Trio point to power of Mullins
It has been a pretty timid start to the campaign by Willie Mullins, not withstanding the loss of five dozen Gigginstown-owned horses to other yards. The Closutton trainer, likely to be crowned champion for the tenth successive campaign, ran just 17 jumpers in October, almost half of the figure 12 months ago (33). Dry weather was key.
It was always expected that normal service would return and, in striking with a treble on Clonmel Oil Chase day on Thursday, featuring two Grade Twos, there was a sense that the show was back on the road.
There was not much to read into the yard's relatively quiet spell and the entries for today's StanJames.com Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown were a stark reminder of the power Mullins possesses, even without the boys in maroon.
It was thus more than anti-climatic on Friday when none of Annie Power, Faugheen or Vroum Vroum Mag were declared for the first Grade One hurdle of the season. Instead, last year's winner - Nichols Canyon - will be joined by stablemates Sempre Medici and Simenon, the stable accounting for most of the field.
The quintet is completed by two JP McManus-owned four-year-olds in Ivanovich Gorbatov and Jer's Girl, which is just 7/2 despite last season's juveniles having struggled to show the form in a positive light since.
It was in this event 12 months ago that Faugheen suffered defeat for the first time, his head carriage in an ill-fated struggle to get by Nichols Canyon suggesting that he was not necessarily one for a battle, something he rarely had to contemplate. However, he was bombproof for the remainder of the season, though injury deprived him of a shot at a second Champion Hurdle attempt.
Nichols Canyon is reportedly an unimpressive animal in his exercise and punters taking the odds-on must put faith in the champion trainer that he can produce him ready enough to account for these rivals. On his day, and he rarely disappoints, he is a hardy front-runner, maintaining a fierce gallop that will probably prove too much for the other four.
Still, with the son of Authorized as short as 4/7 today yet 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle next March, it is difficult not to be underwhelmed. However, the other Graded races on the card are up to scratch and Gigginstown's hand is formidable in both.
It may not have been easy for Bryan Cooper, who returned during the week from injury, to make his choice in the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Steeplechase. Michael O'Leary has Disko, A Toi Phil and Nambour.
Even as the apparent third-string of those, Nambour is no bigger in the wagering than 7/2, and he gets the nod under Mark Enright. As a novice hurdler, he was smart, but his chase debut in Galway, having switched to Mouse Morris, suggested that chasing could bring about an even higher level of form.
Cooper went for Disko, which was no major surprise. The Noel Meade-trained grey won as he liked at Punchestown on his chase debut and ought to have an exciting future.
The shortest-priced horse of the afternoon will surely be Identity Thief in the Grade Two Ryans Cleaning Craddockstown Novice Steeplechase, the Gigginstown runner bidding to prove that he deserves to be no bigger than the best-quote 8/1 available for the Arkle next March.
Henry de Bromhead, having lost the Alan Potts horses, nevertheless has a handful of potential stars going into 2017 and Identity Thief is one of them. It was difficult to fault his technique when landing the odds on his chase bow.
In some respects, it is a day of regrets, but the seasonal road ahead is long.
Sunday Indo Sport