Nichols Canyon to make the most of big rivals absence
With no Annie Power, Vroum Vroum Mag or Faugheen in tomorrow's StanJames.com Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, the race has something of an anti-climatic feel about it.
Trainer Willie Mullins, who had a strong hand at entry stage, relies on Nichols Canyon (Ruby Walsh), Simenon and Sempre Medici, with none of his main entries deemed up to taking part.
Mullins said that he was not happy with how Annie Power worked during the week, while Faugheen, which has not run since January, was ruled out due to a foot bruise.
It is easy to forget that Nichols Canyon won this race last year - the only time Faugheen has been beaten. He is a hardy, fluent performer over two miles and should make all the running.
The two non-Mullins runners in the race are four-year-olds. Perhaps Jer's Girl can emerge the better of that pair on her seasonal return.
The undercard is no let-down. Just six contest the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Steeplechase but it is an excellent event, with Gigginstown responsible for half of the runners.
Bryan Cooper has opted to ride Disko, a very talented sort, but Nambour may provide the value.
A deeply consistent novice hurdler for Willie Mullins, he did the job with aplomb at Galway, his chase debut and first start for Mouse Morris.
Just five go to post in the Grade Two Ryans Cleaning Craddockstown Novice Steeplechase, with Identity Thief to go off at punitive odds.
Not far off the best hurdlers last season, it was hard not to be enthused when he sauntered to success on his chase debut at this venue.
Ordinary World, his stablemate, and Ball D'arc were vying for second-favouritism in the wagering yesterday but it is difficult to imagine either troubling the selection.
After Rain, which shaped as though needing the run at Down Royal, may belatedly prove that he is a favourably handicapped horse in the opening Total Event Rental Handicap Hurdle.
A strong sort, the experience of that re-appearance may be key and it is encouraging that Barry Geraghty stays loyal, his boss JP McManus triple-handed.
Geraghty can double up aboard Coeur Joyeux in the staying maiden hurdle. A classy maiden in bumpers, he ran into a potentially top-class horse in Death Duty at Roscommon, though it is a concern that Sandra Hughes has had just two winners from 68 runners this season.
Samcro can complete a fine day for Gigginstown in the finale under Jaime Codd.
Meanwhile, Horse Racing Ireland has two new board members, appointed by Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed.
Elizabeth Headon, and Peter Nolan will both join the board for four-year terms.