ALL eyes will be on Rebel Fitz at Killarney this evening when the Galway Hurdle winner bids to record his second success over fences.
Trainer Mick Winters should have few concerns over the good to firm ground for his stable star, which struggled in quality hurdle races run on heavy ground over the winter.
Last summer's Galway Hurdle hero endured an odds-on reverse on his fencing debut at this venue in mid-May but bounced back with an easy victory at Ballinrobe later that month.
The eight-year-old now steps up to two and three quarter miles for the Christy McSweeney Memorial Novice Chase. Rebel Fitz will qualify for a handicap mark after his third chase start, with Winters having previously mentioned a possible tilt at the Galway Plate after his Ballinrobe success.
However, he is keen to see how he is assessed by the handicapper before committing his charge to the Ballybrit feature, so this is very much an audition for the big race.
Barry Geraghty will be in the saddle and the biggest threat to the likely favourite will probably come from Beachdale Lad, which is seeking a hat-trick.
Jessica Harrington's charge followed up a win at Roscommon with an even more impressive romp at Kilbeggan and while both Novarov and Toner D'Oudairies also have claims, the spoils should go to Rebel Fitz, provided he stays the trip.
Both the handicap chase and hurdle events look extremely competitive affairs, although the lightly raced He Is Top Class might be worth taking a chance on in the latter contest.
As for the rest of the card, Cheltenham winner Flaxen Fare makes his reapperance in the amateur riders' race, but a safer option here might be Digeanta from the Willie Mullins yard.
The card begins with a maiden for three-year-olds over an extended mile, in which Dermot Weld's Cocktail Hour gets the nod ahead of Il Palazzo from the Aidan O'Brien yard. Ballydoyle might have better prospects in the next race with the hat-trick-seeking Rain God.
Joseph O'Brien's mount – one of five winners for his father at Naas last week – has shown marked improvement for the application of blinkers and still looks on a fair mark.
A speculative vote is given to John Murphy's Idlewild in the 11-furlong handicap, which might represent decent value in the hands of smart apprentice Connor King.
There was some good news yesterday of injured Limerick jockey Brian Toomey, who reportedly made "good steady progress" over the weekend as he continues to recover from serious head injuries suffered in a fall at Perth on July 4.
Toomey (24) was hurt when the Lisa Harrison-trained Solway Dandy fell heavily three out in a conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle. He was taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where he remains in a stable condition having undergone an operation to reduce swelling on his brain on July 7.
In a statement issued yesterday, Lisa Hancock, CEO of the Injured Jockeys Fund, said: "I spoke to Marian Toomey, Brian's mother, earlier today and she reported that Brian made good steady progress over the weekend and remains in a stable condition."