Poli poised to plunder a first Lexus for Willie Mullins
There aren't many races left for Willie Mullins to conquer on the domestic scene and there could be one less should Don Poli justify short odds in today's Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
The prestigious €150,000 feature is one of just two Grade Ones that the all-conquering champion trainer has yet to plunder. On His Own was just touched off by Road To Riches in this in 2014, and he is on duty again here alongside the stable's rejuvenated 2013 Gold Cup runner-up, Sir Des Champs.
In light of an aborted cross-country experiment, On His Own's star has fallen dramatically over the past year. Don Poli's has gone the other way since he won the novices' version a year ago.
A few high-profile scratchings have taken a little from the Lexus's lustre.
Still, if Bryan Cooper, who has a cracking book of rides for his Gigginstown House Stud employers, can guide Don Poli to victory over some solid if exposed yardsticks, it will at least reinforce his mount's status as a serious Gold Cup candidate.
In the other Grade One, the Squared Financial Hurdle, Mullins has pulled a rabbit from the hat by electing to send Arctic Fire over three miles. He has previously indicated that Arctic Fire might not have the stamina for such a gruelling encounter as this.
However, with the stable's Nichols Canyon long odds-on for tomorrow's two-mile Grade One, something had to give. It's a fine dilemma to have.
12.10 At The Races Maiden Hurdle 2m 4f
Willie Mullins relies on the French import Bellow Mome, which was beaten in three bumpers but clearly has some potential.
Showem Silver made light of bottomless conditions when improving considerably to win a bumper for Noel Meade at Fairyhouse. More will be required now, while Minella Aris, apparently a fortunate point-to-point winner, represents top-class connections.
Chain Gang won at Listowel before finishing third to Tombstone in the north, so he has considerable potential now that he goes hurdling.
Eoin Griffin's Road To Respect has the benefit of two previous endeavours over flights. A point-to-point winner, he was second to Yorkhill last time, which is smart form.
Verdict: Road To Respect has the scope to step up for Bryan Cooper.
12.45 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f
Leave At Dawn is eight pounds higher for winning at Cheltenham. He remains quite unexposed, though he might prefer the ground slightly drier.
Mall Dini dotted up at Thurles, having been third to Yorkhill previously. He loves the mud and is in off 129, which may underestimate him.
Malt Gem won off a two-pound higher mark over fences in November and switches back to hurdling now, while Childrens List and Valyssa Monterg have chances for the champion trainer.
Dermot Weld has booked Nina Carberry for Grecian Tiger. The Fairyhouse winner is another capable of going on to better things off a first-time rating of 126. Roll It Out, just denied at Navan, has a poor win record but rarely runs a bad race.
Verdict: A chance is taken on Grecian Tiger's quality prevailing.
1.20 Ballymaloe Foods Beginners' Chase 2m 3f
Barry Geraghty has opted for Blazer over My Hometown, which is mildly surprising but must be respected. My Hometown hasn't been disgraced in good company, so this drop in class will help.
Blazer did catch the eye when third to Net D'Ecosse on his bow for Mullins at Punchestown. This is a better race but he receives weight from all bar one.
Balbir Du Mathan is of a decent standard, although he was slightly flattered to be second to Pont Alexandre at Punchestown. Blair Perrone is well capable, and his Navan third to Douvan was a fine turn.
If he runs his race, he will be thereabouts, as will Tell Us More. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle sixth seems to love a cut in the ground and he will get plenty of that here.
Verdict: A chance is taken on chasing newcomer Tell Us More.
1.55 Grade One Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle 3m
Arctic Fire turns up unexpectedly here. He has emerged as a serious operator over the past season and a half, but has always looked as though two-and-a-half miles is the outer range of his stamina limitations.
A keen-runner that beat Alpha Des Obeaux tidily in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, he tries three miles for a first time now. In this ground, he could be up against it, but he has the class.
Alpha Des Obeaux is a progressive individual that seems ground versatile.
He was bang there when falling at the last at Aintree in the spring in the race that was won by Thistlecrack, and was subsequently a fine second to Nichols Canyon at Punchestown.
Martello Tower also loves a slog. He won over three miles at Cheltenham in March and will be a big player if wound up for this, which might not be a given.
Verdict: Alpha Des Obeaux appeals as solid nap material.
2.30 Christmas Novices' Handicap Hurdle 2m
Herminator hails from the right yard but this won't be easy under top-weight on his first run since June 2014.
Winter Lion, Definite Earl, Prince Kup, Deputy Marshall, Elusive Ivy and Mighty Concorde are all consistent and well capable of getting involved.
Verdict: Prince Kup has an each-way life in a wide-open heat.
3.05 Grade One Lexus Chase 3m
Don Poli bounced back from his lacklustre final turn last term to win a shade cosily at Aintree.
He is an exciting prospect that soared home in the RSA at Cheltenham in March, and three miles in the mud will bring out the best in him here, same as it did when he made his Grade One breakthrough a year ago.
On His Own and Sir Des Champs join him from Closutton. Following his smooth Thurles reappearance after a long lay-off, Sir Des Champs is the one of more interest.
Beaten less than a length in this in 2012, he then won the Hennessy over course and distance, before finishing second in the Gold Cup and winning at Punchestown. Another that will love conditions, he simply cannot be discounted under Ruby Walsh.
Carlingford Lough is the reigning Hennessy hero. Beaten out of sight in the Gold Cup and again over flights on his return, he has a lot more on his plate now, as does Foxrock, which he defeated in the Hennessy.
The market principals would surely need to misfire for either to triumph.
A similar comment applies in relation to First Lieutenant. He rolled back the years to be third in the Hennessy at Newbury, but is exposed at this level.
Verdict: Hard to find fault with Don Poli in these conditions.
3.35 Midland Legal Solicitors INH Flat Race 2m
Robert Tyner's Gurteen danced up in a point-to-point and then was a fine second to Min on his track bow at Punchestown. Broken Soul's Navan second to Anibale Fly came out of the blue a little, but he must be respected now that he reverts to a bumper.
Some Neck represents the elite, while Candlestick is another newcomer to note for a stable doing really well in this type of race right now.
Verdict: If Gurteen can build on his track bow, he should win.