AN IMMENSELY competitive 30-strong field will do battle in the latest edition of the €100,000 Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown today, yet Inis Meain continues to harden as the clear favourite for the two-mile feature.
On a seven-race spread that is chock-full of quality, the Denis Hogan-trained six-year-old is as low as 4/1 to secure the prestigious handicap, with the remaining 29 runners available to back at double-figure odds.
Given that only one outright favourite has been successful in the race since 2002, it's hard to see any value in the market leader.
As an improved performer in deep ground on the level last year, the theory is that Inis Meain's hurdle mark of 120 could prove extremely lenient if he makes similar progress now that he switches back to hurdles.
With just 10st 3lb to carry under his multi-tasking trainer on his first start for Barry Connell, he certainly has claims.
Last year's winner Citizenship seems to be struggling off his current mark, while Abbey Lane might be the pick of Willie Mullins' trio.
The champion trainer's brother Tom has a live chance with the hat-trick-seeking King Of Queens, one of just two last-time-out jumps winners in the race alongside John Queally's Flying Light.
Tony Martin's recent Dundalk scorer Edeymi, Thomas Edison and Ted Veale all have chances on the 10th anniversary of the Co Meath handler's coup with Xenophon, while Hit The Headlines has each-way appeal under rising star Jane Mangan.
The lightly raced seven-year-old made a positive impression when beaten just a couple of lengths here behind Supreme Carolina on its first outing for Charlie Swan last month.
However, with conditions heavy at the Foxrock venue – which must pass an 8.0 inspection – it is the bottom-weight Gentleman Duke that is fancied for the win.
One of three seeking to give JP McManus a first success in the race, Arthur Moore's five-year-old remains winless over flights, but that didn't stop Puyol collecting in 2010.
Placed in his last three starts in maidens, Gentleman Duke then caught the eye in two December handicap outings, first when fifth to King Of Queens at Fairyhouse and then when filling the same spot behind Cairdin here.
Both times he kept on without being knocked about, leaving the impression that there might be more to come.
When you factor in that Moore has plundered this revered event six times, the suspicion is that today will be the day Gentleman Duke is primed to deliver for David Casey.
In the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase, Arvika Ligeonniere will be short odds to confirm his Christmas superiority over Oscars Well and Benefficient.
Such a poor turnout is the only major negative about the rejigged fixture, and a chance is taken on Oscars Well denying Paul Townend's front-running mount a third successive Grade One.
Last time, Arvika Ligeonniere fenced noticeably to his right, but it mattered little as he was never put under nearly enough pressure by his rivals in that race.
In the end, Oscars Wells kept on to be beaten a couple of lengths. If Robbie Power rides more aggressively now, he could take the favourite out of his comfort zone.
A Grade Two equivalent over two miles and five furlongs follows, with Davy Russell getting his go at ironing out Mount Benbulben's fencing problems.
Marito, which just beat Mount Benbulben at Naas recently, represents Townend and Willie Mullins in this, but Lord Windermere might be the one to keep on side.
Jim Culloty's three-time hurdle winner has come on for every run over fences, accounting for the former Grade One winner Marasonnien here in December.
While he will need to step again now for regular rider Tom Doyle, he has the profile of an out-and-out chaser that should be ready to do so.
Tom Mullins' Klepht is the nap selection on its step up in trip in the Leopardstown Chase.
The classy Hidden Cyclone tops the page in this well-contested handicap, but the Andrew Lynch-ridden Klepht really looked the part when keeping on to be third over an inadequate two miles at Naas last time.