Flemenstar primed to pass Fortria test
How Flemenstar fares in tomorrow's Irish Form Book Fortria Chase at Navan is unlikely to establish whether or not he can live up to his billing as a Gold Cup prospect, but he certainly won't get anything easy with Big Zeb in attendance.
Peter Casey opted to stick to a domestic campaign with the exciting seven-year-old last term, largely avoiding the cream of his contemporaries.
By the time he signed off with an 11-length Powers Gold Cup rout, he had won five on the spin in impressive fashion, his Easter victory at Fairyhouse a second in Grade One company.
While Flemenstar could only ever beat what was put in front of him, time has shown the quality of horse that he frequently left trailing to be a shade inferior.
As a result, he still has something to prove, and, in that context, the fact that he has never won first time out and is dropping back down to two miles are points of significance now.
Tackling Big Zeb, a specialist two-miler that has won this Grade Two on his return every year since 2009, will be the first in a series of daunting assignments Flemenstar must overcome if he is to progress.
He may be 11 years of age, but Colm Murphy's 2010 champion was sprightly enough to win his sixth Grade One last Christmas, and then performed honourably in defeat when placed at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
Of the other three runners in the €37,500 contest, Realt Dubh, having failed to stay three miles at Down Royal last time after travelling strongly, will not be easily brushed aside either, while Foildubh is no slouch and receives weight all round.
There can be little doubt, then, that this is by far Flemenstar's stiffest test to date.
Still, there has been something uniquely inspiring about his emergence thus far, and it would be a tremendous fillip for Irish racing if he could sustain the dream with a polished display now.
On testing ground that he handles well, he can be trusted to do so under the brilliantly reliable Andrew Lynch.
Earlier, on what is a cracking card, Murphy also reintroduces his top-class mare Voler La Vedette in the Lismullen Hurdle. Of the eight in this, last year's Hatton's Grade Hurdle heroine is the most distinguished, but she does tend to race keenly at times.
While it rarely hinders her performance, she would be worth opposing here if there were a viable alternative, and So Young is just that.
Willie Mullins' charge showed himself to be pretty formidable under Ruby Walsh in these conditions last term.
Granted, he floundered on better ground as Voler La Vedette eyeballed Big Buck's at Cheltenham, but, back on this softer going, he might just prevail.
In the Grade Three Novice Hurdle, which boasts the 2011 Irish National victor Organisedconfusion among its seven-strong field, Lynch can get his day off to a good start on Sizing Rio.
Dessie Hughes' Captain Arceus is a worthy rival, but Sizing Rio really looked the part when slamming Cops And Robbers, a winner since and in opposition again now, on his hurdling bow for Henry de Bromhead at Fairyhouse recently.
The day's nap vote goes to Senior Again in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Limerick.
Dont Tell Pa, on a hat-trick here for Jimmy and Jane Mangan, could prove hard to beat despite being top-weight, but JP McManus' Senior Again, successful off 110 when scoring for a second time over fences for Francis Flood last term, has a favourable hurdle mark of just 89. A real mud-lover, he has bundles of appeal under Mark Walsh.