'Escape' can parachute Howard into the big time
Opportunity knocks for Aidan Howard at Fairyhouse tomorrow as the Kildare trainer eyes his first Grade One success with Winter Escape in the Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase (4.25).
The Curragh handler has had just 21 runners over jumps this season - five of which prevailed - and pits his wits against the staggering numbers of big hitters Willie Mullins (743) and Gordon Elliott (1,123) but Winter Escape could prove to be his ticket to the big time in an open five-runner affair.
None of the quintet jump off the page in the €100,000 contest - won by subsequent Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo last year - with Mullins responsible for Voix Du Reve and Real Steel, neither of which have set the world alight in recent months.
Of Elliott's pair, Mengli Khan is a stone better off on ratings compared to Cubomania and comes here on the back of consistent displays when making the frame in Grade One fields at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
Mengli Khan is worth taking on and dual Grade Three winner Winter Escape may be the answer. The eight-year-old had subsequent Cheltenham score A Plus Tard behind when scoring at Punchestown in January before flopping in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Howard reported his stable star to have burst blood vessels after coming home fifth on that occasion. He has been patiently waited with since then with this target in mind and he is tipped to score under Mark Walsh.
Mullins has farmed the Grade One Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final (2.50) in recent years with four of the last six winners - including Annie Power (2013) and Laurina (2018) - and is responsible for seven of the 17 contenders.
Eglantine Du Seuil was a shock winner of the Mares' Hurdle at last month's Festival for the Closutton maestro and heads his charge under Ruby Walsh, while Elliott has the Cheltenham third (Tintangle) and fourth (Black Tears).
The one they all have to beat, however, is Honeysuckle. Henry de Bromhead's five-year-old has oozed class in her three starts for the Waterford trainer, who has been highly complimentary of her potential to turn into a top-class mare.
Having missed Cheltenham after a slight setback, Honeysuckle comes to the Meath track fresh and ready and she can continue the superb partnership of De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
The BoyleSports Novice Handicap Chase (3.50) looks an open affair and it may pay to play each-way on Snugsborough Hall as it looks like there may be more to come from Liam Cusack's progressive eight-year-old.
Punters are posed with a riddle in the closing €100,000 Tattersalls Ireland George Mernagh Memorial Sales Bumper (5.0) where Fakiera may be the safest option for the reliable team of Elliott and crack amateur Lisa O'Neill.
Focus Jumps is also the focus at Cork tomorrow where Killultagh Vic is the classiest of the six runners in the Grade Three Betway Chase (3.10) and can land his first chase win in 18 months under Danny Mullins, for his uncle Willie.
Last year's runner-up Hareth - now running off 4lbs less - is an intriguing contender for Charles Byrnes in the Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel & Spa Adare Handicap Hurdle (3.40) with a market check advised.
Elsewhere, Brawler is a nice jumping recruit for Denis Hogan having come from top French trainer André Fabre and the Teofilo gelding may take some stopping under Philip Enright in the opening maiden hurdle (1.40).
Flat is the focus at the Mallow track today where the best bet may be These Days in the concluding maiden (5.20). Ken Condon has started the season brightly and Billy Lee's mount can improve on his Dundalk second to score.