Quel Esprit has class to prevail
After three high-profile midweek defections, the remaining seven entries in tomorrow's Hennessy Gold Cup all stood their ground at the final declaration stage.
Quel Esprit, which eased a fraction in the betting yesterday following solid support for Magnanimity, remains a short-priced favourite to deliver for Willie Mullins what would be a remarkable eighth win in the Leopardstown Grade One.
The grey is arguably the only horse in the €92,000 contest with the potential to make any impact in better company, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares under Ruby Walsh.
All told, however, this is another disappointing renewal of what purports to be the most prestigious -- or at least classiest -- chase in the domestic calendar.
An undercard that features three other Grade Ones may be more informative, with recent top-level course winners Last Instalment and Cash And Go out to enhance their reputations ahead of next month's Cheltenham Festival.
Given the proximity of the Prestbury Park bonanza, the presence of a number of English raiders in the two big hurdle races can only enrich what there is to be learned, with Nicky Henderson's Tolworth victor Captain Conan a particular weighty visitor.
1.05 -- Spring Juvenile Hurdle (2m)
Of the three English runners, Asaid's form has stood up best. Ut De Sivola, which accounted for Hisaabaat, Burrenbridge Lodge and One Cool Shabra at Punchestown, looks the pick of the locals, but Shadow Catcher also beat two subsequent winners when recording a hard-fought win on his jumping bow.
Verdict: Asaid is the preference for a shrewd stable.
1.35 -- Irish Stallion Farms H'cap Hurdle (2m 2f)
Up 19lbs since her fortune changed in January, Ros Brin is on a hat-trick after another convincing triumph here last time. A Country Girl, Catleen and Snow Spell also bring winning form to the table, while Espresso Lady has run respectably in defeat of late.
Verdict: Espresso Lady appeals off a light weight.
2.10 -- Deloitte Novice Hurdle (2m 2f)
On a line of form through Dylan Ross, there'll be little to choose between Il Fenomeno, Lord Windermere, Burn And Turn, Sous Les Cieux and Cash And Go.
Cash And Go and Sous Les Cieux finished either side of Dylan Ross at Christmas, and both could benefit for this step up in trip.
The former trio probably have more to find, but Lord Windermere, which is raw and lightly raced, could well step up. Captain Conan represents the English form, having just done enough to prevail on his British debut in a Sandown Grade One.
Verdict -- With little to choose between the locals, Captain Conan could be the one.
2.40 -- Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase (2m 5f)
Lambro, stepping back up to a more suitable trip having asked questions of Flemenstar at Naas, ought to pose a threat to all under Ruby Walsh.
His stablemate, Call The Police, did nothing wrong when scoring readily on his chasing bow at Gowran Park in November, but may have a bit to find at this level, as might Shot From The Hip, which improved to collar Ninetieth Minute last time.
On the basis of his Grade One win here at Christmas, Last Instalment, unbeaten in three over fences, sets the standard.
Verdict -- Last Instalment could have too many guns for Lambro.
3.10 -- paddypower.com Handicap Hurdle (2m)
Second to Quel Esprit at Thurles most recently, Whodoyouthink has been showing up well over fences, so should figure back over flights now. Cavite Beta, a winner at Gowran on its only start for Jim Dreaper in September, has no weight on its back.
Baby Whizz and Concrete And Clay have scored since the turn of the year.
Verdict -- Just a pound higher than its last winning mark, Whodoyouthink appeals.
3.45 -- Hennessy Gold Cup (3m)
If first-time cheekpieces have the desired effect, Bostons Angel's novice form is the best on offer, though he has it to prove. Others that could play a part at their peak would be China Rock, Follow The Plan and Roberto Goldback, but Magnanimity and Quel Esprit are the two that could fight this out.
Quel Esprit has fenced well to score a pair of bloodless wins this term, albeit in lesser company. Unbeaten in completed starts over fences, he has a touch of class. Magnanimity isn't quite so prolific, but he has a solid record here, and wasn't far off the best staying novices last term. On his reappearance in the Lexus, he was bang there until turning in and will strip much fitter now.
Verdict -- Magnanimity is feared, but Quel Esprit might finally fulfil his potential.
4.20 -- Raymond Smith Memorial Chase (3m)
Vic Venturi has found a new lease of life in point-to-points, collecting on both of his starts last month. On its first run since finishing fourth in the Foxhunters' at Cheltenham, last year's winner On The Fringe should also compete.
Verdict -- On the Fringe is fancied to be fit enough.
4.50 -- Injured Jockeys Fund INH Flat Race (2m)
Dancers Dilemma was placed at Galway on its only previous outing, but that was back in 2009. Centurian and Kingclip have shown up well this term, while Willie Mullins' Pique Sous wasn't beaten far on its initial run at Fairyhouse.
Verdict -- Pique Sous gets the nod for his all-conquering stable.