Hurricane looks too powerful for rivals
A steady rise in temperatures overnight and throughout the day left the Leopardstown course frost-free by early afternoon, so any threat to tomorrow's inaugural running of the Irish Champion Hurdle under the BHP Insurances banner looks minimal at this stage.
Indeed, the Dublin course reportedly could have raced at that juncture and, with the advance going described as soft, the scene is set for a repeat of the Paddy Power Christmas clash there between last year's winner Solwhit and his present nemesis Hurricane Fly.
Deposed a week ago as outright favourite for Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle by reigning title-holder Binocular, a carbon copy of the latter's Kempton success tomorrow could see Hurricane Fly edged ahead again of course specialist Menorah as clear second choice.
The enforced absence of Dunguib robs this welcome BHP Insurances promotion of much of its appeal and perhaps a competitive edge, though connections of Willie Mullins-trained hotpot Hurricane Fly won't be complaining if the gelding outpaces Solwhit in the straight once more.
That talented mare Voler La Vedette, the favourite's stable companion Thousand Stars and former victor Sublimity complete the smallest field for this Grade One affair since 2003, when Like-A-Butterfly just overcame Limestone Lad after a tremendously keen duel.
Relatively academic though the big-race outcome may be where most ordinary punters are concerned, this card still provides its share of betting opportunities thanks to the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase and the Synergy Security Solutions Novice Hurdle.
Champion trainer Mullins has plenty of back-up here to star attraction Hurricane Fly courtesy of hat-trick seekers Flat Out in the Frank Ward showpiece and Ballyhaunis, withdrawn at Naas last Saturday, for the Synergy-backed penultimate leg of the Jackpot.
Having topped the €1m mark in prize money at Fairyhouse last Sunday, the Mullins team target all except the two handicaps here, but Day Of A Lifetime in the opening Frank Conroy Memorial Maiden Hurdle and bumper debutant Zadarska are launched on proper assignments too.
BHP Insurances Champion Hurdle,
A marvellous money-spinner for his Wexford syndicate owners, Solwhit under Davy Russell has tried both forcing the issue from two out at Fairyhouse and being held up here last month for a late challenge that never really materialised in bids to overturn Hurricane Fly, which goes so well for Paul Townend and initiated their current supremacy over the fellow French import at the Punchestown Festival.
Not many serious backers will be tempted therefore to side with Solwhit for round four of their ongoing encounters on ground that won't hinder the favourite in the least, though it will be interesting to see if Voler La Vedette, Thousand Stars or Sublimity manage to ruffle their feathers.
Verdict: Hurricane Fly bar a fall.
Frank Ward Arkle Novice Chase (1.45)
Flat Out and Mr Cracker step up in class on their treble missions as the year-older trio Realt Dubh, Noble Prince and Saludos likewise renew rivalry from a somewhat inconclusive meeting over the course and distance last month when Saludos exited at the final fence to the benefit of Realt Dubh.
Whether that tumble has adversely affected Saludos is anyone's guess whereas a longer trip might be more beneficial for the likes of Noble Prince and Mr Cracker.
That scenario would leave a choice between Realt Dubh and Flat Out, which did a virtual solo at Punchestown on his chasing debut to indicate that he can build on some very smart placed outings over timber last season.
Verdict: Flat Out looks tempting.
Synergy Security Novice Hurdle, (3.20)
Ballyhaunis, which was withdrawn from a Naas engagement last Saturday due to the very heavy ground, is nominated here to represent Willie Mullins ahead of fellow dual hurdles victor Gagewell Flyer and runaway course and distance maiden hurdle winner So Young.
Much depends on how readily 131-rated Ballyhaunis adapts to the prevailing conditions underfoot, not to mention stepping up in distance, as main market rival Hidden Cyclone resumes after a splendid close third here last month to First Lieutenant and Zaidpour.
Top weight won't be any help to Fully Funded's cause and Si C'etait Vrai suffered a heavy fall at Naas, all of which suggests Hidden Cyclone is the one to beat.
Verdict: Trust in Hidden Cyclone.