Djakadam to make winning return and maintain Mullins' dominance
On a weekend that could see the omnipotence of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott reinforced, last season's gallant Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam is the star of the domestic action.
Tomorrow's scheduled Hilly Way Chase card at Cork fell to waterlogging yesterday morning, and will now take place next Sunday instead.
Conditions at Navan today and Punchestown tomorrow are sure to be testing, but hopefully they will get the all-clear, as both cards promise plenty.
Djakadam takes part in a cracking edition of the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown. Mullins's mud-lover should be in his element, although he may be at his very best over three miles and beyond.
Given that it is his first run of the season, maybe the two-and-a-half-mile trip for this Grade One will be a sufficient test in such gruelling ground.
The fear after Djakadam's tenacious turn at Cheltenham in March would be that his endeavours might have left a mark. He was subsequently a beaten favourite at Punchestown, but he didn't really lose anything in defeat to the soaring Don Cossack on unsuitably good ground. Ruby Walsh's mount is the clear ratings pick tomorrow, and, as such, he warrants the benefit of the doubt for now.
Last season's runaway Thyestes Chase winner has produced three successive solid performances together, and he has the scope to progress again at just six years of age.
Foxrock, supplemented at a cost of €8,500, is the next best on ratings, followed by Hidden Cyclone. However, the selection's stablemate Valseur Lido and Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa may be the dangers.
Valseur Lido showed his very best form this time last year, winning the Drinmore stylishly on his second outing. He added a second Grade One over three miles at Punchestown in the spring, so he is another six-year-old that goes in the ground and can improve again.
Bryan Cooper's mount didn't run his race behind Gilgamboa in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse over Easter. Gilgamboa remains a lightly-raced sort with tremendous potential, but this is a daunting assignment on his return.
In the beginners' chase, Mullins's exciting Pont Alexandre has its first start since finishing third to The New One at Cheltenham in 2013. At seven, he is plenty young enough to recapture his best, but he is passed over here in favour of Nickname Exit.
On its Cork fencing bow, Elliott's Gigginstown Stud-owned five-year-old was thwarted by Toushan. They drew a long way clear of the rest, and, while Nickname Exit will need to improve again, he is more suited by this job than he was hurdling, so he can collect.
Mullins and Walsh may hold the aces in the maiden hurdle with Yorkhill, which filled the eye in two bumper triumphs last season, while Elliott is trusted with the day's nap vote in the novices' hurdle.
Cooper prefers Henry de Bromhead's Attribution in this, but Elliott's Roman Gold must have a big chance. He isn't a flashy type, but he has shown a fine attitude in winning his last two hurdle starts. While the drop in trip to two miles is a concern, when you factor in Jack Kennedy's five-pound claim, Roman Gold will receive 10lbs from Attribution. In these conditions, that must give him a live chance.
Elliott is also responsible for today's Navan nap in the shape of Ball D'Arc. Incredibly, the Co Meath maestro has eight runners in the maiden hurdle that Ball D'Arc contests, which may be a record over jumps.
Mullins's Bello Conti is an unknown quantity, but Ball D'Arc looked to have matured nicely when winning a Thurles bumper on his return.
If he runs to a similar level here, he should take a bit of stopping under Davy Russell, who could also score for Elliott and Gigginstown aboard Whistle Dixie in the mares' maiden hurdle.
The champion trainer's smart mud-lark Black Hercules is the one to beat in the beginners' chase, while Ttebbob gets the nod in the novices' version.
Jessica Harrington's charge made a really big impression first time up under Robbie Power at Thurles, and he has it within his range to account for the likes of Velvet Maker and Lord Scoundrel here.