Solwhit to breeze past Hurricane
Management at Fairyhouse racecourse are doing all they can to prevent tomorrow's triple Grade One card from falling to the elements for a second successive year.
The showpiece of the Co Meath venue's winter series had to be rescheduled for the following Wednesday due to waterlogging 12 months ago and the threat of a hard frost this time around has prompted officials to put back today's lesser programme to next Thursday in an effort to preserve the ground.
Given that problems with the racing surface on the inside track recently forced an early abandonment of another Fairyhouse fixture that had been listed for Thursday, to lose tomorrow's weekend slot would be an unwelcome development. Nonetheless, should everything go ahead as planned, an excellent day's racing is in store.
All three Grade Ones are sponsored by Dundalk-based bookmakers Bar One Racing, with the Hatton's Grace Hurdle set to feature the latest showdown between Solwhit and Hurricane Fly. Oscar Dan Dan, winner of the €55,250 prize in 2009, is also present in the 11-runner field, as are other quality performers such as Voler La Vedette, Donnas Palm, Jumbo Rio and Aitmatov, which landed the spoils in 2007.
However, it is Solwhit and Hurricane Fly that set the standard, with Charles Byrnes' six-time Grade One winner fancied to turn the tables on Hurricane Fly, that one having come out on top in a thrilling Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April.
With Willie Mullins' charge making his seasonal debut over two-and-a-half miles in testing conditions, the fact that Solwhit has a run under his belt, when scoring comprehensively at Punchestown two weeks ago, ought to be an advantage.
Mullins is also responsible for a returning hero in the Drinmore Novice Chase. Mikael D'Haguenet, unbeaten in six outings for the champion trainer, but without a run since the 2009 Punchestown festival, will have his first start over fences since joining Mullins from France, where he finished second on his sole chasing start in 2008.
With half a dozen recent winners among the opposition, including Noel Meade's classy Realt Dubh and Gordon Elliot's equally talented Jessies Dream, the Grade One promises to be a fascinating contest. If Mikael D'Haguenet is as well as Mullins clearly believes him to be, though, he remains the horse to beat.
Eight go to post for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle. Again, few will generate as much interest as Mullins' Zaidpour, another of the Carlow handler's French imports that sluiced up on its hurdling debut at Punchestown a fortnight ago.
The four-year-old may well prove very hard to beat, but preference is for The Shepherd King.
Tom Cooper's representative has lived up to his handler's expectations so far this term, cosily landing a bumper at Listowel before accounting for two subsequent winners on his hurdling debut at Galway last month. The trainer's son Bryan will not be able to utilise his five-pound claim at Grade One level, but his mount may have the quality to compensate for any relative lack of experience on the part of his rider.
Elsewhere on the card, Leanne is fancied to follow up her impressive recent victory at Clonmel when she tackles the John Fowler Memorial EBF Mares' Chase, while Sigma Lifestyle can bounce back to form in the Caffrey's of Batterstown Handicap Chase. Noel Meade's Oscar gelding disappointed when favourite for the Cork Grand National last month, but it will be a surprise if a more robust effort isn't forthcoming in slightly better conditions now.