Benruben to make frame at big odds
The Cheltenham clouds loom large over all jumps action between now and Tuesday week and anyone looking to significantly boost their coffers before the Festival should proceed with caution.
It's a tricky weekend for punters so the powder should be kept relatively dry ahead of the four-day bonanza but there are some opportunities among Navan's seven-race card, led by the Grade Three Flyingbolt Novice Chase (3.25).
Flyingbolt is widely regarded as one of the greatest jumps horses of all time and while none of the four runners are likely to make it to the top tier of the National Hunt game, there's plenty of intrigue among the quartet for the €44,500 prize.
It was the fifth time of asking before Gordon Elliott's Duca De Thaix got off the mark over fences but he has gone from strength to strength since then and chased home Le Richebourg in a Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Jessica Harrington's Jetz was all out to get the better of Duca De Thaix when they clashed in a beginners' chase at Navan three months ago - and has since made the frame in four graded races (including three Grade Ones) - so that pair look very closely matched on form and are likely to trade at similarly prohibitive odds.
Small fields can often be eventful affairs, however, so a chance is taken away from the leading pair with Elliott's second string Mrs Lovett looking out of her depth having found Listed company too hot to handle twice already this season.
That leaves John Nicholson's Benruben. Mark Enright's mount - which landed a Leopardstown bumper at Christmas - travelled and jumped well before weakening in the last half mile when chasing home Cilaos Emery - Arkle favourite before injury scuppered his chances - on his jumping debut at Gowran Park.
He took a big step forward when a close second to the Cheltenham-bound Ex Patriot at Thurles last month and with the Tipperary trainer holding him in high regard, he may defy his odds to make the first two and reward each-way punters.
The Dempseys - trainer Philip and jockey/son Luke - are having a good season given the size of their operation and the pair can combine to score again with Mr Diablo in the Veterans Handicap Chase (4.35) where six go to post.
Well-fancied in the Thyestes Chase, the likeable ten-year-old finished a respectable eighth on that day but this is an entirely different prospect and he can notch his first win in nearly two years.
Multifactorial had only stablemate Thatsy - which was nominated by Elliott as a Champion Bumper candidate before being scratched earlier this week - ahead of him at the Meath track two weeks ago and can get his head in front under Lisa O'Neill in the concluding bumper (5.10).
It's a rarity to see a jumps card without champion trainer Willie Mullins represented but while there are no Closutton runners at Leopardstown tomorrow, there's still plenty of interest.
Small fields are the order of the day with just 49 runners in total over seven races - 11 is the highest in any contest - and the €50,000 TRI Equestrian Handicap Chase (4.15) heads affairs.
Elliott's Dakota Moirette was a faller at the last when set to duke it out for victory at Fairyhouse last week and Jack Kennedy's mount may find compensation while the Meath trainer also holds a strong hand in the opening Foxrock Cup Hurdle (2.10).
There are plenty of big names among its roll of honour with former Champion Hurdle winner Jezki, Hidden Cyclone, Great Field and Felix Yonger winning the last four renewals and Tombstone is the highest rated of the four runners off 146.
While tailed off in the Irish Champion Hurdle, if the nine-year-old were to bounce back to the form that saw him third behind Sharjah in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas, he will take beating. Conditions are in his favour, but it's very hard to have any confidence at short odds in a trappy affair.
Owner Philip Reynolds has bigger fish to fry at the Cotswolds with Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy but he'll be hoping Curley Bill can get the ball rolling in the TRM Kurasyn 360x Handicap Hurdle (3.10).
Noel Meade's charge returns to hurdles after 1,974 days out of this sphere, however, and a market check is advised with Gavin Cromwell's comfortable Naas winner Ming Dynasty likely to be the one to beat.