Thursday 23 March 2017

Slieveardagh to close the deal

Damien McElroy

THE second half of this afternoon's Harvest Festival card, confined to National Hunt performers, could compensate to some extent for the earlier pretty poor fare on the Flat, comprising two maidens and a pair of longer handicaps to be endured by Listowel regulars.

Spreading the gravy too thinly is one of the occupational hazards in Irish racing, particularly where festivals are concerned, and the problem is bound to persist as long as money from the television rights continues to pour in on a regular basis at current levels.

Although sufficient rain has materialised to leave the ground quite safe jumping-wise, and definitely on the easy side for the Flat brigade, there's a distinct lack of the more talented horses around at the moment, even if allowances have to be made for the multiple opportunities that will be opening up elsewhere in the coming weeks.

That said, the featured Guinness Handicap Hurdle, which tops the charts money-wise today, appears to be quite competitive, despite the absence of Monday's runaway course and distance victor Salute Him, which was given a 16lb hike by senior handicapper Noel O'Brien.

Tony Martin, that much-travelled gelding's handler, likewise opted to take out Bellewstown hurdles winner and more recent Curragh runner-up Pires, relying instead on Tijuana Dancer, which makes his handicap debut towards the foot of the weight scale.

Christy Roche's Stakers and Michael Hourigan's Lend A Hand Son also tackle this level of competition for the first time and the latter, which has won around here before, could go well for Hourigan and young Adrian Heskin, who were on the mark with Turf War 12 months ago.

However, I prefer to look towards the head of affairs for a more likely scorer and won't be at all surprised if Slieveardagh and Dreamy Gent, which fought out the finish of a similar contest at Killarney last month, tend to dominate the closing stages again.

Edward O'Grady's victor that afternoon, Slieveardagh, renews rivalry with Jessica Harrington's older contender on 5lb worse terms for the three and a half lengths that separated them there, but surely has the greater scope for improvement and can go in once more, irrespective of the presence too of Gordon Elliott's Shopfrontspecialist, a faller at Perth -- where he had won previously -- and in Roscommon, plus Galway runner-up St Devote.

John Hassett's Lough Ferrib brings decent up-to-date form to the table as well in the following Devon Inn Hotel Handicap Hurdle after landing a Flat handicap last Friday at Down Royal and should go close under Davy Russell.

In contrast, the Willie Mullins-trained Uncle Junior resumes after injury in the Kevin McManus Beginners Chase on foot of an absence of more than 25 months since Ruby Walsh's mount was fourth to Tasman at the summer festival in Galway.

It may be more prudent to watch this nine-year-old than back him today as Pat Hughes, who landed this prize with Samasakhan in 2003, launches his useful bumper and hurdles winner Caduceus over the larger obstacles in the capable hands of Alan Crowe.

John Kiely's Wise Old Owl will be expected to earn further place money here for Limerick owner JP McManus, whose chances of another winner are rather more obvious in the concluding winner's bumper, with Sligo heroine Ross Bay napped to outpace Killarney scorer Laganbank.

Irish Independent

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