Bachasson to get ball rolling for Mullins
A solid if unspectacular card awaits for the first major Grade One spread of the jumps season at Fairyhouse tomorrow.
As is his wont these days, Willie Mullins will saddle a long odds-on shot in the showpiece Hatton's Grace Hurdle in the shape of Arctic Fire. He also has leading contenders in the two novices' events, races that seem to lack a little X-factor at this remove.
Indeed, the Royal Bond is officially on a warning after failing to meet the recommended median rating of 140 last year, despite being won by Nichols Canyon. If the criteria were based on current rather than end-of-season ratings, it and the Hatton's Grace (required average of the first four of 155) might be in danger.
However, there is time enough for some of this year's contenders to step up, a point illustrated by the manner in which Nichols Canyon has continued to confound expectations.
12.40 Grade Three Bar One Racing Juveniles' Hurdle 2m
Rashaan has been thoroughly impressive in both hurdle starts. His form has been nicely franked by Lake Champlain and he is bred to be a race-horse, so he could go close again despite having to concede weight.
Le Vagabond might be the best of the other geldings. He is a fine type that won as well as he was entitled to at Thurles and can improve again.
The filly Missy Tata destroyed Lake Champlain by 19 lengths on her first Irish start in the north. She receives weight from all bar one here and could be hard to beat.
Verdict: If Missy Tata builds on her debut outing she will win again.
1.10 Grade One Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle 2m
Archive and Gunnery Sergeant have potential but this is likely to turn on the two Mullins contenders.
On literal readings of their respective defeats of Three Stars, which has since landed a decent race at Navan, Long Dog is superior to Bachasson.
Still, Three Stars may have improved by the time he got closer to Bachasson at Tipperary, not to mention that Bachasson beat him off three-pound worse terms than Long Dog did at Galway.
Over this trio at Galway, Long Dog was less than fluent at some of his hurdles. He was able to dominate at will over further in two subsequent outings, so this drop in trip may not play to his strengths.
Moreover, he must concede three pounds to Bachasson, which has looked a slick, nimble two-miler in winning its four hurdle starts. He travels and quickens, so he is a fine second string for Paul Townend.
Verdict: Bachasson is the one with ticks in the most boxes.
1.40 Grade One Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle 2m4f
Arctic Fire improved into a serious operator last term, running brilliantly in defeat behind the likes of Hurricane Fly and Faugheen. He might have won the Aintree Hurdle but for falling at the final flight, and confirmed his prowess over this trip when beating Monksland at Navan.
That was a welcome victory and he would be similarly deserving of a Grade One success here. He sets a tall standard.
His fragile stablemate Clondaw Court is no slouch. However, he appeals as more of a staying type, while the remainder have lots to find, though some have scope to improve.
In its last three completed starts, Alpha Des Obeaux was second to Black Hercules, Douvan and Nichols Canyon. He is lightly raced, so is a fascinating contender on his return.
Gwencily Berbas is the lowest-rated on duty, 30lbs inferior to Arctic Fire. Nonetheless, he won tidily on his Naas return and conditions should suit. He is a dark horse.
Verdict: Impossible to oppose Arctic Fire under Ruby Walsh.
2.10 Underwriting Exchange Handicap Hurdle 2m 4f
Living Next Door is 35lbs better off over hurdles than fences. If he strips fit, he has a chance. Similarly, Ballyadam Approach is 21lbs lower and finished last term in rare form.
Cest Notre Gris, Harvey Logan and Lisclogher Lad are others to consider in a wide-open affair.
Verdict: Ballyadam Approach has a real squeak under Andrew Lynch.
2.40 Grade One Bar One Racing Drinmore Novices' Chase 2m 4f
Shantou Flyer doesn't have the same quality as some of these, but he has bundles of experience and a great attitude. He comes here in a rich vein of form and won't mind conditions, so another big showing is likely.
Monksland was the best of the lot over hurdles. He overcame one howler to win nicely on his Gowran Park chasing bow, and will be a serious player here if he can build on that.
Outlander readily accounted for the less battle-hardened Free Expression on his Punchestown debut. He should confirm that superiority, and it's worth noting that he gave Walk To Freedom a much bigger beating then than Shaneshill did on Thursday.
Outlander wasn't far off the best novice hurdlers, while he also had No More Heroes behind the only time they clashed. No More Heroes beat Shaneshill at Navan a year ago, but his progression levelled out a little thereafter. He looked the part first time up at Punchestown and is the choice of Bryan Cooper now.
Verdict: If Outlander has recovered sufficiently for his return two weeks ago, he can collect for Walsh.
3.10 Porterstown Handicap Chase 3m 5f
Not a great renewal. Tulsa Jack won a similarly weak Cork National before struggling in the Troytown Chase. He can be competitive again now.
Cork runner-up Clar Na Mionn should hold the fourth Bless The Wings, while Jansboy has been running well. Cootamundra won the Troytown in 2013.
He is nine pounds lower and will be fit from the point-to-point field.
Verdict: A chance is taken on Tulsa Jack bouncing back.
3.40 Meath GAA INH Flat Race 2m
Lucky Pass is probably the pick of the Gigginstown Stud trio. He won a point-to-point in style in April and hails from the right stable.
Timmone ran nicely to be second on its bumper debut at Thurles, as did Sunni May at Punchestown in the spring. He split Castello Sforza and Death Duty there, and that reads well in the context of this company.
Verdict: Sunni May can extend the Harringtons' fine bumper form.