Gallant Tipp set to reign in new-look Nas na Riogh
The decision to strip the Nas Na Riogh Chase of its Grade Two status has worked a treat, with 16 runners set to vie for the €32,500 winner's prize in its new guise as a novices' handicap at Naas tomorrow.
You would have to aggregate the fields that contested the four previous renewals to match that figure, and the three most recent editions all featured odds-on favourites. The two-and-a-half-miler's latest incarnation promises to be far more compelling, with a number of in-form contenders taking on some slightly less exposed sorts.
Stuart Crawford's ready Ayr winner Fine Rightly tops the weights under Davy Russell, as Bryan Cooper opts for Henry de Bromhead's narrow Leopardstown victor Bishops Road of Gigginstown Stud's quartet.
Daniel Murphy's Bothar Clei and Jim Dreaper's Sizing Coal, first and second at Cork last month, face off once again, while Ted Walsh's Champagne James will bid to shake off its frustrating tag at the fifth attempt over fences.
There is an array of others with less obvious chances. Aidan O'Brien's Carriganog is one that will soon start to exploit a favourable-looking handicap mark over fences, but it is another of JP McManus' three runners that gets the nod to emerge on top.
The Edward O'Grady-trained Gallant Tipp hasn't quite lived up to its early potential, but he remains well treated off a mark of 123 compared to his high of 132 over flights.
Placed in three of his five chasing starts, the son of Definite Article ran his best race over the bigger obstacles when third to Dromnea at Fairyhouse last month.
He was beaten less than a length by Dromnea, which was placed in graded company at Navan last Sunday. Champagne James edged second by a neck, but fluffed its lines at Leopardstown afterwards. Off 3lb better terms, Gallant Tipp has the scope to improve past him, and he has a lovely racing weight of just 10st 7lb.
If he enjoys a bit of luck in running under jockeys' championship leader Mark Walsh, he ought to be right in the thick of it.
Walsh might also score in the ubiquitous green, white and gold silks when he partners A Hardy Nailer in the opening maiden hurdle.
Vincent Halley's Thurles runner-up Arctic Skipper is feared in this, while O'Grady's Tramore summer bumper winner Prickly is one to watch with the future in mind. However, Robert Tyner's A Hardy Nailer is a Flemensfirth mare that has shown real potential.
A point-to-point and bumper winner last year, the six-year-old was second to Black Hercules on her hurdle debut at Cork, before finishing third Behind Keppols Queen and I'm All You Need at Clonmel in December.
That form has worked out really well, with Keppols Queen going on to finish second to Tyner's classy Carrigmoorna Rock at Leopardstown, and I'm All You Need winning stylishly at Thurles.
On both occasions, A Hardy Nailer raced a mite keenly, so it is significant that she sports a hood for a first time now. If that helps Walsh to settle her, she is the one to beat.
In the Grade Two Paddy Power Novices' Hurdle, Jessica Harrington's BoyleSports Hurdle runner-up Modem should have a big say, though Willie Mullins' two representatives Aminabad and Max Dynamite will doubtless be thereabouts as well.
Max Dynamite couldn't cope with Kitten Rock at Limerick over Christmas, but there was no shame in that, so he shouldn't be written off under Ruby Walsh. Still, the one that appeals most here is Sandra Hughes' Cooper-ridden All Hell Let Loose.
The Shantou six-year-old could hardly be described as prolific, with one bumper and one hurdle win to his name from nine starts. Prior to a sub-par Limerick turn at Christmas, though, he finished second to Nichols Canyon in the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle, form that has recently been painted in a very favourable light.
On his most recent outing at Punchestown, he kept going to fill the same spot behind Bentelimar, which is also destined for Grade One company at Cheltenham next month. If All Hell Let Loose runs to a similar level here, then, he really ought to be hard to beat.
In the three-runner bumper, Tombstone gets the nod to prevail in the same Gigginstown colours. His Gordon Elliott stablemate Tycoon Prince and Mullins' Up For Review will both be popular, but Jamie Codd's Robin Des Champs mount showed some real class when prevailing smoothly at Leopardstown.
In the preceding three-mile handicap chase, Russell and Jimmy Mangan combine for Kilcrea. This is a wide-open affair, but Kilcrea will appreciate the step up in trip, having kept on stoutly for third behind Bishops Road last time out.