Russell can Loosen up his Punchestown rivals
Recently crowned champion jockey Davy Russell falls in for the plum ride on a freshened-up Loosen My Load at Punchestown this evening.
Andrew Lynch, who usually does the steering on Henry de Bromhead's eight-year-old, is sidelined with a broken leg following a nasty spill at Cork last week, so the in-form Russell has been called on to fill the breach in the two-and-three-quarter-mile conditions chase.
A good ground specialist that has won four over fences, Loosen My Load has not run since finishing down the field in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November.
However, he always runs well after a break, and none of his six rivals will give him too much trouble if he is in the sort of form that saw him finish second to Realt Dubh in the Powers Gold Cup just over a year ago.
Dancing Tornado, Askanna and Made In Taipan are closest to the nap selection on official ratings, but their recent offerings are hardly inspiring.
In the shorter conditions chase, Slieveardagh is another that relishes a sound surface. Edward O'Grady's charge must concede weight all round, with the Down Royal beginners' winner Devil's Elbow, Raptor and Uncle Tom Cobley among those poised to take advantage.
That said, Slieveardagh, successful in decent races at Leopardstown and Navan in March and runner-up to Lambro on unsuitably soft going here three weeks ago, is a classy prospect for this time of the year. If he is anywhere close to his best under Barry Geraghty, he should win.
The Conyngham Cup, an amateur riders' chase that went the way of the subsequent Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai 12 months ago, boasts a field of 18 in what looks a competitive renewal of the three-miler.
You could make a case for a large percentage of the line-up, but Barel Of Laughs appeals most for Jim Culloty and Derek O'Connor.
Twice a winner in the autumn, the six-year-old has plummeted 11lb for his first two starts of the year. Tonight's conditions will suit him ideally, though, so a return to form is likely.