Russell has Courage to strengthen title grip
Reigning champion jockey Davy Russell has surged five clear of Ruby Walsh at the top of the riders' table since Sunday and it's hard not to envisage him extending that advantage in Walsh's absence at Navan this afternoon.
Of his five booked mounts at the Co Meath venue, three are fancied to collect, with Courage the first that appeals in the opening Northern Ireland Children's Hospice Maiden Hurdle.
On its first start since finishing second to Fisher at Gowran Park in October, Peter Casey's Boss's Star must be respected, while Willie Mullins' Call Me Bubbles is doubtless better than its subdued Leopardstown debut suggested.
However, the Charles Byrnes-trained Courage was a superior horse to both on the Flat, and showed enough when running greenly to be fourth to Djakadam on his jumping bow at Gowran two weeks ago to suggest that he has a future over flights.
If he comes on any bit for that, he should claim what is a weaker race here.
Dessie Hughes' Troubled ought to have a big say for Russell in the handicap hurdle, if he can recapture his best after some below-par efforts on desperate ground, with Toostrong also fancied in the Gigginstown Stud silks in the following beginners' chase.
A useful novice hurdler last term, Willie Mullins' six-year-old showed promise when third to Madam Bovary on his first stab at fences at Punchestown in January.
Should the likes of Johannisberger, Shinrock Paddy and Realt Mor turn up in form, Toostrong could be up against it, but none of those are the most reliable conveyances.
The champion trainer's perennial runner-up Champagne Agent is worth opposing, with Gillian O'Callaghan's consistent Mad Brian in the older horses' maiden hurdle, though the day's nap vote goes the way of Hughes' Wise Oscar. Despite being nine years of age, in its first two starts over hurdles for the Curragh handler at Fairyhouse, Wise Oscar finished second to Bog Warrior and then beat the subsequent winner Miss Xian at his leisure.
That latest eight-length triumph came off a mark of 107, so you'd struggle to make a viable case against him now that he competes off just 101 in the three-mile handicap chase under Bryan Cooper.