Hanlon eyes two-mile test for Cyclone
The sense that Irish racing's elite two-mile chasing division is wide-open has gained further traction with John 'Shark' Hanlon's revelation that Paddy Power Gold Cup third Hidden Cyclone is to be dropped in trip for Leopardstown's Dial-A-Bet Chase.
Nicky Henderson's exceptional reigning champion Sprinter Sacre re-emphasised his absolute superiority at the minimum distance with successive triumphs over Sizing Europe at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring.
Barry Geraghty's flawless partner is due to reappear in Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday fortnight, but won't be seen back on this side of the Irish Sea until the National Hunt Festival comes around again in April.
Henry de Bromhead confirmed yesterday that Sizing Europe would try for back-to-back victories in the Grade One Dial-A-Bet following last month's latest indifferent foray over three miles at Down Royal.
However, as a rising 12-year-old, the Co Waterford handler's brilliantly consistent stable star isn't quite the indomitable force of old. Willie Mullins' high-profile purchase Sanctuaire was a horse that many felt might fill the breach, but he suffered a fatal fall while schooling at Punchestown last Saturday, just three months after being acquired by owner Rich Ricci.
As a result, with Mullins' Ricci-owned Arvika Ligeonniere and the Tony Martin-trained Flemenstar both expected to explore options over further, there could be a lot of prize money up for grabs in contests like the Dial-A-Bet and Grade Twos such as Fairyhouse's Normans Grove and Punchestown's Tied Cottage.
Last Saturday, Hidden Cyclone set a searching pace and fenced far more fluently than he often does in Prestbury Park's prestigious two-mile-five-furlong handicap. His ready Poplar Chase triumph at Naas in October 2012 is the only time he has run over two miles since 2010, but Hanlon feels now might be time to test his classy eight-year-old in better company at the trip at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.
"He was cruising coming down the hill (at Cheltenham) and had a lot of horses off the bridle, but I just felt he didn't quite get home," the Carlow handler explained of the horse for which he once harboured Gold Cup ambitions.
"Two and a half miles around Cheltenham is tougher than anywhere else, but we might bring him back in trip now and run him in the Dial-A-Bet."
Hanlon added of the Paddy Power defeat: "It was a super run as he was giving nearly a stone to the two horses in front of him and the horse that finished behind him. I think he's entitled to win a big one."
Mullins has raised the mouth-watering prospect of sending Ricci's unbeaten mare Annie Power into battle against Zarkandar and Melodic Rendezvous by entering her in Ascot's Coral Hurdle.
Last seen slamming stablemate and fellow subsequent Grade One scorer Glens Melody at Fairyhouse in March, the precocious daughter of Shirocco is one of seven entries for the two-mile-three-furlong Grade Two, with Mullins' Zaidpour also a possibility.
Meanwhile, Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud and JP McManus could dominate the upper end of the handicap in Sunday's feature at Navan, the Troytown Chase.
McManus' Galway Plate hero Carlingford Lough is the top rated of the 25 entries for the €100,000 three-miler on 150, while his Colbert Station, successful in a similar event for Ted Walsh at Leopardstown last Christmas, is joint next best with Gigginstown's 2012 Troytown winner Tofino Bay on 147.
Tofino Bay's trainer Dessie Hughes is also responsible for last year's Munster and Cork National winner Raz De Maree, which shares the third-highest rating with Gigginstown's Paul Nolan-trained Sweeney Tunes.
Walsh has confirmed his intention to run Colbert Station, and Hughes has said that he plans to run both of his entries.