Russell lines up shot at early double
Large, generally competitive fields for this afternoon's Gowran Park meeting suggest punters hopeful of securing the Cheltenham expenses have a tough task on their hands with the ground still testing here.
The hurdle course at the Kilkenny venue may ride somewhat better than on the chase track and Davy Russell, who has been busy on the festival preview circuit, could take the day's honours with an early double.
While hurdling newcomer Distinguished Gent could struggle for Russell in coping with Ambitious Fan in the opener, the Cork jockey has fancied mounts in Cass Bligh and Mon Champion for the following contests.
Adrian Murray's Thurles bumper scorer Cass Bligh appears to have Denis Cullen's charge Better Times in particular to overcome if he's to land the spoils again in the Great Oak Maiden Hurdle.
This Witness Box gelding made a bright start to his career over timber at Leopardstown after Christmas when putting in some significant late headway to eventually claim third money behind Dr Whizz.
Better Times, for his part, demonstrated that a Cork bumper success in his trainer's hands was no fluke more recently when making a race of it with Flat Out at Punchestown before being outpaced in the straight.
Then there's a maximum turnout for the third race on the trot as Pat Flynn's Mon Champion attempts to improve on his Thurles second last week in a ladies race to Red Basil with Russell now aboard.
This Goresbridge Handicap Hurdle, which kicks off the Jackpot, is alive with potential dangers to Mon Champion, however, and a close eye betting-wise is advised on Christy Roche's pair Sword Fish and the long-absent Abbey Glen.
These horses both sport the colours of champion owner JP McManus, whose multiple victor Perce Rock bids to make amends for an abortive Cheltenham challenge in the featured Shamrock Handicap Chase.
Five weeks ago, Perce Rock's jumping let him down before being pulled up in the Grade Three handicap chase over two miles and five furlongs captured by The Sawyer, but he's won over today's less taxing course and distance before.
Dooneys Gate likewise failed to complete behind another front-runner Let Yourself Go when favourite at Thurles last week and could avail fully of a quick opportunity to secure compensation for his connections.
This gelding's stable companion Otay Kawn and, indeed, Navan casualty Got Attitude have something to prove in the jumping department during the Thomastown Beginners Chase, so Havagoodsip might be a safer proposition.