OF the two valuable Saturday handicaps left in England this side of Christmas, next week's Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot appears to be the one poised for an Irish onslaught.
Cheltenham's two-day December meeting is likely to get under way with a host of raiders in tomorrow's cross-country race. Of the 17 entries, 10 are Irish-trained, with Bostons Angel, A New Story, Uncle Junior, Shakervilz, Arabella Boy and Outlaw Pete all proficient performers in the discipline.
However, the only Irish-trained horses in Saturday's IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup are Willie Mullins' Quiscover Fontaine and Oliver Brady's Imperial Shabra, and both can be backed at big prices for a race in which Walkon heads the ante-post market.
That contrasts with next weekend's valuable hurdle at Ascot. Of the 44 allotted weights for the two-miler yesterday, 11 hail from these shores, with Dermot Weld's Hisaabaat installed as one of the sponsors' three 8/1 co-favourites.
Twice successful in Grade Ones and second in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, the Dr Ronan Lambe-owned four-year-old has been beaten out of sight on its last two hurdle starts, latterly fourth under a big weight behind the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle hero Jezki at Naas.
But Weld's recent success at Ascot has the layers treading cautiously, with Rite Of Passage, Sapphire and Princess Highway all bagging famous wins for him on the Flat already this year. If Hisaabaat is to follow suit, he'll have to shoulder 11st 5lb, provided either of last year's winner Raya Star or last weekend's Sandown scorer Petit Robin stay in.
Others that figure prominently in the betting are Tom Mullins' hat-trick-seeking King Of Queens (10st 4lb), Gordon Elliott's Galway Hurdle runner-up Cause Of Causes (10st 13lb) and Eddie Harty's Princeton Plains (10st 10lb).
Weld also features in the initial entries for the 2014 Epsom Derby which were unveiled yesterday, with six of the 406 listed due to race from Rosewell House. Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle contingent clocked in at 52, the same number that Coolmore's star stallion Galileo is represented by, one of which, Hydrogen, was the most expensive yearling sold at auction this year with a price tag of 2.5m guineas.
Galileo's brilliant half-brother Sea The Stars has 33 nominations in the £1.3m Classic. Successful in the Epsom Group One during his stunning 2009 campaign, the former John Oxx-trained legend will have its first crop produce on the track in the spring.
Around the same time, Northumberland handler Pauline Robson hopes to leg up Derek O'Connor on Rival D'Estruval at Cheltenham. Robson trains the smart French-bred for Raymond Anderson Green, father-in-law of Kildare-born jockey Timmy Murphy.
Rival D'Estruval is a 14/1 favourite for the National Hunt Chase in March, so Robson moved to secure the nine-time champion point-to-point rider.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that Tote Jackpots which are not won on a designated weekend at Irish meetings will now be carried over to a nominated fixture the following weekend and branded 'Super Jackpots'. Up to the beginning of this month, the pool would simply have been transferred to the next scheduled meeting.