Indian Castle can foil Irish raiders in Cheltenham showpiece
Shanpallas and Orpheus Valley will strive to bring the Paddy Power Gold Cup back to these shores for just a second time in 34 years at Cheltenham this afternoon.
Both horses have chances, but it's hard to make a solid case for either. Charles Byrnes' JP McManus-owned Shanpallas built on his Kerry National third with a determined win in the Munster equivalent for Davy Russell.
He is eight pounds higher now, and, while he has scope to defy that mark yet, the rain-softened Cheltenham turf is unlikely to suit.
The Tom Gibney-trained veteran Orpheus Valley is better equipped to cope in the mud. He won a decent race at Punchestown in the spring, but his two latest outings lacked encouragement, so he is hard to fancy.
Jonjo O'Neill's 2013 winner Johns Spirit shares top-weight with the classy Oscar Whisky. Richie McLernon's mount won with a bit of authority here last month, but a nine-pound hike for that leaves him 27lbs higher than when he landed the same race 12 months earlier.
For all that Johns Spirit excels here, his improvement will level out soon, so this is a big ask. Present View and Buywise are towards the head of the market, and it's easy to see why, though Buywise's iffy fencing might find him out now that he steps up in grade.
Present View won the novices' handicap chase here in March off a mark of 137. He is progressive enough to defy a seven-pound hike, and his reappearance second here over flights should leave him just right.
On the other hand, stamina isn't Present View's forte, something we were reminded of when he got collared up the run-in last time, so he is passed over now that the ground has turned.
Persian Snow is of interest for the in-form Philip Hobbs-Richard Johnson axis at up to 16/1. A mud-lover that won twice over fences earlier in the year, he emerged with plenty credit when second to Johns Spirit on his return. He is four pounds higher but is still five pounds better off with Johns Spirit, so he has each-way appeal off 10st 11lb.
Venetia Williams' Kapga De Cerisy is another worth a speculative venture in the place market at fancy odds. However, he will find it hard to win on his first run since scoring impressively at Sandown 12 months ago.
The one that stands out is Indian Castle, which makes its debut for Ian Williams after being moved from Don McCain. When you look down through the recent roll of honour for this prestigious £160,000 handicap, it is littered with names that are synonymous with Prestbury Park success.
Williams doesn't fall into that bracket, but Indian Castle could help him buck the trend. A heavy ground point-to-point winner, the Dr Massini gelding finished first or second in its first seven runs for McCain.
On his 2013 reappearance at Wetherby, he impressed on his fencing bow, and he then ran out a convincing winner in heavy ground here over this sort of mid-range trip in January.
On his final outing for McCain over three miles in the Kim Muir in March, Indian Castle travelled sweetly until a mistake three-out impeded his momentum. He was still thereabouts until he then clattered the last fence as well.
He eventually finished seventh, and the suspicion is that today's trip will suit ideally on the prevailing ground.
Granted, there is an element of faith involved in terms of fitness. Off 10st 10lb on just his fifth start over fences, though, Indian Castle appeals as a live win option at 10/1 under Noel Fehily.
Willie Mullins is represented by one Cotswolds runner on each of the next two days. Both are fancied, with the precocious Daring Carlotta trusted to stretch her unbeaten run to four under Paul Townend in the mares' bumper, having cantered up at Listowel.
The champion trainer's Clondaw Warrior is a fascinating contender off 10st in tomorrow's Greatwood Hurdle.
In five Flat starts since joining Mullins, the Overbury gelding has won three, latterly claiming the November Handicap off a 34lb higher mark than when he arrived at Closutton.
He will have a big say in this competitive affair if he shows remotely similar improvement for David Casey now.
Best bet: Daring Carlotta
Champagne Fever was put forward here as an ante-post option for the King George VI Chase a month ago, but he is worth revisiting now following Thursday's rout at Clonmel.
His is 8/1 from 10/1 for the Christmas feature, which may be a slight under-reaction, given that the only horse ahead of him in the market - Simonsig - hasn't run since March 2013.
That aside, Thursday's display hinted that efforts to drop in Champagne Fever might be futile. He raced very keenly, yet he still galloped home resolutely in deep ground.
In better company, though, such exuberance wouldn't be ideal, and the suspicion is that he will settle better if he is given his head, as all he really does is jump and gallop.
Kempton should suit his relentless, bold-jumping style. The question thereafter is the extra two-and-a-half furlongs up the hill in the Gold Cup.
Champagne Fever is bred to stay, and his half-brother Presenting Forever's only two wins came over 3m 3f at Sedgefield and then over an extended 3m at Carlisle, one of the stiffest tracks in England. We are talking apples and oranges in terms of quality, of course, but Presenting Forever made all on both occasions.
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