De Bromhead poised to conquer with Australia
Cheltenham's three-day Open meeting gets under way this afternoon with a competitive spread that comprises no less than 18 Irish-trained runners.
There is undoubtedly an element of quantity over quality to the delegation, but that's not to say that some don't boast decent chances.
In the curtain-raising novices' chase, Gordon Elliott's 2011 Coral Cup hero Carlito Brigante, vanquished at Aintree last time, would have a chance under Davy Russell at its best.
He just prevailed in a similar contest over course and distance last month, but that form has since taken knocks. In short, he may struggle to concede weight to the likes of Fingal Bay, Unioniste and Dynaste and the Grade Two novices' hurdles looks a similarly tall order for Magic Spear, Run With The Wind and Ted Dolly.
With the excellent Fermoy-born, 7lb claimer Maurice Linehan up, Tony Martin's Salute Him is worthy of note off a low weight in the two-mile handicap chase, though our best chances may come in the last three races.
In the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, Uncle Junior attempts to follow up last year's victory for Willie and Patrick Mullins. The JP McManus-owned Outlaw Pete – representing another father-son partnership in John and Josh Halley – bids to atone for running out at the second-last with the Cork Grand National at his mercy last time, but the pick must be Sizing Australia for an in-form Henry de Bromhead.
Successful in the March equivalent in 2011, Andrew Lynch's mount is now 6lb better off with Balthazar King, which was seven lengths to the good when claiming the same race this year.
In the conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle, Michael O'Hare's Turner Brown has an each-way chance under Eddie O'Connell, while Dessie Hughes and Nina Carberry team up with Jewel Of The West in the finale.
While beaten three lengths by Hunters Lodge here last month, the latter is 4lb better off with him, and Hughes' team are in cracking shape.
In tomorrow's showpiece Gold Cup, hopes of an Irish victory will lie with Casey Top, Questions Answered and Forpadydeplasterer.
The Leonard Whitmore-trained Casey Top (10st) will be ridden by up-and-coming 5lb claimer Mark Enright, with Eric McNamara's Questions Answered (10st) due to be steered by Cork native Aidan Coleman.
Galway's Paddy Brennan takes the reins on Forpadydeplasterer (10st 13lb). Tom Cooper's 10-year-old, making his handicap bow in the event, is the shortest priced of the Irish trio at 33/1.
Grands Crus has hardened into 9/4 to deliver David Pipe back-to back wins following Great Endeavour's 2011 triumph, with Hunt Ball next at 6/1. Ruby Walsh's mount Al Ferof has eased to 15/2.
On the eve of the season's first major Prestbury Park fixture, the British Horseracing Authority was urging trainers to be alert after an outbreak of equine herpes at Victor Dartnall's Devon stable. A BHA statement asked trainers to be "vigilant" for signs of the neurological virus.
Meanwhile, Willie Mullins' Grade One-winning Boston Bob could make its fencing debut at Thurles next Thursday.