Artiste to plunder spoils at Thurles
Officials at Thurles could hardly have imagined two more compelling attractions for their showpiece card, with the return of long-absent Last Instalment in the Kinloch Brae Chase vying with the presence of a Nicky Henderson-trained runner for top billing.
A cross-channel raider at the modest north Tipperary venue is rare indeed, so it is a credit to all involved to have compelled the reigning champion trainer to send his 2012 Cheltenham Festival heroine Une Artiste over for the Coolmore NH Sires Mares' Novice Chase.
The only mystery is that British handlers don't come far more frequently for races like this €52,500 Grade Two. All told, today's programme is an absolute corker. With a field of 12 set to line up on soft ground in the valuable mares' novice chase, it is the largest turnout since 2007.
Robert Tyner's Byerley Babe is one of four home-based last-time winners on duty, and smart horses like Caoimhe's Delight, Kates Benefit, Backinthere and Chiltern Hills aren't included in the quartet.
It has the makings of a cracking contest in which Henderson's decision to travel with Une Artiste could prove critical. Barry Geraghty's mount, successful in the Fred Winter under Cork-born Jerry McGrath two years ago, had a peak figure of 142 over flights.
She pulverised the subsequent runaway winner Baby Shine on her second chasing start at Huntingdon before Christmas and is a standout option here.
The Kinloch Brae is another gem of a Grade Two. Few young Irish chasers promised as much as Last Instalment did during his brief, flawless novice campaign, and Philip Fenton has suggested that the Gigginstown Stud-owned nine-year-old has shown much of his old spark in his recent work.
If so, he might well be able to overcome a two-year lay-off in this two-and-a-half miler for Bryan Cooper, but the competition isn't bad.
While last year's winner Quito De La Roque couldn't be discounted under Davy Russell, it might just be an opportunity for Texas Jack to collect.
In eight starts stretching back to 2012, Noel Meade's charge has won just two chases. Still, he has mixed well in good company, and his latest third behind Arvika Ligeonniere and Toner D'Oudairies at Clonmel in November -- with Foildubh fourth -- was highly encouraging.
Folsom Blue and Kalmann will be popular in the beginners' chase, but the form of the Jerry Cosgrove-trained Mount Colah appeals more, while the nap vote goes to Francis Flood's Kylestyle in the maiden hurdle following an eye-catching second to Western Boy at Leopardstown.
In the Arctic Tack Stud Hunters' Chase, Oscar Delta, such an unlucky loser at Cheltenham last year, gets the nod to make a winning reappearance for the exquisite Jimmy and Jane Mangan partnership.