Texas Jack can spoil Finian's Killarney venture
Nicky Henderson's decision to shuttle the former champion chaser Finian's Rainbow over to Killarney lends some unexpected appeal to part one of the picturesque track's three-day festival tomorrow.
The conditions of the Leane's Tool Hire & Lawnmowers Chase and a healthy prize fund of €18,000 seemingly made the two-and-a-half-mile affair the most suitable option for the comeback of a horse that hasn't run since being pulled up at Cheltenham in November 2013.
Henderson has booked the in-form Paul Townend for the ride on Finian's Rainbow, further enhancing the impression that the 2011 champion jockey's talents are beginning to gain wider recognition.
With Ruby Walsh left twiddling his thumbs in the weigh-room, it is a first-time association that will prompt some to speculate about its significance, given the continued tendency to link the injured Barry Geraghty with the vacant JP McManus gig.
At his peak, Finian's Rainbow would have been thrown in against tomorrow's four rivals.
However, he is 12 years of age, so he isn't especially hard to oppose, bearing in mind that the ground could get quite soft.
Last night's Cork card was lost to waterlogging after the track was hit by persistent rain throughout the day, and the Mallow venue is only around 60 kilometres east of the Co Kerry circuit.
Finian's Rainbow was always best on a decent surface, so it won't help his cause if it rides very slow.
Mouse Morris' Baily Green, a facile winner of the race 12 months ago, is a live contender again under Mark Enright after running brilliantly when pushing Felix Yonger to half-a-length at Punchestown.
The one that appeals most, though, is Noel Meade's Texas Jack. Ger Fox's five-pound claim helps to negate the seven pounds that the top-weight must concede here, which could prove significant.
In four starts last term, Texas Jack competed well at a high level, initially getting to within six lengths of Don Cossack in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown in December.
He then finished a well-beaten second behind Gordon Elliott's star when Champagne Fever exited at the last at Thurles in January, before running admirably to be beaten 10 lengths over three miles in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
On his only subsequent start, he reverted to his optimum intermediate trip to chase Champagne Fever home at Gowran Park.
All told, that is an impressive standard of form. If Texas Jack can reproduce it now after a short break, he is the one to beat.
Walsh has some decent rides on the rest of the card, with Whiteout possibly the pick of them in the mares' hurdle.
The four-year-old French import won for a second time in three starts for Willie Mullins when seeing off better-fancied stablemates Uranna and Lyrical Theatre at Punchestown.
She is the clear pick on ratings here, so she won't need to do any more than she has done already to make it three from four now. Walsh might also take the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase aboard Tony Martin's Five O'clock Tea.
Rodger Sweeney's Corporate Box is on a hat-trick, while his fellow Rebel County raider Moss Grove has also been running well for Eamonn Fehily.
It is an open contest, but Five O'clock Tea could prove favourably treated off a mark 87. He ran his best race yet over fences when second to Mallards In Flight at Clonmel last month off 82, before scooting up over flights at Perth off 95.
The prospect of soft ground is a slight concern for Five O'clock Tea, but he still has lots going for him under just 10st 11lb.
Walsh is on James Nash's Massini's Trap in the €50,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle. This is another competitive affair comprising 19 runners, including Henry Higgins, which disappointed a little when favourite for a similar race at Punchestown.
Peter Fahey's Queen Alphabet ran a blinder to be fifth at Aintree on her first start since the autumn, so she is another to consider, as is Paul Nolan's Solita. The daughter of King's Theatre has been in great shape, following her game Fairyhouse third with a victory in a novices' event at Wexford last time.
Solita is nine pounds higher than when she scored at Fairyhouse, but she gets in off just 9st 12lb under the excellent claimer Luke Dempsey. If she copes with the slight drop in trip to two miles, she is going to have a big say.
In the beginners' chase, Jessica Harrington's Macnicholson is the class horse on duty. A clear round would give him a leading chance under Robbie Power.