Meade to jump-start new season with Leopards Leap
Noel Meade will have been happy to see the last campaign conclude after enduring his worst season for 21 years, but he can begin the new term on a brighter note with Leopards Leap at Downpatrick.
The former champion's yield of 30 winners constituted his lowest return over jumps since 1995, which was around the time that he switched his focus away from the Flat.
Amazingly, his most valuable win was Waxie's Dargle's handicap hurdle success at Killarney a year ago.
Meade's frustrating season was epitomised by the plight of Road To Riches, which, after winning a Grade Two in style at Clonmel early on, proceeded to be placed in a pair of Grade Ones before narrowly getting turned over at odds-on in a Navan Grade Two.
Then, when it all looked like coming together in the Gold Cup at Punchestown, he crashed two-out while still in the lead. It's a long road without a turn, though, and Meade hasn't forgotten how to do the job. A winner at Downpatrick might not constitute a new dawn, but they all count.
With a 21pc strike-rate (8-39) last season, Meade's bumper runners were his most prolific collective, and Leopards Leap can continue that trend under Nina Carberry tonight. While The Storyteller, River Dun and the returning Bertie Bell also bring form to the table, Leopards Leap has more scope to improve.
The son of Arcadio kept on to be third to Presenting Percy on its track bow at Ballinrobe three weeks ago. That was an encouraging turn, so he is fancied to deliver the nap vote here.
Meade's maiden hurdlers Executive Decision and Rise Of An Empire also have chances in poor contests.
However, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combine for Henry Howard in the first edition over two-and-a-quarter miles, and he might be hard to beat. Second to Hard To Call over two miles in deep ground at Limerick, the late maturing eight-year-old may be suited by these less trying conditions. He won't get a better opportunity.
Philip Rothwell's Ben Button gets the nod in the longer event. Luke Dempsey's mount was outclassed in a valuable handicap at Fairyhouse, but he showed a reasonable level of form prior to that, albeit he hasn't looked the most resolute at times.
There is a similarly low-key card at Cork, where Andrew McNamara could get off the mark in his new guise as a trainer. His Stay With It has a life in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle under Rachael Blackmore, but the Mark Walsh-ridden B Cosmos might do the honours in the preceding maiden.
On its only previous try at this job, the former Flat racer ran a lovely race to be third at Down Royal last summer.
If B Cosmos performs to a similar level here on its first start since the autumn, he should go close.
In the three-mile handicap hurdle, Leaders Questions, the only runner at the Mallow track for Kinsale-based Robert Tyner, has plenty of appeal.
She ran well in decent company through the winter and might enjoy the drier ground under Philip Enright.