Progressive Monksland nap choice
Small fields have increasingly become the norm at the highest level on the domestic jumps scene and there is more of the same on tomorrow's marquee spread at Fairyhouse.
A total of just 16 horses tackle three prestigious Grade Ones that boast a combined value of €230,000, which means only a few will depart without some share of the purse.
While that's all very well for those taking part, it remains to be seen how competitive the showpiece events will be, with the Hatton's Grace Hurdle a really disappointing edition of a race that has been graced by stellar names such as Danoli, Doran's Pride, Istabraq, Limestone Lad, Solerina, Brave Inca and Hurricane Fly.
For all that last year's victor Voler La Vedette nearly brought the house down at Cheltenham in March by giving Big Buck's a scare, Colm Murphy's star mare returns to the scene of her greatest triumph with something to prove after a tame defeat at long odds-on first time up. The two novice events promise to be more informative.
Of the 11 starters, 10 have amassed an aggregate unbeaten streak that stretches to 23. By the close of play, then, there will be bubbles burst all over the place.
12.35 Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle (2m)
There shouldn't be much between Stocktons Wing and stablemates Brog Deas and South South West. On the balance of form, Brog Deas probably has most to offer.
However, this is all about Our Conor. Officially rated seven pounds inferior to Brog Deas on the level, he looked a smashing sort when quickening clear at Naas recently.
Verdict: Our Conor should justify short odds under the excellent Bryan Cooper.
1.05 Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (2m)
As a dual Grade One-winning star of the bumper ranks, Champagne Fever sets a tall standard. He won as readily as he was entitled to on his jumping bow at Cork and, while he may need further in time, heavy ground at this trip will provide test enough.
Clonbanan Lad could do no more than he did at Punchestown, but was shy of the best last term. Of the remainder, Minsk and Jezki, two four-year-olds, are of most interest.
While both have huge potential, at this stage Jezki has the best form. Ally Cascade and Un Beau Matin, his closest victims in two hurdling outings, have both won since.
Verdict: Jezki is feared, but Champagne Fever remains a formidable prospect.
1.35 Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase (2m 4f)
Michael O'Leary's Dedigout, trained by Tony Martin, progressed to win a Grade One as a novice hurdler last term, and a fine victory on his chasing debut at Punchestown augured well for this discipline. He is most effective at this trip and will relish the mud.
Texas Jack wasn't as good over flights, but the form of his Naas triumph was franked when Make A Track won on Thursday. Buckers Bridge's Punchestown win has likewise since been shown in a good light by Sword Of Destiny. Arvika Ligeonniere is hard to fathom. Over hurdles he looked good without being precocious, which is exactly how he appeared when sluicing up on his return from two years off at Punchestown in May. This will be tougher.
Verdict: Dedigout to oblige for last year's successful owner and trainer.
2.05 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares' Handicap Chase (2m 4f)
The reliable Shop DJ has plenty on first time out under a big weight, especially with so many capable sorts in receipt of poundage. Quarryvale, Glibin, Avondhu Lady, Cloughmile, Miss Pepperpot, Oscars Time and Rising Time all fall into that bracket.
Still, few are as well treated as the novice Our Girl Salley, second to Tarla last time. A top-rated 139 over flights, her mark of 123 is favourable.
Verdict: Our Girl Sally can make the most of the opportunity for Barry Geraghty.
2.40 Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle (2m 4f)
Last year's heroine Voler La Vedette would be the clear pick at her best, but she has since sandwiched two commendable defeats between two tame odds-on reversals.
Zaidpour and So Young go well in the ground. Zaidpour won the big novice here two years ago, and was a fine second to Hurricane Fly at Punchestown in the spring.
Monksland is the one that has the scope to prove a real force in Grade Ones. His only defeat last term came when a luckless third behind the high-class Simonsig at Cheltenham. He didn't beat much on his Down Royal return, but did so nicely.
Verdict: With ground and trip to suit, the progressive Monksland gets the nap vote.
3.10 Caffrey's Bar & Restaurant Of Batterstown Chase (3m 5f)
Action Master, Highdownhill and Tarquinius all have winning form, with Our Victoria interesting in light of her fourth in the four-miler at Cheltenham in March.
Third over this sort of trip at Cork, Ardglen caught the eye last time when filling the same spot behind Highdownhill at Punchestown, despite stumbling at a crucial point.
Verdict: Ardglen has potential over this sort of extreme distance.
3.20 O'Doherty's Audio & Video INH Flat Race (2m)
The market will be the best pointer here. Of the three to have run on the track, Saffron Wells has shown most, but that isn't saying much.
Outlander, second in its third point-to-point, represents Willie Mullins, while Talbot Road and Thomond won in that sphere and hail from similarly proficient outfits.
Verdict : Thomond is a tentative selection for Noel Meade and Nina Carberry.