Dour 'Beach' ready to secure Thyestes triumph for Gordon Elliott
Mala Beach is fancied to plunder a first Goffs Thyestes Chase triumph for Gordon Elliott under Davy Russell this afternoon.
The prestigious 62-year-old handicap should see a maximum field of 18 vie for the €60,000 winner's prize.
Elliott has four horses guaranteed a run, while his Riverside City needs two to come out before the cut-off point if JP McManus is to have a runner in the Gowran Park contest.
Willie Mullins will also saddle four in his bid to extend his record number of wins in the three-miler to seven, having secured three of the last four.
Ballycasey, the mount of Ruby Walsh, was a course winner on his reappearance last year, though he hasn't developed as well as expected.
Still, his record first time out is flawless with a ratio of four wins from four seasonal bows, so he cannot be discounted, regardless of how competitive the race looks. As well as that, he is a proven mudlark, so it is not hard to see why he is prominent in the betting, given his illustrious connections. On the negative side, off a mark of 149 for 11st 1lb, he doesn't appear especially well handicapped, and the same can arguably be said of top five horses, of which Ballycasey's stablemate Boston Bob shoulders the largest burden of 11st 8lb.
In the past 20 years, only Siegemaster (2011) and last year's winner Djakadam have won off ratings of 145. The top five are rated between that and 156. At this stage in their respective careers, none of the quintet appear favourably treated.
There is an array of others further down that could have cases made for them, starting with Elliott's Paddy Power Chase runner-up, Ucello Conti.
Second at Leopardstown off 137 on just his second Irish start, he is in off 143 for 10st 9lb under visiting French rider Jacques Ricou, so he might still have scope to improve at that. Elliott's Unic De Bersy and Nickname Exit are two of five Gigginstown Stud contenders, a collective that includes Mouse Morris's Paddy Power third, Folsom Blue, the choice of Bryan Cooper here.
Last year's Liam Burke-trained runner-up My Murphy is also back under the in-form Robbie Power, while Michael Hourigan's The Job Is Right, which probably would have been second to Djakadam but for unseating at the final fence, is also having another go in the hands of Mark Enright.
Mala Beach, though, is unexposed enough over fences to go close for Russell. A runaway winner here in similarly deep ground in the 2014 Galmoy Hurdle, he is basically a dour stayer that will relish this thorough test.
Fourth to Don Poli in a Leopardstown Grade One in December 2014, he fell on his Thurles comeback, before running well in defeat when second over two miles and five furlongs at Ascot last month.
The ground that day was also drier than he would have liked, but he ran with plenty encouragement on what was, in effect, his first proper outing for 12 months. If Mala Beach improves for that, then, he can have a big say now off a first-time rating of 142 for 10st 8lb.
Elliott elected not to run Prince Of Scars in today's Galmoy, but Alpha Des Obeaux and Martello Tower, placed behind him at Leopardstown over Christmas, will do battle again.
The presence of Briar Hill and At Fishers Cross lends further intrigue to the three-miler, but a chance is taken on Morris's Alpha Des Obeaux finally ending what has been a frustrating sequence of results for Cooper.
Russell and Tony Martin could land the beginners' chase with Marinero, while the nap vote falls to Martin's Minella Scamp in the maiden hurdle.
Denis O'Regan's mount was an encouraging third to Tombstone on his Irish debut at Punchestown, so he will be a live contender here if he steps forward for the experience.