Apache can scalp rivals on Carberry comeback
PAUL CARBERRY returns from 10 days on the sidelines to partner Noel Meade's exciting novice hurdler Apache Stronghold in Grade One company at Navan tomorrow.
The €70,000 two-and-a-half-miler has been synonymous with quality over quantity since graduating to its current lofty status in 2005, and this year's edition is fully in keeping with that tradition.
Of the four declarations, Meade is also responsible for Very Wood, which is owned by Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud. Following O'Leary's recent clash with the Turf Club and the surprisingly peaceable resolution that followed, it will be interesting to see if both Very Wood and Gigginstown's Azorian line out.
Prior to the big Fairyhouse meeting a fortnight ago, you couldn't be sure that they would, but there appeared to be a distinct change of policy that day.
The absence of either horse would be a real blow to tomorrow's centrepiece, as it has the makings of an absolutely cracking little contest, with Davy Russell preferring Azorian.
Second to Apache Stronghold in a Grade Two over course and distance last time, Eoin Griffin's five-year-old is a green sort that should continue to improve. A similar comment applies to Very Wood. Fifth to The Tullow Tank in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, he looks certain to improve for this step up in trip.
Of course, Willie Mullins' Champion Bumper hero Briar Hill sets the standard. A bloodless winner on his hurdle bow in a weak Wexford heat, Ruby Walsh's mount couldn't be described as flashy, but the fact remains he always tends to do enough.
In contrast, Apache Stronghold maintained his 100pc strike-rate over hurdles with real panache last time. He travelled like a good horse, and the manner in which he recovered from a potentially calamitous blunder at the last added to that impression.
While he has more on his plate now, he is fancied to step up for Carberry. If he does, expect him to usurp Briar Hill at the head of the market for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham next March, a race for which he is currently a 16/1 shot.
Mullins has an abundance of other chances, with Sizing Tennessee and Royal Caviar two to keep on side.
Ready Fairyhouse scorer Royal Caviar has a simple enough assignment in the bumper, but Sizing Tennessee will be tested in the maiden hurdle. Drumlee, Kick On Boss, Enjoy Responsibly, Tiger Trek and Rock The World are among a raft of contenders for this 30-runner affair.
Still, Sizing Tennessee's fifth in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown -- Apache Stronghold was third -- was no bad effort, so he is probably the one to beat under Andrew Lynch.
Alan Potts' team is also expected to have a big say in the beginners' chase, with Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Gold trusted to outpoint the likes of Operating and Wingtips.
Second to Don Cossack in a maiden hurdle here last year, Lynch's mount then beat the smart Morning Assembly at Leopardstown over Christmas, before finishing a fine second to Pont Alexandre at Leopardstown in January. He has always been regarded a cracking chasing prospect, so there will be long faces if he fluffs his lines now.
AP McCoy can make his visit to Co Meath pay aboard Conor O'Dwyer's progressive College Boy in the Beauparc Handicap Hurdle, with Brian Who napped in the €50,000 Grade B equivalent over two-and-a-half miles.
Edward Cawley's six-year-old is stepping up in class but his reappearance third at Fairyhouse suggests he is on an upward curve, so he can have a big say off a light weight for Niall Madden.