Nolan's smart tactics can help Joncol keep home fires burning
Denman's presence in this evening's Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup adds plenty spice to the week's feature event.
Over the past few seasons, Paul Nicholls' giant son of Presenting has played a key role in attracting a wider audience to the jumps game and, as was the case when he hosed up in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown in 2007, he will be assured another thunderous reception should he maintain his 100pc record on Irish soil.
If Denman arrives at the Kildare track at the top of his game, he is undoubtedly the horse to beat, but we've frequently seen how his lung-bursting style of running can take its toll on subsequent displays. Granted, he has had a reasonable break since gallantly chasing Imperial Commander home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month.
Nonetheless, there is a chance that he won't operate to quite the level he did then, and neither will the decent underfoot conditions make it easy for him to grind his 11 rivals into submission. Once you take him out of the equation for the win, Cooldine and J'y Vole must come into the equation, but preference is for Joncol, Paul Nolan's Hennessey Gold Cup hero.
Since that brilliant victory Nolan has repeatedly stated his charge is operating below the standard set by the likes of Denman. That may be the case on paper, but Joncol is hugely progressive and would be three from three in Grade Ones this season but for a costly tactical error in the Lexus in December.
Nolan is concerned about further drying of the ground and intends to make his "big decision" only after walking the course this afternoon and while he'd prefer more give, the fact that Joncol had pace enough to run Tranquil Sea to a length and a quarter over two miles on his seasonal debut suggests that he won't want for toe. And his hold-up style gives Alain Cawley a chance of throwing down a late challenge to Denman. Another key factor is that Nolan has campaigned the still unfinished gelding smartly, missing Cheltenham in favour of this.
As a result, Joncol is expected to come here in the peak of condition, which might just give him that necessary edge over Denman. At around 11/2, he is value to keep the Grade One at home.
In the Madra Dog Food Novice Hurdle that precedes the big race, Magnanimity faces a number of the horses that he accounted for on heavy ground at Fairyhouse. Apart from the better going here, there is also an extra half mile to contend with, not to mention that he has more on at the weights.
Rigour Bob Back, which is six pounds to the good now for five-length beating, may be best equipped to take advantage, though Arabella Boy is another that will improve for drier ground and three miles. All told, it may be worth keeping Magnanimity on side.
Having won a point-to-point on similar going at Dromahane this time last year, there is no reason to believe today's conditions will count against him. Indeed, they might even aid his cause.
The Louis Fitzgerald Hurdle sees Tom Cooper's Son Amix attempt to build on his excellent fourth in the Fred Winter Hurdle at Cheltenham. Average improvement from that would make the Navan winner a potent prospect, but doesn't appeal in an open race at a short price.
Preference is for Willie Mullins' Final Approach. Paul Townend's mount was a useful 88-rated handicapper on the Flat, before making a smooth transition to hurdling at Downpatrick at the end of March. On the back of that, he shouldn't be far away.
Surprisingly, Mullins is without a runner in the second Grade One on the card, the Paddy Power Champion Bumper. His brother Tom's Tavern Times looks the pick here on his Cheltenham fourth, while Stewart's House, which was a late withdrawal from the Irish Grand National, catches the eye in the subsequent handicap chase.
3.40 -- Coliseum
4.20 -- Final Approach
4.55 -- Magnanimity
5.30 -- Joncol
6.05 -- Tavern Times
6.40 -- Stewarts House (nap)
7.15 -- Kilty Storm