'Weld's Vigil looks one to watch' - Richie Forristal marks your Leopardstown card
A year after the seemingly invincible Vautour fluffed its lines in the Grade One novices' chase, Douvan will today strive to maintain its flawless record for Willie Mullins in the same Leopardstown feature.
The €90,000 two-miler sees just three rivals tackle the athletic Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero. However, they are surely among the best equipped to put it up to him.
Jessica Harrington's exciting front-runner Ttebbob and Sizing John have impressed greatly since switching to fences, while Velvet Maker's star is also in the ascent.
They will have to step up now, but, with two runs apiece over fences, Ttebbob and Sizing John have the upper hand in terms of experience.
With Ruby Walsh on duty at Kempton, Paul Townend falls in for the plum mount on Douvan, which is already a best-priced 7/4 favourite for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham next March. Mullins's Footpad is another ante-post market leader for the Prestbury Park climax, although he can still be backed at up to 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.
He faces seven in today's Knight Frank Hurdle, including Rashaan and Jer's Girl, the stars of two less prolific stables.
Should Colin Kidd or Gavin Cromwell mastermind the defeat of the Grade Two hotpot, they will depart the Foxrock venue with dreams of Cotswolds glory enhanced.
Elsewhere, there is little more intriguing than the hurdle debut of Vigil.
Dermot Weld's classy bumper horse will be ridden by Tommy Treacy, the popular veteran who enjoyed such memorable days at Leopardstown aboard Danoli.
Treacy has ridden just twice since the summer and not at all for over a month. It is three-and-a-half years since he rode a winner, and, with Weld's regular rider Davy Russell available, it's hard not to wonder if victory here might prove to be of the landmark variety. Good luck to him.
12.15 Clayton Hotel Maiden Hurdle 2m
Ball D'Arc progressed from two subdued runs last term to win a Thurles bumper in style. He raced keenly when held by Moon Over Germany on his Navan hurdle bow, and sports a hood here to help him settle. Chances are he can build on that.
Coney Island is even less practised but has shown plenty. Placed in his two hurdle starts, he kept on in eye-catching fashion to be second to Woodland Opera at Navan.
Tesseract won three summer bumpers, so he has an engine. How he will cope with soft ground after a lay-off is hard to gauge. Much was expected of Beau Mome on his debut, but he has questions to answer after flopping badly.
Verdict: If Ball D'Arc (Nap) improves a little, he should win this.
12.45 Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle 2m 2f
A Toi Phil was led astray quite easily at the start on Thursday. It would be unfair to judge him on that, and his odds on the day would suggest that he was expected to win.
Volvalien won tidily at Listowel, but he was no match for Vigil here in February. Unbeaten in two at the track, Vigil was a fine fifth at Cheltenham in March. He loves the mud so he warrants respect on his reappearance. Don't Touch It, another bumper winner, ran well to be second to Stone Hard at Gowran Park, which is pretty decent form.
Verdict: If Vigil is primed he can collect under Tommy Treacy.
1.20 Grade Two Knight Frank Juveniles' Hurdle 2m
Rashaan's hurdle record is impeccable. Three from three, he doesn't seem to mind the mud, and the form of his Fairyhouse win is the best on offer. He can look a little ungainly and must concede weight, but he clearly has a big engine.
Jer's Girl is the next most accomplished. She saw off all-comers from the front at Aintree and has a great attitude, though this is tougher.
Officer Sydney has won two in lesser company and will have to find more. So will Footpad, but he is a serious prospect. Facile on his Gowran Park debut, he is obviously one of Mullins' better three-year-olds.
Verdict: Footpad can justify short odds for Ruby Walsh.
1.50 Cardinal Capital Handicap Hurdle 2m 2f
Spacious Sky was fifth in this off the same mark last year. He has been frustrating but is capable of better.
Baroque Style looked better than ever when scoring convincingly at Navan a month ago. The switch to Gordon Elliott has done him no harm, but he is 10lbs higher now.
Another consistent sort that won last time is Francis Flood's Fighting Days. He hasn't paid quite as heavily for a narrow Punchestown verdict, so he could go well off a light weight.
Cest Notre Gris' win record is poor enough. That said, he kept on well on his Punchestown comeback, and is two pounds lower now under Jane Mangan.
Verdict: A chance is taken on Cest Notre Gris getting its act together.
2.20 Racing Post Handicap Chase 2m 1f
A poor-quality renewal of this, though it is competitive. A Sizing Network is stepping out of novice company. He looks fairly treated and has more to give, having been third to Velvet Maker at Navan last month.
A case could be made for plenty of the more experienced contenders, with Treat Yourself one of the more interesting. Successful here off a four-pound lower mark in January 2014, he ran nicely to be third on his Fairyhouse return.
Verdict: With Luke Dempsey up, Treat Yourself has lots going for him.
2.55 Grade One Racing Post Novices' Chase 2m 1f
Douvan has hardly been less than sublime in winning six on the spin. An emphatic Supreme Novices' Hurdle victor from Shaneshill and Sizing John, he slammed the third for a third time at Punchestown in April.
That gives him a clear a form advantage. On his Navan fencing bow, he did everything you would expect to inferior rivals, a slight guess at the last fence his only blip.
Sizing John was a surprise Grade One novices' hurdle winner here a year ago. He has progressed to be deeply impressive in both of his chase starts, including in Grade Two company at Punchestown. While he is a fantastic prospect, Douvan has always been better.
Velvet Maker was also polished on his fencing bow, but a similar comment applies, as he was crushed at Cheltenham in March. Ttebbob has been a surprise package.
A decent if limited hurdler that kept in good company, he has been a revelation over fences, having acquired a penchant for front-running. The fear would be that, if he can't get Douvan at it early, he will be vulnerable late, but he is certainly a fascinating prospect.
Verdict: Impossible to oppose Douvan at this point in time.
3.25 Donohue Marquees INH Flat Race 2m
Little to go on here. Mouse Morris's Grotesque, a full brother to Rathlin, won on its March point-to-point debut, so he is of note. Bacardys fell on its pointing debut, but then dotted up in April. His stable excels in these races.
Verdict: Bacardys is the one to side with under Patrick Mullins.