Regulation ready to rule roost for Halford
4.0 Topaz Novice Hurdle 2m
Had it not been for his change in stable, Custom Cut's remarkable transformation into a prime contender for tonight's Topaz Mile at Galway might not be nearly as compelling a story as it is.
This time last year, the son of Notnowcato was plying his trade in fairly ordinary company for one DK Weld. Having failed to make the frame in six starts, the juvenile was part of his owner Moyglare Stud's annual cull, and was picked up at auction for a modest €5,800 by Tramore-based restricted licence holder George Kent.
Last term, his first with runners on the Flat, Kent saddled one winner from two horses. His string is no bigger now, but Custom Cut has spectacularly enhanced that ratio by scoring four times on the spin to give his shrewd handler a 44pc return for the season.
Thus, having shot up the handicap accordingly, the rapidly improving three-year-old arrives on the western seaboard from his sunny south-east base as one of the most intriguing prospects in tonight's prestigious €115,000 handicap.
A cracking-looking affair that sees the first two British raiders of the week descend on Ballybrit, the 16 runners are, of course, headed by Weld's Moyglare-owned Rock Critic.
Successful in its last three starts at the Festival, including twice last year, the top weight has since been campaigned sparingly.
While it would be another ingenious coup by the inimitable Weld if he can stretch Rock Critic's unbeaten sequence here to four, there's no denying that it would be an uncanny and equally laudable feat if he were to instead find himself ruing the one that he let slip to a modest two-horse stable.
Elsewhere, Tom Taaffe's 11-year-old Finger Onthe Pulse, a glorious winner of the Plate here in 2010, forms part of an engaging clash of the generations in the Latin Quarter Chase.
The Willie Mullins-trained Cooldine, winner of the 2009 RSA Chase at Cheltenham at his peak, is another veteran on duty, with the five-year-old Devil's Elbow leading the younger brigade for Ted and Ruby Walsh.
In a way, it is a peculiar sort of race that brings together an array of diverse protagonists. On the other hand, that is exactly the kind of idiosyncrasy that so defines this frenzied carnival in the Tribal city.
4.0 Topaz Novice Hurdle 2m
Zuzka's sole defeat came on her hurdling debut last month, but she then made amends in a low-grade Sligo event. Crucially, she receives allowances from all bar one rival.
Saint Gervais, a bumper winner here in 2011, sets the standard. At times he hasn't looked the most resolute, but he has a touch of class and is well treated at the weights.
Mount Colah was a fair bumper horse, is two from two over flights this summer and his form stands up well. On official figures, He's Our Man should also be thereabouts.
Verdict: Mount Colah might have Saint Gervais' measure.
4.30 Latin Quarter Chase 2m 6f
Finger Onthe Pulse won the Plate here two years ago, and wouldn't be without a squeak if he came back to near his best.
The progressive Supreme Doc, three times a winner over fences, did little wrong when third to Caim Hill at Kilbeggan recently.
Definite Class and Devil's Elbow are on an upward curve. Devil's Elbow is two from three over fences, and was beautifully sure-footed when scoring at Limerick last time.
Verdict: Devil's Elbow is going to take plenty beating.
5.0 Topaz Handicap 2m
Norah Starr should play a prominent role in this, following a couple of eye-catching recent efforts and having finished second here over a mile and a half last year.
She has dropped a few pounds in the handicap, with a good claimer booked to boot.
Regal Tramp was placed twice here in 2011 and stays well. Bellewstown winner One Cool Shabra beat Deutschland and Chicago -- the winners of three races since -- when obliging that day, and also has the assistance of a good apprentice.
Verdict: The front-running One Cool Shabra to prevail over Norah Starr.
5.35 Topaz Mile EBF Handicap 1m
Custom Cut is on a five-timer here, but the 12lbs that he received for winning so readily at the Curragh is the single biggest hike that he has incurred in shooting up 30lbs since the middle of June. Any further rain would help his cause.
Rock Critic is prolific at the Festival. Well beaten at Ascot last time, he has plenty to do under top weight, but is ground versatile and must be respected.
British raiders Pintura and Spa's Dancer are consistent but possibly a shade exposed, while One Fine Day is better than when she flopped at the Curragh a month ago.
Mick Halford's Regulation was third to the classy Takar in November.
He was impressive in toppling two subsequent winners in a Curragh maiden on his reappearance, before posting a respectable third on his handicap bow at Killarney. Learn, second then, has won since.
Verdict: The progressive Regulation can defy a poor draw under a light weight.
6.10 Caulfield industrial EBF Fillies' Maiden 7f
Ballydoyle's Magical Dream was a tad sluggish en route to finishing third on his Naas debut.
He steps up in trip on better ground now, so could be a formidable opponent.
Jim Bolger's Diamond Sky and Dermot Weld's Big Break are the obvious dangers on their debuts, the latter a full-brother to the evergreen Famous Name and a half-brother to Zaminast, which won at the first time of asking here in 2010.
Verdict: Magical Dream is the obvious option, though Big Break is feared.
6.40 Caulfield Industrial Athlone Handicap 7f
Top weight Fairy Wing has course form and looked on good terms with himself when drawing clear at Leopardstown on Thursday.
Maundy Money also goes well here, while Moonbi Creek represents the Weld stable. Although drawn wide, the five-year-old obliged when last seen at Dundalk in May.
Verdict: The lightly-raced Moonbi Creek may have more to give.
7.10 Caulfield industrial EBF Maiden 7f
Mona Brown, second in both starts to date, is the pick of the fillies in a weak race.
Storm Lightning and Hail have strong claims, with the first-time blinkered Storm Lightning sure to come on for a one-paced effort over six furlongs at Dundalk.
Verdict: Just denied on his sole try at the trip, Storm Lightning is nap material.