Panther Claw to pounce in showpiece
THE €40,000 Woodlands Park 100 Club Leinster National is the most valuable prize up for grabs on a cracking card at Naas tomorrow.
Next week's high-octane Cheltenham Festival may be to the forefront of every racing fan's mind right now, yet there is tremendous depth to tomorrow's eight-race spread.
It is rare enough that sort of comment has applied anywhere on the domestic scene this winter, so it is a credit to the Co Kildare venue to have fashioned such an intriguing programme on the eve of the most important week of the campaign.
In the featured handicap chase, 18 are set to do battle, with Gordon Elliott's Thyestes Chase runner-up Tarquinius among the leading contenders under Davy Condon.
Shark Hanlon's Murchu, which unseated when still in contention that day, is another to consider, as is Liz Doyle's hat-trick seeking Rich Revival.
However, the one that appeals as being least exposed is Panther Claw, the Paul Nolan-trained grey that stayed on gamely for third in the Thyestes.
A couple of lengths behind Rich Revival off level weights at Fairyhouse in December, the Gigginstown Stud-owned seven-year-old is lightly raced, lightly weighted and progressive.
Panther Claw improved to win at Punchestown prior to Gowran, so it is significant that he is now 6lbs better off with Rich Revival.
Granted, he is one-paced, but he jumps well and Andrew Lynch will ride him positively and exploit that attribute.
Although Davy Russell is denied the mount on Panther Claw due to a 10st 3lb allocation, the champion jockey gets the nod to score on Jim Culloty's Smart Money in the earlier handicap hurdle. He is on Dedigout in the Grade Three novice chase, with Miradane and You Must Know Me others of note in that two-and-a-half-miler.
The one to keep on side, though, is Willie Mullins' Twinlight. An impressive three-time winner over fences, the six-year-old French import lost little in defeat when nabbed by the useful Buckers Bridge in the Flyingbolt Chase at Navan last time.
Tomorrow, he steps up to this intermediate trip for a first time and he might just be better for doing so. If the trip does prompt a bit more improvement from him, he has the class to concede weight to each of his six rivals under David Casey.
The opening Listed Novice Hurdle is another cracker, with Mallowney, Captain Canada, Moscow Mannon and Zuzka among some bright prospects in opposition.
Zuzka's fellow Mullins-trained Twigline is also on duty and she is the one that is fancied to atone for an unfortunate last-flight spill at Sandown in February.
The day's nap choice is Noel Meade's Couleur France in the bumper. Afatcat, Quickpick Vic and Rudolf are all worthy rivals with placed form, but the Nina Carberry-ridden selection really caught the eye when third to the useful pair Bonisland and Thunder And Roses on its Roscommon debut in October.