'Benie' can score en route to bigger things
It's impossible to compare with the excitement of last weekend's spectacular Dublin Racing Festival but there's still plenty for punters to get their teeth stuck into at Naas today and Punchestown tomorrow, including the ongoing battle for the Irish trainers' championship.
A magnificent seven from reigning champion Willie Mullins over the two days at Leopardstown helped significantly cut the deficit, with Gordon Elliott (right) now holding a €268,970 advantage, and the pair should fight out the finish of today's BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Listed Mares Chase (3.55) at Naas.
A hot six-runner contest is headed by Mullins' exciting seven-year-old BENIE DES DIEUX, which will again be partnered by his nephew David after the pair left a huge impression when taking a Listed Mares Chase at Carlisle in December.
Much like her facile fencing debut at Limerick a year ago, the French recruit made all jumping impeccably and Mullins has always held her in high regard with entries in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle (20/1 general) and the Ryanair Chase (as low as 12/1) at next month's Cheltenham Festival.
"Benie Des Dieux appears to be a mare that is improving all the time and the ground or trip shouldn't pose any problem for her," Mullins said.
"We'll know a bit more about where we'll be going with her for the rest of the season after this."
Jumping is the name of the game and the Rich Ricci-owned mare - which is joined by stable-mate and course and distance winner Asthuria - is effortless at her fences.
She has lots of scope for improvement and will take all the beating but Elliott's Dinaria Des Obeaux should make it a ding-dong battle.
The Gigginstown House Stud five-year-old won for the third time in five fence starts when taking a Grade Two Mares' Novice Chase at Thurles last month but that was a weak affair and the lightly-raced Benie Des Dieux should make it a hat-trick en route to a step up in class.
In the preceding Naas RFC Rated Novice Hurdle, there's very little to choose between Peter Fahey's Room To Roam (second) and Elliott's PETE SO HIGH (fourth) based on their runs behind subsequent Grade One winner Mr Adjudicator over the Christmas period.
Room to Roam was third in her next outing at Naas whereas Pete So High got his head in front to get off the mark over hurdles at Thurles last month.
He had Last Man Standing - who won at the Tipperary track on Thursday - five lengths behind and Elliott's charge can continue his upward curve.
Dual Grade One winner Road To Riches heads the weights in tomorrow's BoyleSports Grand National Trial at Punchestown (4.20) with the 3m4f contest a stamina sapper for the field of 20 and a landmine for punters.
Galway trainer Pat Kelly has his stable in fine form and saddles Mall Dini (6/1), but with the eight-year-old yet to break his duck over fences after nine attempts others are preferred.
Last year's winner Baie Des Iles (8/1) bids for a repeat success for the husband and wife combination of Ross O'Sullivan and Katie Walsh in the €100,000 event but the winner may come from within Elliott's quartet.
Elliott reckons Folsom Blue - winner of the race four years ago - is his best chance but feels all four are in with a chance and SPACE CADET (12/1), which ran a cracker when third in the Thyestes Chase, should revel in the testing conditions and make the frame again for Brian Hayes.
The Listed INH Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle (2.40) is an intriguing five-runner affair but preference is for Athenean.
Trainer Noel Meade was dumbfounded by his off-colour display at Navan last month but with outstanding form in the book, he's given a second chance and jockey Sean Flanagan can steer the five-year-old home.