Harty: Ground vital for return of Dark
Sabrina Harty is keeping her fingers crossed conditions allow Won In The Dark to make his seasonal debut in Saturday's Coral Hurdle at Ascot.
Connections of the six-year-old are keen on a crack at the Grade Two contest over just under two and a half miles, but soft ground could scupper his participation.
"The owners are very keen to go and we are looking for nice ground if we can get it," said the Kildare trainer. "He's a stronger horse this season and it's been harder to get the condition off him. He had a lot of trouble with his allergies last year, but it's all good now.
"The trip seems to suit him. He should have been third at Aintree only he tangled up when Ruby (Walsh) fell (from Celestial Halo). He had to go all the way round him and was only beaten a short head for third. The flat track will suit him, so I just hope we'll get some decent ground."
Nicky Henderson's classy Zaynar is bidding to repeat last year's victory in the Ascot contest.
The World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March is the ultimate objective for the grey, which has already made his mark at the Cheltenham festival, winning the Triumph in 2009 and finishing third in this year's Champion Hurdle.
"Zaynar is bigger and stronger this season, and we are also hoping that he is a fair bit better too," said bookmaker and co-owner Victor Chandler.
"He is currently on target for Ascot and we would be more than hopeful he can repeat last season's victory. His main aim this season will be the World Hurdle where we believe the step up to three miles will suit him very well."
Afsoun, third in the 2007 Champion Hurdle and runner-up in this race later that year when trained by Henderson, could have his first run over jumps since joining Neil King.
Jim Dreaper's Notre Pere looks destined for a trip to Aintree for Sunday's Becher Chase as the ex-Welsh National winner was omitted from the entries for the Ladbrokes.com Troytown Chase at Navan on the same afternoon.
The JP McManus-owned Streets Of Gold is the 9/2 favourite by the sponsors following the gutsy victory of the Christy Roche-trained gelding in the Cork Grand National last month.
Paul Nolan's Clan Tara could have his first run of the season, while Willie Mullins has four entered: top weight Arbor Supreme, Ballytrim, Jayo and Pomme Tiepy.
Meanwhile, Henry de Bromhead is considering stepping Loosen My Load up in trip -- with the Feltham at Kempton being one option -- after he was readily outpaced behind Ghizao over two miles at Cheltenham on Sunday.
The six-year-old made a winning debut over fences in a two and a half mile beginners race at Punchestown in May but has been running over shorter distances since.
At Limerick today, the best event of the card is the closing Askeaton Beginners Chase in which Willie Mullins' promising six-year-old Quel Esprit goes head-to-head with Edward O'Grady's talented hurdler Torphichen.
Fourth in the 2009 Weatherbys Champion Bumper, Quel Esprit fell at the second in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival last season before finishing sixth in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle two days later.
Paul Townend's mount is reported to have schooled well at Punchestown last Sunday and with the ground likely to be testing, his proven stamina earns him the vote over Torphichen.
The other interesting runner on the card is the former Aidan O'Brien-trained Macarthur, which runs in the two-mile maiden hurdle.
A Group Two winner on the Flat at Ascot, and third in the 2008 Coronation Cup, the son of Montjeu lost his way this summer but could strike for new handler James McAuley if the switch to obstacles rekindles his enthusiasm.