Kauto can lead Nicholls team to a repeat double
All eyes will be on dual Gold Cup winner and four-time 'King George' hero Kauto Star at Down Royal today, when the 10-year-old will once more start odds-on to repeat his JNwine.com Champion Chase victory of two years ago.
One of the legendary performers in the jumping game, the French-bred gelding is a tremendous crowd-puller for both sponsor Jim Nicholson and the Down Royal executive, who are delighted that Paul Nicholls has elected to start him back there again.
A shock casualty when seemingly in pole position to make it a Gold Cup treble last March, Ruby Walsh's mount can begin to banish the memory of that rare Cheltenham lapse in concentration by stamping his authority over today's half-dozen Irish rivals.
With long-absent Mossbank and another ex-invalid Trafford Lad likely to need the outing, China Rock and his Punchestown victim Sizing Europe should be the ones to make the hot favourite earn the spoils.
Whether the benefit of last month's run at the Kildare venue and softer going will enable stamina-suspect Sizing Europe to take his revenge over China Rock is open to debate, and much may depend on how ready Kauto Star is for his return. While that repeat head-to-head may turn out to be informative as regards future targets for this pair, they may ultimately be obliged to scrap it out for the places as few will care to oppose Kauto Star.
Thus a fourth Champion Chase triumph on the bounce for an English raider looks inevitable after Taranis and The Listener sandwiched Kauto Star's 2008 success. Indeed Nicholls might manage to follow up the yard's double strike with Noland in the Ladbrokes Chase that day, when stable companion The Nightingale resumes in the same race, with Walsh again in the saddle.
This Grade Two contest features Noel Meade's multiple scorer Pandorama and Paul Gilligan's surprise Powers Gold Cup victor Jadanli attempting to defy their Grade One penalties, with the former defending an unbeaten three-race record over fences.
Not seen since short-heading Weapon's Amnesty after a stirring Leopardstown three-mile buckle last December, Pandorama is officially rated just 3lbs superior to Jadanli and Roberto Goldback, which could leave him vulnerable if The Nightingale brings his A-game.
The Cadoudal gelding would hardly be coming here unless he has pleased Britain's champion trainer on the gallops and it's on the cards that Nicholls will take the prize for a third year on the trot.
Locally owned Falcon Island could make a successful debut in the opening maiden hurdle for Jessica Harrington after her profitable trip north yesterday, even if he doesn't turn out to be as talented as last year's Barry Geraghty-partnered winner Coole River.
Disqualified after his hard-earned Fairyhouse bumper success, Harrington's Serein might not quite measure up to Sobrando Lodge in today's finale, and the Hennessy family's Time Machine should make his presence felt off a handy mark in the two-mile handicap hurdle.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire trainer Mark Johnston and his protege Grey Fairley attempt to enhance their splendid strike-rate at Dundalk this evening when the often-placed Bikini Babe tackles last year's winner Indiana Gal and 11 others in the featured Carlingford Stakes.
This Listed event represents an ideal opportunity for the busy daughter of Montjeu to enhance her paddock value after running second in Group Three fare at The Curragh as a juvenile and more recently in France.
Outpaced late on by Lady Springbank for the seven-furlong Weld Park Stakes here last year, Johnston's charge stepped up to a mile and a quarter on good ground at Deauville in late July and fared quite well when dividing Zagora and Rumoush in a tight finish.
A repetition of that level of performance may suffice for the raider to cope with the home defence, spearheaded this time by Choose Me, dual-course and distance victor Bob Le Beau and the hitherto luckless Northgate.
The latter's partner Pat Smullen has a full book of six mounts and Catalpa Sail could prove the pick of them with a plum draw for the opening sprint maiden.