Irish jump racing lost one its classiest and most versatile hurdlers when Charles Byrnes' Solwhit was fatally injured in a schooling fall at Tipperary yesterday.
Successful in the 2010 Irish Champion Hurdle for Davy Russell, the 10-year-old hadn't run since finishing second in last year's French Champion Hurdle. For the second time in an exceptional career that saw 28 starts yield 15 wins - including the 2008 Irish Cesarewitch and November Handicap - Solwhit was in the process of returning from a lay-off.
The first of those climaxed with his incredible World Hurdle victory under Paul Carberry at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, when he was having his first start over three miles, just a couple of months after returning from nearly two years on the sidelines. The Solon gelding subsequently won his eighth Grade One in the Aintree Hurdle.
In 2009, Solwhit beat his nemesis Hurricane Fly in the 2009 Morgiana Hurdle, before then finishing second to him four times at the highest level. Owned by the Top Of The Hill Syndicate, he amassed €1.2m in prize money, and Byrnes admitted yesterday that his Co Limerick stable might never have another like him.
"He was the best horse I've trained by a very long way," he said. "He has been a very special horse for all of us. He was schooling over hurdles in Tipperary and unfortunately he tipped over and broke his shoulder. It's very sad and we'd been delighted with him during the week."
The Ballingarry-based handler reintroduces another of his smart hurdlers at Navan tomorrow, when the Grade One-winning juvenile Pittoni runs for a first time since March 2012 in the Lismullen Hurdle.
Third in the 2011 Morgiana, Pittoni pulled up lame after beating Won In The Dark at Leopardstown 32 months ago. He mightn't be without a chance in what is a poorly contested edition of the €40,000 Grade Two, for which Willie Mullins' Zaidpour is likely to start at short odds under Ruby Walsh.
However, favoured is Henry de Bromhead's Darwins Fox. Successful at Cork before finding Rebel Fitz too good at Tipperary, Darwins Fox receives seven pounds from Zaidpour, and he might be good enough to make his race-fitness count for Andrew Lynch.
The Fortria Chase is competitive, though it lacks the star appeal of Big Zeb or Flemenstar, which combined to win the last five renewals. Mullins and Walsh will be to the fore with Twinlight, while Special Tiara, Days Hotel and Baily Green all have claims.
Of the entire field, though, Irish Thistle might be the one with the most going for it tomorrow. Harry Rogers' seven-year-old has won its bumper, maiden hurdle and novices' chase at the Co Meath venue, and he loves getting his toe in, which he will now.
He has also been second to Ned Buntline and Mozoltov at Navan, and he was running well when falling three-out there in the Grade Two that Bright New Dawn won in February.
This is just Irish Thistle's sixth start over fences so he has scope to improve, and he receives weight from all bar Arnaud. He should be spot on after a spin on the Flat when seventh to Silver Concorde here last month, so this might just be the day to catch him under Mark Enright.
In the long-distance handicap hurdle, Walsh has serious claims aboard Tony Martin's favourably handicapped chaser Gallant Oscar, while Tom Mullins' Princely Conn gets the nod to confirm the promise of his smooth Punchestown win in the Grade Two novices' hurdle.
The fellow JP McManus-owned Gilgamboa is also trusted in what is a cracking novices' chase. Mullins' Blood Cotil and Jim Culloty's long-absent Legal Exit are among a promising field, but Gilgamboa showed an enormous amount of potential in five hurdle outings last term.
If he replicates that level of precocity for Mark Walsh now, he will go close.
At Limerick, John 'Shark' Hanlon's Snapchat can defy a four-pound penalty for winning at Fairyhouse on Tuesday, with Liz Doyle's Kauto Grand Mogul is fancied in the maiden hurdle.