Clara looks equipped to put Elliott on Mc Cloud nine
JP McMANUS won three successive renewals of the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle up to 2012 and he has two chances of regaining the winning thread in the penultimate Galway Races feature today.
Ballybrit legend John Kiely, who saddled the subsequent Plate hero Carlingford Lough to win this two years ago, is responsible for The Parishioner, while Dessie Hughes will saddle Off The Charts.
Both horses come here on the back of a win, though it is maybe no surprise that Mark Walsh has opted for the progressive Off The Charts, which scored for a third time in four starts at Punchestown in May.
The Beneficial gelding is six pounds higher here but he remains progressive.
Johnny Burke, who rode his first festival winner on Cacheofgold earlier in the week and also finished third in the Plate on Balnaslow and fourth in the Hurdle on Hisaabaat, is an eye-catching booking on The Parishioner.
With a net weight of 9st 7lb, the Bellewstown maiden hurdle winner isn't without a chance, albeit this 20-runner contest is as competitive as a €45,000 race should be.
Barry Geraghty takes over from Walsh on the Martin Brassil-trained top-weight Celestial Prospect, which has also won three of its last four, having fallen in between when in contention in the race that Off The Charts won at Punchestown.
A case could be made for plenty more of these, with Noel Meade's Benemeade another of note off just a pound higher mark than when fourth last year.
However, the one of most interest is Clara Mc Cloud, one of two Gordon Elliott contenders, with Cape Glory being the other one.
A Cloudings mare that has won twice and been second three times in seven starts since making a winning debut at Tramore last year, Davy Condon's mount went down by just a head to Aranhill Chief at Bellewstown, form that the winner franked with a triumph on Thursday.
On Clara Mc Cloud's latest outing at Tipperary, she lost little in defeat when trying to concede 19lbs to Icy Reply, which was also an excellent second to Desertmore Stream here on Thursday.
In short, she looks more than capable of winning off her current mark, and is fancied to do so here.
In the preceding maiden hurdle, Marchese Marconi has nap appeal for Aidan O'Brien and Robbie Power.
There are 14 in this two-miler but not too many that you could make a genuine case for, the one glaring exception being Dermot Weld's Robbie McNamara-ridden Marty's Magic.
Second in a bumper here on its debut 12 months ago, the Michael Smurfit-owned five-year-old has disappointed on the level since, but Weld will doubtless have had this hurdle debut in mind for him for some time.
Nonetheless, Marchese Marconi's Flat form would suggest he is a superior horse, and McManus' Galileo five-year-old also has the benefit of an outing over flights.
On that occasion at Punchestown in May, he was a fine second to Fourni in a decent race, with the third and fourth – Elsie and Cape Glory – winning twice each since.
That form is rock solid. Weld could add to his haul for the week with Spryt and Initial in the two juvenile contests.
Spryt sports first-time blinkers in the maiden after running well to be just denied by Homeland on its Listowel debut.
The Invincible Spirit gelding showed a good attitude that day, and it may be that the headgear is going on now to help him break sharply, as he is drawn poorly in stall seven of eight. Initial will also try blinkers for a first time in the nursery.
This is a far more competitive event with the likes of Toscanelli, Intense Style and The Ice Meister among the Leopardstown winner's chief rivals, but a draw of stall two here has been much kinder to the Weld and Pat Smullen partnership.
In the long-distance handicap, Shake The Bucket could finally get his maiden Flat Turf win.
Niall Madden's seven-year-old's 9st 13lb burden is eased by the seven-pound claim of the trainer's son Tom, and his handicap mark is already very attractive compared to its all-weather equivalent.