Hughes' Caduceus can reign in Kerry
WILLIE MULLINS and Ruby Walsh will this afternoon bid for their third Guinness Kerry National triumph together since 2005 with the long-absent but heavily backed Themoonandsixpence.
Last seen finishing second to Finger Onthe Pulse on just his third start over fences in the 2010 Galway Plate, Themoonandsixpence has halved in price for the Listowel feature from a high of 12/1 earlier in the week.
Yesterday evening, he was vying for favouritism with the David Pipe-trained Premier Dane -- a sole English raider in the €160,000 handicap -- and Caduceus, Pat Hughes' progressive Punchestown winner.
Just 4lb higher now, Themoonandsixpence remains massively unexposed despite his nine years. However, three miles in desperately testing conditions is going to take plenty of getting in this competitive contest, and a 784-day lay-off is hardly ideal.
Leonard Whitmore's Casey Top, second in this year's Plate on his most recent outing under Paul Townend, heads the weights in the 18-strong field. Having won at Killarney prior to Galway on his only other run this year, he is clearly in the form of his life, and is another nine-year-old with relatively low mileage over fences.
That said, as a horse that goes well from the front and enjoys decent ground, this is going to be a tough ask. Fosters Cross, runner-up in the showpiece hurdle at Ballybrit in 2011, has the 7lb penalty that he incurred for an authoritative win there last week negated by Tom Mullins' booking of the decent claimer Declan Lavery.
With Mullins proving increasingly accurate on the big days, he is not to be lightly dismissed, but he has twice been pulled up in this and is yet to win beyond two and a quarter miles.
Premier Dane, a winner of two hurdles and a chase on his last three starts, is another with serious questions to answer in relation to stamina.
On his first outing since obliging for a third time in four starts at the rearranged Punchestown Festival fixture in May, Caduceus is the one to keep on side.
An 18-length winner off 107 at Fairyhouse, the Luso eight-year-old had no trouble following up off a 13lb higher mark over an extended three miles in testing ground last time.
While Caduceus is up another 8lb now, he gets in with just 10st 9lb under Paul Carberry and there is little doubt that he is still on the up.
Moreover, he goes especially well fresh, so he appeals as nap material to deliver Hughes a second victory in this after Lanturn's bloodless rout under Carberry's brother Philip in 1999.
Hughes' much-hyped Teelin Star, a huge disappointment on his racecourse debut at Fairyhouse in April after cruising up in two point-to-points, is also fancied to redeem himself under Colman Sweeney in the bumper.
Earlier, Tugboat gets a tentative nod in a decent renewal of the Ballygarry House Hotel Novice Hurdle.
Whatever Jacksays, Magic Spear, Too Scoops, Letherbelucky and Top Madam all hold genuine chances in this, but Tugboat strikes as the one with the most potential.
Successful at Galway for Edward O'Grady and Barry Geraghty, his four-year-old's allowance is not to be sniffed at in these conditions.
In the Listed Edmund & Josie Whelan Memorial Stakes, Minsk has his first start for John Oxx since completing a three-timer in last year's Cesarewitch.
He will undoubtedly go close, but the race-fit Chamonix, deeply impressive at this level for Aidan and Joseph O'Brien at Galway nine days ago, will surely be hard to beat again.