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Ground concerns for Flemenstar

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Flemenstar, with Andrew Lynch up, jump the last on their way to winning the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Steeplechase. Leopardstown Racecourse, Leopardstown, Co. Dublin.

Flemenstar, with Andrew Lynch up, jump the last on their way to winning the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Steeplechase. Leopardstown Racecourse, Leopardstown, Co. Dublin.

Flemenstar, with Andrew Lynch up, jump the last on their way to winning the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Steeplechase. Leopardstown Racecourse, Leopardstown, Co. Dublin.

All eyes will be on the skies over the next few days, with drying ground conditions making life less than straightforward for those tasked with ensuring safe going at the upcoming Irish and English Grand National meetings.

When the full entries were revealed yesterday for Sunday's opening salvo of the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse, the hugely exciting Flemenstar featured among 12 put forward for the Powers Gold Cup.

Unbeaten in his last four chasing starts, the runaway Irish Arkle Chase victor is a best-priced 11/8 favourite with Boylesports to record a second Grade One triumph in the prestigious two-and-a-half-miler.

Flemenstar's Dublin-based handler Peter Casey has earmarked the contest as the preferred big-race target for his proven soft-ground performer following his emphatic Leopardstown triumph, but the recent sunny spell could yet cause him to miss out.

"We will be keeping an eye on the ground," Casey admitted yesterday after the rain that fell in the Leinster area missed Fairyhouse, where the going is now officially good after 10mm of water was applied last Friday.

Casey is clearly anxious to run his talented seven-year-old, for which owner Stephen Curran has reportedly turned down numerous generous offers.

"This has been the plan for Flemenstar all year," he confirmed of a novice whose only superior on domestic ratings is the Cheltenham winner Sir Des Champs.

"He is in great form. He he did his final piece of work at The Curragh this morning and went well."

Chief among the market leader's rivals on Sunday, should he turn out, will be Mouse Morris' rejuvenated Gigginstown Stud-owned Rathlin, as well as False Economy, a ready winner over hurdles for Michael Hourigan last Sunday.

Both are expected to relish some decent going, in contrast to the Victor Dartnall-trained Giles Cross.

RULED OUT

As low as 12/1 for the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, the Haydock Grand National Trial winner and Welsh National runner-up has been ruled out of the Fairyhouse highlight in favour of the Aintree equivalent five days later.

Synchronised, the JP McManus-owned Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, worked in encouraging style at Jackdaws Castle yesterday morning, tipping the balance in favour of a run in the big English race.

No final decision has been taken, but trainer Jonjo O'Neill, who issued an upbeat report of the gallop, is set to discuss the matter with McManus, and there is every likelihood this rapidly-improving chaser will take his chance.

Synchronised presently shares favouritism with the David Pipe-trained Junior, with most major firms offering 10/1 the pair.

Only one horse has ever completed the Gold Cup-Grand National double -- the legendary Golden Miller, in 1934.

O'Neill was at a loss to explain why Festival winner Sunnyhill Boy has been a dramatic drifter in exchange betting on the National, saying: "He's well in himself."

Welsh trainer Evan Williams has revealed that State Of Play, placed in the first four in the last three Nationals, will be ridden by Cork-born Champion Hurdle-winning rider Noel Fehily this time, with Tipperary native Paul Moloney confirmed for Cappa Bleu.

The Turf Club, meanwhile, yesterday handed Cathal Landers a three-month ban and a €500 fine after he tested positive for a metabolite of cannabis at Leopardstown on December 27.

A 7lb claimer based in Kildare with James Nash, Landers rode his third winner at the Dublin venue on Star Of Aragon the following day, but has not ridden since March 8.

The regulator also decided to uphold a three-year ban handed out by its British counterpart to Jason Behan for stopping Casela Park at Newcastle two years ago after the rider failed to turn up at a hearing yesterday.

The regulatory body is to hear further submissions from the horse's trainer, Eamon Tyrell, before deciding on his appeal.

Irish Independent