'Road' can step up for Cooper to claim Gold Cup glory
Road to riches gets the chance to confirm the renewed promise of his flawless November comeback when he strives to secure Noel Meade and Bryan Cooper their first Irish Gold Cup success.
The odds-on shot's owner Michael O'Leary is responsible for 50pc of the 10-strong field, with his 2013 hero Sir Des Champs among the back-up.
Davy Russell has presumably deserted him this time in favour of the redoubtable First Lieutenant, a horse that both he and Cooper have been loyal to at their expense in the past.
Likewise, Barry Geraghty has eschewed the reigning title-holder Carlingford Lough in favour of Gilgamboa, while he will also sport the JP McManus silks aboard Aidan O'Brien's crack juvenile, Ivanovich Gorbatov, in the opening Grade One.
The prospect of a serious young hurdler representing that owner-trainer combination inevitably evokes wistful memories of the Istabraq days.
At the other end of the spectrum, Jer's Girl and Rashaan will be out to land a blow for the less well-heeled, with Zabana also falling into that category later on. While it is a fantastic card that promises plenty ahead of the impending Cheltenham Festival, one notable absentee is Nina Carberry.
She was due to be reunited with star hunter chaser On The Fringe, but is sidelined with a sore back following a fall on Thursday.
12.55 Grade One GAIN Spring Juvenile Hurdle 2m
Ivanovich Gorbatov was impressive in accounting for Let's Dance here on his hurdle debut.
A 97-rated fast ground Flat winner, he is clearly versatile, and Lagostovegas and Tocororo, third and fourth at Christmas, both dotted up subsequently.
Allblak Des Places also made a fine impression at Fairyhouse, though Ruby Walsh sticks with Let's Dance. In beating the 99-rated Outspoken, Allblak Des Places did lots right, as did Jer's Girl when just denied by Apple's Jade here in a Grade Two.
As a front-runner, she is going to be vulnerable but she relishes the mud and is tough. Footpad, eight lengths behind Jer's Girl, has since cruised home at Gowran Park, so that form looks solid. Rashaan was a couple of lengths further back and has it to prove.
Verdict: Ivanovich Gorbatov looks a really solid prospect.
1.25 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares' Handicap Hurdle 2m 2f
Pride Of The Baird battled well last time, although her cause was helped by the second's lack of resolve. Elusive Ivy won tidily at Punchestown. She is up five pounds but may have that in hand.
The Living Beauty, fourth that day, hails from an in-form team and has scope to do much better.
Verdict: Elusive Ivy is trusted to defy her penalty.
1.55 Grade One Deloitte Novices' Hurdle 2m 2f
Tombstone, a classy type, sports a hood after racing ruinously keen before then struggling for room when a staying-on second to Long Dog here over Christmas, which ultimately was a fine turn.
The longer trip may help, but a modest gallop wouldn't. While Bellshill is less complicated, he is dropping back in distance, after dotting up in a moderate Naas Grade One over two-and-a-half miles. Second to Barters Hill at Aintree in the spring, he is a Grade One bumper winner over two miles on good ground, and he travels easily in these conditions.
Stablemate Petit Mouchoir is no forlorn hope. Third to Long Dog at Christmas, he was closing again at the line. This longer trip will play to his strengths.
Verdict: Bellshill is napped to emerge on top in a decent contest.
2.30 Grade One Flogas Novices' Chase 2m 5f
Pont Alexandre fenced exuberantly before just giving best to Roi Des Francs on his first stab at three miles last time, and it may be that this shorter trip suits him better.
His only previous defeat in five starts across nearly four years came when he was third to The New One at Cheltenham in March 2013. He sets the standard.
Monksland's fencing lacks fluency at times. He beat Roi Des Francs at Gowran Park before finishing second to No More Heroes at Fairyhouse, though he blotted his copybook last time.
Outlander tends to come up short at this grade, but he goes in the mud and gets things done.
As Bryan Cooper's choice over McKinley, he is respected, as is Zabana. Andrew Lynch's charge beat Balbir Du Mathan over Christmas in similar style as Pont Alexandre had done previously. The runner-up Blair Perrone has since gone close against Killultagh Vic, while the third, Tell Us More, won at Gowran. Zabana could be a smart chaser.
Verdict: Zabana can replicate his polished Christmas display.
3.05 1888 Restaurant Handicap Hurdle 2m
The frustrating Vercingetorix drops in grade after running well at Ascot, and is down in the handicap here.
Alan Fleming's All You Need is three from four over the past year, while Blazer and Joshua Lane ought to be thereabouts for JP McManus. There was plenty to like about Joshua Lane's Naas fourth, though he has failed to win yet. Verdict: Joshua Lane gets the nod to deliver.
3.40 Irish Gold Cup 3m
Road To Riches ran a blinder to be third in last year's Gold Cup, having raced aggressively in deep conditions. Well held at Punchestown in April, he seemed back to his enthusiastic best when slamming Bright New Dawn, Felix Yonger and First Lieutenant at Clonmel in November.
That form reads well, and, while he has had a hiccup or two since, connections have given him plenty time. He is also a Grade One course and distance winner, having accounted for On His Own, Carlingford Lough and First Lieutenant in the 2014 Lexus.
Carlingford Lough is seeking back-to-back victories in this, but has struggled of late.
First Lieutenant, third to Smad Place in the Hennessy, ran another cracker to be second to Don Poli in the Lexus. It's not beyond him to go one better, but that would reflect poorly on the younger pretenders.
Foxrock was second last year and was a close third in the Lexus. He travelled better than anything that day and pinged the last, but just got tapped for toe before keeping on again. He can go close again.
Gilgamboa has a little more to prove, likewise Sir Des Champs after a tame Lexus effort.
Valseur Lido and Wounded Warrior have the scope to progress. They aren't far off the pick of these and shouldn't mind conditions, with the presence of Ruby Walsh on Valseur Lido - second to Djakadam in the John Durkan Chase prior to falling in the King George - an obvious plus.
Verdict: It will be disappointing if Road To Riches doesn't step up.
4.15 Leopardstown Inn Hunters' Chase 3m
On The Fringe is a class act, but lacks a run and might be better on drier ground, while Salsify is returning from 330 days off. B L Swagger, It Came To Pass, You Must Know Me and Two Rockers are all capable, and Two Rockers' form is as good as anything in this sphere just recently.
Verdict: Two Rockers appeals under Finny Maguire.
4.45 INH Flat Race 2m
Some Neck emerged with real credit when second to the classy Gurteen on his debut. He stands out notably in this contest.
Verdict - Some Neck should come out on top.