Jumbo Rio can get back in the groove
Despite a very busy jumping schedule over the last few days, there are still several decent performers heading to Punchestown's traditional New Year's Eve fixture, most notably Edward O'Grady's former juvenile champion Jumbo Rio, which stands out in the Facebook Hurdle.
Favoured by the testing conditions as he bids to get back in the winning groove, Andrew McNamara's 149-rated mount should be more at home in this grade than when tackling the likes of Oscar Dan Dan at Navan and then Hurricane Fly in Fairyhouse.
Further down the weights John Kiely's On The Way Out, on an official mark of 141, is entitled to plenty of respect, though the main threat to the likely favourite is probably the four-year-old Secant Star, which makes a belated return to action.
Not seen since romping away from Jumbo Rio's stable companion Capellanus at Gowran Park's Thyestes Chase meeting last January, Secant Star remains something of an unknown quantity but may need to be at, or near, his best to turn over Jumbo Rio.
An hour earlier the Willie Mullins-Paul Townend combination may enjoy better fortune when Blazing Tempo tackles Colin Kidd's multiple scorer Back Of The Pack for the Lombardstown Mares Novice Chase, a race postponed from Cork earlier this month.
Granted it's a bonus for those involved that this Grade Three event has been rescheduled, but the connections of Back of The Pack might have preferred to be competing at the Mallow venue, where their fine money spinner won on her last two outings.
Dropping back by half a mile to the minimum trip may not be a help either and preference is for joint top weight Blazing Tempo, which made a fine start to her new role over fences when coming fast and late in Clonmel to defeat the reopposing Cool Quest.
At the other end of the card, Willie and son Patrick Mullins will be hopeful as well that Ceol Rua, which looked a little unlucky to have lost out to Sugar Bullet in a keen Naas duel, can make it third time lucky in the Special Offers bumper confined to mares.
This finale is also being targeted by Dungarvan trainer John Kiely, with Metro Star in the hands of the unrelated David Kiely after she was obliged to settle for second money at both Limerick behind Kalanelli and in Cork as Byerley Bear took her measure.
The Kielys were victorious in this event a year ago with Araucaria and the busier Metro Star is bound to make a bold bid to emulate her, even if marginal preference is for Ceol Rua, which may have a little more scope for improvement at this stage.
A close third to Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown on Wednesday, Shark Hanlon's Luska Lad makes a rapid reappearance for the third leg of the Jackpot, with amateur Brian Hayes taking a valuable 7lb off the Flemensfirth gelding, which is already proven at this venue.
This is Luska Lad's handicap debut and as he's in his element when running on a right-handed track, the six-year-old may appeal as a Jackpot banker despite his welter burden and the presence of previous course two-mile victor Turner Brown at the bottom of the scale.
The ratings point to Paul Nolan's former smart staying hurdler Alpha Ridge belatedly getting off the mark over the larger obstacles in the Punchestown Hospitality Beginners Chase despite an absence of 102 days since his Ballinrobe defeat by Farringdon.
Stepping up now to three miles on more testing terrain should be a help for 135-rated Alpha Ridge, even if there could be market support as well for the long-absent Ballymak and Royal De La Thinthe after his creditable Down Royal second to this week's Leopardstown Grade One hero Bostons Angel.