Improving 'Tout' can strike blow for Meade
If recent runnings of the Grade Two Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase (2.10) are anything to go by then all eyes will be on Thurles tomorrow.
Subsequent Gold Cup winners Sizing John and Don Cossack used it as a stepping stone to greater things and while there isn't a similar calibre of animal among the eight-strong field on paper, there's still plenty of intrigue.
Last year's winner A Toi Phil has gone off the boil somewhat this season for Gordon Elliott and is discounted along with stablemate Doctor Phoenix unless they tear up the form of recent displays.
Willie Mullins has just four entries this weekend as he goes through a lean spell - by his lofty standards - and two appear in this contest with Ruby Walsh aboard Invitation Only and Paul Townend on Total Recall.
The Closutton pair made their seasonal debuts behind stable companion Al Boum Photo in a Mullins 1-2-3 at Tramore on New Year's Day and Total Recall looks the more likely of the two having had 16 lengths to spare that day.
Last season finished with a fall in the Cheltenham Gold Cup before pulling up in the Aintree Grand National and the Punchestown Gold Cup so likely favourite Total Recall isn't the most inspiring selection, however, and it may pay to side with an improver.
Tout Est Permis fits the bill perfectly having progressed at a rate of knots since switching from Mouse Morris' yard to Noel Meade this season with a 22lb weight hike seeing him hit the 150-mark.
A comfortable winner of the ultra-competitive Troytown Chase in November, the six-year-old is clearly well regarded by the Meath trainer with a host of Grade One entries (Irish Gold Cup, Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase) and can continue his upward curve in the hands of Sean Flanagan.
Mullins could be stung by a former inmate in the Grade Two Mares Novice Chase (2.40) as he comes up against Paul Nolan's Meri Devie, a Listed winner over hurdles when in Mullins' care.
Originally purchased as a brood mare, the six-year-old scored on her debut over fences and chases some black type before going into foal but it would be a surprise if she can turn over Mullins' Camelia De Cotte.
Having suffered defeat just once in five chase starts - when fourth in a Tipperary Grade Three behind subsequent Grade One scorer Le Richebourg - Camelia De Cotte is the class act on the back of Listed and Grade Three chase victories.
Meade and Flanagan can also combine to land the novice hurdle (1.0) as First Approach drops down in class from Grade One fare while today's Navan card is headed by a €50,000 Handicap Hurdle (1.35).
The 7lb swing at the weights in favour of Mags Mullins' Agusta Gold from her Fairyhouse defeat to Matthew Smith's Ronald Pump may be enough to turn the tables.