The small yard of Leonard Whitmore is aiming big at Leopardstown this weekend by targeting Casey Top at the MCR Hurdle.
Whitmore knows what it takes to land a big handicap, having won the Ballymore 25th Anniversary Hurdle, worth over €120,000, with Brave Right at the 2008 Punchestown Festival. Now the Wexford trainer has his eyes set on the race formerly run as the Pierse with the eight-year-old, which was in good heart in the summer.
"He's going to run in the MCR Hurdle and he's had a little bit of a break to freshen him up for his first time back as he was campaigned all summer, running four or five times," said Whitmore. "This race has sort of been the plan because we thought that we would start back over two miles and it is a good prize. He runs well fresh and he ran a good race at Punchestown at the start of last year.
"I wouldn't say that a bit of cut is important to him. He just wouldn't want it heavy but I'm fairly sure that it won't be. The trip might be a bit short for him, which would be my concern as he would be better at two and a half miles, but it's a good old pot and we'll take our chance. I'm hoping for the best and he would have every chance, you'd hope."
Charlie Swan is another trainer with high hopes as he runs Prince Of Fire.
"I hope that he is going to go for the MCR Hurdle and he seems in good form," said Swan. "He ran a little bit disappointing over fences and was jumping a little bit low at the obstacles. The season is half over so we thought that we would go back to hurdles and possibly keep him for fences next season.
"It's encouraging that he's already won at Leopardstown, but he probably wouldn't want the ground too heavy, although he's all right on soft. I'm hoping that they don't get too much rain or snow."
The race failed to attract a sole British-trained entry as it was whittled down from the original entry list of 48. After the latest entry stage, Paddy Power installed Noel Meade's recent course and distance scorer Prima Vista as the 5/1 favourite, with Casey Top a 20/1 chance. Dermot Weld's New Phase is second-favourite at 8/1.
Meanwhile, Charles Byrnes has declared that Solwhit is to bypass the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in favour of a tilt at the Aintree Hurdle.
Byrnes' stable star won the Liverpool feature in 2009 but after winning the Irish Champion Hurdle last January, his spring campaign included runs at Cheltenham and Punchestown. However, a different approach is being taken by his trainer this year.
"He'll head to the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle," Byrnes said. "He'll be saved for the Aintree Hurdle after that instead of heading to Cheltenham. He'd have a great chance in that."
The seven-year-old has not been out of the first two in his last four starts and is reported to be in good shape after finishing second to Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown last week. Solwhit has won 12 of his 22 starts but has found Hurricane Fly too tough a nut to crack on three of his last four starts and Byrnes isn't confident of turning the tables on him.
"I'm not sure we'll be able to beat him, but running second to him is no disgrace and the prize money is good," he said. "There's €25,000 for finishing second (in the Irish Champion Hurdle) and if we can pick that up then we'll be more than happy."
Meanwhile, Knight Pass, second favourite for the Champion Bumper in March, takes the next step along the road to Cheltenham at Southwell today.
The Warren Greatrex-trained five-year-old created a big impression when winning at Sandown on his debut, and is as low as 14/1 for the Festival event. Owned by Malcolm Denmark, who tasted bumper glory with Monsignor back in 1999, Knight Pass will face 13 rivals in the Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race.
"It is always hard to win with a penalty, but it's basically just to give him more experience," said Greatrex. "I think he's come on since Sandown and I haven't hidden that I think the world of him and with a bit of luck he'll do the job and we can make a plan.
"If he wins he'll probably have one more run before Cheltenham. There's a good race at Newbury next month which could be a possible, but Cheltenham would be the plan if all went well.
"He surprised me at Sandown because they went no gallop. If they'd gone a better gallop I think he'd have won by further. I don't want to tempt fate but I think he's pretty smart."
MCR Hurdle, Paddy Power bet: 5/1 Prima Vista; 8/1 New Phase, Tijuana Dancer; 12/1 Call The Police, Final Approach; 14/1 Asigh Pearl, Montan, Prince Of Fire; 16/1 Alpine Eagle, Capellanus, Doctor Deejay, Lancetto, Slieveardagh; 20/1 Casey Top, Marlay Park, Mubrook, Mutadarek, Un Hinged, Whodoyouthink; 25/1 bar.