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Mustard has keen chances


Cut The Mustard and Mikey Fogarty on their way to winning at Limerick in December

Cut The Mustard and Mikey Fogarty on their way to winning at Limerick in December

Cut The Mustard and Mikey Fogarty on their way to winning at Limerick in December

One of the biggest talking points of the weekend will be the change of race times with today's Naas card the first to veer away from the standard starting slots in Ireland.

In order to help reduce the likelihood of English meetings starting at similar times, there are some peculiar start times at the Kildare track, no more so than the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at 1.37.

Willie Mullins has won three of the last four renewals - all with short-priced favourites including Benie Des Dieux two years ago - and the champion trainer has another strong hand.

Cut The Mustard (Naas, 1.37) is already living up to her name over fences having chased home stablemate Elimay in a Grade Two at Thurles last month where Gordon Elliott's re-opposing Tintangle was well in arrears.

There's little to suggest that the tables will come close to being turned over this shorter 2m trip and Paul Townend's mount should oblige with the minimum of fuss having left a lasting impression when scoring at Limerick over Christmas.

It's a family affair in the Connolly's Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle as Emmet Mullins' Russian Diamond (Naas, 3.57) lays down the gauntlet to his uncle Willie, who saddles Gowran Park scorer Aione.

A comfortable winner of his maiden hurdle at Down Royal at Christmas, Russian Diamond faces a step up in class against Aione - which looks like more of a chasing type - and while a market check is heavily advised, the younger Mullins' charge can oblige in the hands of Brian Hayes.

The BoyleSports Grand National Trial Handicap Chase always provides clues for staying chasers to follow with stamina the order of the day in the €100,000 contest.

Elliott has landed the odds in the past two runnings of the event and saddles five of the 19 runners tomorrow with Minella Till Dawn particularly interesting.

Only time, and the market, will tell whether this marathon trip is up his street but another in the JP McManus colours is preferred, namely Michael Hourigan's The Gatechecker (Punchestown, 4.25 E/W).

Stamina is assured with the ten-year-old landing the Cork National in great style over a similar trip in November and while he can be hit and miss, he has live place claims if it's a going day.

Enda Bolger is the master of the banks races and all eyes will be on Yanworth (Punchestown, 1.45) - a two-time Grade One winner over hurdles - as he looks to book his Cheltenham ticket in the PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.

The Listed INH Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle is an intriguing seven-runner affair which sees the Irish debut of Elliott's Fighter Allen, a half-brother to brilliant stablemate Envoi Allen.

This is a stiff task on debut, however, with Joseph O'Brien's Front View (Punchestown, 2.15) setting the standard based on his Cork maiden hurdle success in November, and while Mark Walsh's mount definitely won't have it all his own way, he can beat Gearóid O'Loughlin's Cedarwood Road and Noel Meade's Beacon Lodge.

Emmet Mullins should also be on the mark in the Rated Novice Chase with Zero Ten (Punchestown, 3.50) - which was second to Cash Back last time out - while the concluding bumper can see his cousin Patrick make it third-time lucky to score on Ferny Hollow (Punchestown, 4.55) for his father Willie.