Big pots up for grabs as Mullins prioritises push for British title
Discounting Willie Mullins is never advisable but a couple of factors have combined to weaken his Fairyhouse Easter Festival team.
With less than two weeks passed since the curtain came down on his memorable Cheltenham Festival feats, the brilliant champion trainer's elite performers are mostly absent.
He has also declared his intent to have a cut at the British trainers' title now that he has got to within £150,000 of Paul Nicholls, so swerving some of the generous pots on offer this weekend with marginal contenders in favour of adding extra muscle to his Aintree delegation is to be expected.
Mullins contested just four of yesterday's seven races and the same number of today's eight, with no runner in the two most valuable events. That isn't something that happens often, and, as we saw yesterday, it represents an opportunity for others to shine.
As well as the two cross-channel raiders on duty in the main event, three others have also made the journey across the water. They contest a trio of races worth a combined €142,500, which, whilst generous, wasn't enough to tempt Mr Nicholls this way. No surprise there, though, as daggers are officially drawn. We should be in for a fascinating few weeks.
2.40 Grade Two REA Grimes Property Consultants Hurdle 2m
Rashaan won for a third time on the spin here in Grade Three company back in November. He has twice disappointed since, but is surely better than he has been showing of late.
Newberry New knuckled down to gamely thwart the re-opposing Tocororo and the luckless Cheltenham faller Voix Du Reve here in February.
He has improved for nearly every hurdle start and handles soft ground, so he shouldn't be underestimated.
Tocororo is three pounds better off for a half-length defeat. She is another willing sort that should go close again, while Lake Champlain might find conditions deeper than ideal.
Alterno was understandably novicey in winning on his track bow at Wexford 11 days ago, but he did so with a bit to spare. Although he isn't easy to assess, chances are this will come a bit soon for him. Slowmotion was expected to score on her Irish bow at Limerick. An Auteuil winner in the autumn, she just got collared by Never Again and will strip a little fitter under Mark Walsh now.
Verdict: Trust Slowmotion to make the required improvement for the O'Briens.
3.15 Grade Two Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novice' Hurdle 2m
Sutton Place made a big impression when breaking his hurdling duck in a Listed race at Naas, with the re-opposing Royal Caviar and Attribution firmly put in their places.
He had previously won his bumper nicely here and has made rapid progress since finishing third in a fair race on his track debut in mid-December. This is tougher but he has scope to keep progressing.
Royal Caviar is tried in a tongue-strap now and Bryan Cooper has opted for General Principle over Attribution.
A stylish Navan maiden winner that ran well in last year's Champion Bumper, General Principle was outpointed by Mystical Knight when odds-on for what was a messy race back at Navan last time. He is still a fine prospect.
Ruby Walsh prefers Royal Caviar to Babbling Stream, which did nothing wrong when collecting in decent style on his Naas hurdle bow. Of those with ratings, Moon Over Germany emerges on top.
Eddie Harty's five-year-old lost out only to Ball D'Arc in a Naas Grade Two last month, having beaten the same horse when they clashed at Navan in December. He should continue to improve, as should Jett and Drumcliff, both of which may have a bit more to find at this stage.
Verdict: Moon Over Germany (Nap) can shine for Davy Russell.
3.50 Fleet Connect Handicap Hurdle 2m 6f
With a nine-pound penalty taking his mark to 130, Sonny B is now 16lbs higher than when winning at Thurles last month. He won tidily again at Cork in between but has lots on under top-weight.
Isleofhopendreams was an eye-catcher when third at Navan on his return from a lay-off.
He is nine years old but is lightly raced, while Aengus steps back up in trip. He finished purposefully when second at Naas so is of interest.
Verdict: A back-to-form Aengus appeals for Noel Meade and Jonathan Moore.
4.20 Grade Two Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle 2m 4f
Last year's winner Dedigout was a soft odds-on favourite for his recent Navan comeback, when he ultimately needed the run behind Snow Falcon and Lieutenant Colonel.
He completed a soft ground hat-trick in this last year, and generally has a good record at the track. Top-rated, he is probably the one to beat if he improves for his return, though he is now 10 years of age.
Taglietelle ran a blinder to be fourth in the Pertemps. This might come soon enough on softer than ideal ground, while Gwencily Berbas hasn't run since finishing third behind Arctic Fire and Alpha Des Obeaux here in November.
That is solid Grade One form, and Alan Fleming's five-year-old handles the mud and is unexposed.
The JP McManus trio probably have a little to find in this company, although Sort It Out is a progressive animal.
In his last five starts, he has won three and been second in the 2015 County Hurdle, so there could be more to come. English raider Value At Risk hasn't built on his 2014 Newbury maiden success. He has ability but this looks tough for him.
Verdict: If the Adrian Heskin-ridden Gwencily Berbas strips fit, he has lots going for him.
5.35 Grade Three John & Chich Fowler EBF Mares' Chase 2m 4f
Emily Gray must concede weight but is still the clear pick based on ratings.
Third to Black Hercules at Warwick, she has twice beaten Gitane Du Berlais this term and goes in the mud.
Uranna had Emcon behind when second to Bonny Kate at Limerick; both need to show more now, while Perfect Promise and Dressedtothenines have been below their best.
They are well capable of getting in the money if on song.
Verdict: Emily Gray can take this for export for Kim Bailey and David Bass.
6.10 Fred Kenny Novices' Handicap Chase 2m 6f
Kylestyle nosed out Some Drama at Down Royal, and is just a pound worse off with the runner-up now. Blue Bicycle was also running well when last seen, finishing second to Unic De Bersy at Wexford in October, while Milanesque was game in defeat at Limerick recently.
Paul Flynn's charge is lightly raced and goes well in the mud.
Verdict: Milanesque has the scope to go close under Robbie Power.
6.40 Boomerang Animal Bedding Flat Race 2m
Sunni May had Death Duty behind when they were second and third here a year ago. They race off similar terms now, but Death Duty has since bloomed, winning his two starts this term in the manner of a decent horse.
Sunni May disappointed in November but then travelled like a nice horse en route to beating Some Neck at Leopardstown in February. It certainly isn't a given that Death Duty will turn the tables on him.
Blow By Blow found plenty for pressure to defy Jett at Leopardstown last month. He is a fair prospect, too.
Verdict: A trappy contest but Death Duty is the horse to keep on side for now.