Peacock pair vie for Galway glory
Owner Nick Peacock is eyeing a dream result to the Guinness Galway Hurdle on Thursday, with Diakali and Wicklow Brave both expected to go well in the Ballybrit feature.
Diakali returned from over a year on the sidelines when running out an impressive winner of the Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary almost three weeks ago and is the chosen mount of Ruby Walsh.
Wicklow Brave, who will be ridden by Paul Townend in the second colours of Peacock's Wicklow Bloodstock banner, reverts to jumps after having let down favourite-backers in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.
It could be a huge afternoon for the owner, with his star Flat performer Simenon considered a major contender for the Goodwood Cup.
Peacock said: "I won't be going to Galway, unfortunately, as I'm heading to Goodwood, but it 's brilliant to have the two of them there. It's a huge prize.
"Diakali was very impressive the other day, so my money would probably be on him, but the thing about Wicklow Brave is we don't really know how good he could be.
"The last time he ran over hurdles was when he cruised home in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He's gone up a fair bit in the weights for that, so we'll see.
"It probably won't happen, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility they could be first and second.
"I wouldn't be that surprised if that was the case and it would obviously be an amazing result if it did."
Diakali and Wicklow Brave are part of a formidable hand for Willie Mullins, with the champion trainer also saddling Thousand Stars (Katie Walsh), Aminabad (Luke Dempsey) and Max Dynamite (David Mullins).
The trainer said of Diakali: "He's rated 153. It's tough to win off that weight, but remember he's run well in Grade Ones and was very unlucky in Aintree with Tony McCoy one day, beaten a head and a nose.
"That gives him a good chance anyway."
Tony Martin is also well represented, with last year's winner Thomas Edison, ante-post favourite Quick Jack and Ted Veale all in the final field, while Pyromaniac is third reserve.
Bayan and The Game Changer were placed in last year's renewal and are in the mix again for Gordon Elliott.
"They are in very good form. They would like a bit of nice ground," said the trainer.
"They were second and third in the race last year so we know they like the track and that is a big plus".
With the top 20 horses in the entries all declared, Jessica Harrington's Modem, who won the valuable Connacht Hotel Handicap on Monday, is not guaranteed a run, but is first on the reserve list.
Speaking after his Monday success, Harrington said: "We've been training him since Cheltenham for Galway, and hopefully the ground will be right for him.
"The first leg has come off so hopefully we haven't used up all our luck."
Should Modem miss the cut, the Moone handler will still be represented by Macnicholson and Rae's Creek.
Shark Hanlon is expecting a bold show from his stable stalwart Hidden Cyclone.
The top-class chaser is rated 20lb lower over smaller obstacles and showed himself in good heart when winning on the Flat at Leopardstown recently.
"He's well in himself and everything looks to be going right for him. Hopefully it keeps going his way," said Hanlon.
"It's a tight race and you want a lot of luck in running.
"If he gets that, he should be knocking on the door."
Matthew Smith's stable star Rawnaq finished down the field in last year's Galway Hurdle, but returns in good form after being touched off at Bellewstown at the start of the month.
"We're having a go as he's run in it twice before and we want to give him another chance at it," Smith told At The Races.
"There's some serious money on offer and if you run into a few quid you'd be delighted.
"He came out of Bellewstown 100 per cent. There's not a bother on him."
There are two British challengers in the field, with Nicky Henderson's Snake Eyes joined by the Dan Skelton-trained Stephanie Frances.
The latter was last seen winning a Listed novice hurdle at Cheltenham in April.
Skelton said: "She travelled over there on Monday night and we've been very happy with her since.
"She went there in good form. The ground is drying out in her favour and I wouldn't change anything in the lead-up to the race.
"It's obviously a very competitive race, but she's got a nice racing weight and we'll just have to see if she's good enough now.
"Everything looks perfect, but you need a lot of luck around there."