GER LYONS struck an early blow for the Irish raiders in Meydan when he saddled Lily's Angel to a resounding victory in the first race of the Dubai Carnival.
An increasingly popular international festival that culminates with the richest race on the planet, the Dubai World Cup, on March 30, the UAE gala has an unseasonal feel to it for racing folk in this part of the world.
Nonetheless, five runners from the stables of Lyons, Eddie Lynam, Mick Halford and Pat Shanahan contested proceedings in the glowing Emirates sunshine yesterday.
Having already won each of her three starts for Lyons since switching from Wexford native Richard Fahey's Yorkshire stable in the autumn, Lily's Angel (9/2) looked the pick of the lot. She duly stretched that unbeaten run to four in the mile handicap, making smooth inside progress to score by a couple of lengths for Gary Carroll.
Sharestan, a four-time winner for John Oxx that won twice in Listed company at the Curragh in June, also took the mile conditions race on its first start for Godolphin.
Lily's Angel's first foray on Irish soil was at Leopardstown in the September Handicap, but one that won't fulfil its BHP Irish Champion Hurdle entry at the Foxrock venue this month is last year's Triumph Hurdle hero Countrywide Flame.
Third in the Grade One Juvenile Hurdle there last February, the five-year-old, trained by Tipperary native John Quinn – also based in Yorkshire – was an easy winner of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle last month, before finishing fourth to Darlan at Kempton.
"He'll have an entry for the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and if I'm happy with him and the ground is not too heavy, he'll run there," Quinn said yesterday.
Quinn is also responsible for a leading Triumph Hurdle contender this year in Kashmir Peak, which landed a Navan handicap for Lyons' Co Meath stable in the summer.
Kashmir Peak has won both its hurdling starts for Quinn, latterly in Grade Two company at Doncaster in December, but is unlikely to follow the path that its stablemate did to Prestbury Park glory 12 months ago.
"You'll probably see him next in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh," Quinn suggested.
"The plan is to run on Sunday," Elliott said. "He's highly rated now and there are not a lot of places to go with him so we'll let him take his chance. We'll see how he gets on on Sunday before we make a decision (about where he might go afterwards)."
Meanwhile, the 39 entries unveiled yesterday for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March included 15 from Ireland, with former champion chaser Sizing Europe, Flemenstar, Bog Warrior, Sir Des Champs, First Lieutenant and Hidden Cyclone among those that could form part of a strong delegation.
Of those, though, only one is confirmed as having the race as its primary target, with John 'Shark' Hanlon nominating the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One for Hidden Cyclone after a tilt at the Leopardstown Handicap Chase on January 26.
Sizing Europe and Flemenstar were also among 17 horses given the option to thwart last season's sensational Arkle Trophy victor Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, with the favourite's Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate Simonsig, a short-priced market leader for this year's Arkle, also given an entry in the senior two-mile championship event.
• Jezki, favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, has been bought by JP McManus. It's likely that the horse will continue to be trained by Jessica Harrington.