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Lower mark may give Dunguib the edge

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Dunguib, ridden by Brian O'Connell

Dunguib, ridden by Brian O'Connell

SPORTSFILE

Dunguib, ridden by Brian O'Connell

Dunguib will race off a 3lb lower mark than he would at home if he is to be charged with carrying top-weight to victory in the Coral Cup, though the British handicapper hasn't missed too many in his assessment of the potential travelling contingent.

This time last year, in light of a solitary Irish victory in the 11 Cheltenham Festival handicaps of 2012, there were few complaints at the senior handicapper Phil Smith's even treatment of the raiders. However, a better yield of four handicap successes seems to have reignited the tendency to err on the side of caution, with a raft of horses hit with double-figure rating hikes.

Philip Fenton's rejuvenated Dunguib continues to shade favouritism for the two-mile-five-furlong handicap hurdle following a favourable revision of the 11-year-old's mark. He trades as low as 12/1, though the big mover in the Coral Cup market is the Gordon Elliott-trained Bayan, which has been slashed from a high of 25/1 to 14/1 after sluicing up in a charity race on Saturday.

Both horses are likewise engaged in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle over two miles – Dunguib is also in at Leopardstown on Sunday – and the modest 3lb hike that Bayan has been allotted sees him in off 10st 10lb. Successful in four of his eight hurdle starts and second in a conditions event at Cheltenham when last seen over flights in October, the unexposed five-year-old finished third on his last start proper in Leopardstown's November Handicap.

Elliott's JP McManus-owned Cause Of Causes is another that punters have honed in on after two narrow defeats in valuable domestic handicap chases. His mark of 140 is the same as his Irish figure following a 7lb hike for his near miss to Rockyaboya at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He vies for a share of the market lead with Nicky Henderson's Colour Squadron in the two-and-a-half-mile Byrne Group Plate at 12/1, though he has seven different entries at this point. While Elliott's Don Cossack is another interesting contender for the same race off an unchanged mark of 150, he has five separate options.

Still, Elliott and fellow Co Meath handler Tony Martin had plenty to digest last night. Elliott's Rocky Wednesday (Coral, County and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle) has been burdened with an extra 11lb for crossing the water, as has another Gigginstown Stud-owned runner Roi Du Mee (Coral Cup, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup), with the Fred Winter and Triumph Hurdle possible Arzembouy Premier lumped with a 10lb penalty.

Martin's hat-trick seeking Wrong Turn is in five chases and has also been dealt an additional 11lb for his troubles. Tabhachtach, which is trained by Wexford's Shay Slevin and got chinned by Wrong Turn at Leopardstown last month, has also been revised upwards to the tune of 10lb.

With two of the last three Fred Winter's coming back this way, the local assessor has taken few chances with the raiders in that particular contest. Apart from Arzembouy Premier, Willie Mullins' smart top-weight Abbyssial is up 9lb, his stable-mate Noble Inn is up 10lb and the Grade One-winning Guitar Pete, Clarcam and Gerdago have got between 5lb and 11lb.

Dunguib shares top-weight in the County with Mullins' Diakali and Eddie Harty's Captain Cee Bee, an interesting player off a mark of 154 (up 2lb) given how close he got to Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Martin's 2013 County hero Ted Veale has been allotted a 12lb higher mark of 146 for 11st 4lb this time.

Still a maiden after three runs over fences, Ted Veale is also in the Arkle, though it may be that the Grand Annual will prove the most attractive option off his current weight of 10st 12lb.

He is low as 5/1 for the two-mile chase finale after being twice that last week. Alderwood, last year's Grand Annual victor after plundering the County in 2012, is 13lb higher this time for 11st 5lb, though Tom Mullins described the prospect of his lining out as just "60-40 against" yesterday.

Meanwhile, there was little in the way of surprises when the entries were unveiled for the three remaining Festival races. Quevega and Annie Power are among 24 in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, with stablemates Black Hercules and Shaneshill among five that the champion trainer has to choose from in the bumper, which also features Martin's 2013 third Golantilla.

On The Fringe, Tammy's Hill and Mossey Joe are all possible starters in the Foxhunters' Chase.

* The card scheduled for Downpatrick next Wednesday has been cancelled due to waterlogging.

Irish Independent