at Fairyhouse yesterday, the ubiquitous Irish firm cut him to 16/1 from 20/1 for the Sunday contest.
Off a rating of 134 for 10st 5lb, the Galway Hurdle runner-up was in off a 4lb lower mark than he would be at home, but a 5lb penalty for yesterday's win cancels out that aberration.
Charles Byrnes' progressive Domination, a ready winner at Newmarket last time and beaten just a nose by the prolific Baily Green on his most recent hurdle outing at Killarney in September, is up just 2lb for 10st 7lb.
A top-priced 12/1 behind McManus' Nicky Henderson-trained favourite Darlan (6/1), Domination is closely followed in the market by O'Grady's unexposed Staying Article (11st 3lb). Paul Flynn's recent novice chase winner Moon Dice (11st 2lb) is just 1lb higher than when an unlucky fourth in the two-miler in 2011.
Last year's Galway Hurdle victor is 20/1 to deliver a first Irish victory since Sizing Europe obliged for Henry de Bromhead and Timmy Murphy in 2007.
As expected, Sizing Europe was among the 31 entries unveiled for the King George VI Chase yesterday, with Willie Mullins also giving current Gold Cup favourite Sir Des Champs the option of taking in the Kempton Grade One on St Stephen's Day.
Interestingly, despite being as low as 8/1 with some firms for the King George behind the 4/1 favourite Long Run, Sir Des Champs is as big as 20/1 in a place. First Lieutenant and Foildubh are the other two Irish entries for the prestigious three-miler.