Josies Orders can pounce for Carberry
Shanpallas will fly the flag for the raiders in tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup and a nine-strong contingent will today endeavour to get proceedings at Cheltenham off to a flying start.
A field of 20 looks set to go to post for tomorrow's prestigious £160,000 handicap, with two reserves in place until this morning's cut-off point.
It is six years since Tranquil Sea brought the lion's share of the spoils this way, and Charles Byrnes' 2014 Munster National hero is a 25/1 shot to end the wait.
Brought down on his latest run in the Limerick feature last month, the JP McManus-owned Shanpallas will carry 10st 13lbs under Barry Geraghty. Paul Townend will partner Rebecca Curtis's fancied Irish Cavalier, on which he won at the Festival in March and at Newton Abbot recently.
Today, there is a degree of strength in depth to the Irish challenge, with five of the travelling contingent on duty in the marathon cross-country race, including Willie Mullins's redoubtable 2011 winner, Uncle Junior. Patrick Mullins's remarkable mount defied his 14 years to win at Punchestown in April. He has lots on his plate here, and a more sensible option might be Enda Bolger's Josies Orders.
A triple hurdle winner for Jonjo O'Neill, Josies Orders has run just seven times over fences, the last two of which came over the Punchestown banks. On his first try in the race that Uncle Junior won, he exited two-out when running well, prior to promptly making amends two days later.
Under Nina Carberry, that was a victory that suggested Josies Orders could develop into a smart prospect at this discipline in Bolger's astute care. He is seven pounds higher here than when he last won over hurdles in 2014, but he is in off just 10st 2lb. With the peerless Carberry (right) up again, he's fancied to have a big say in the finish.
Tony Martin, who saddles last March's cross-country winner Rivage D'Or in the novelty event, has two other runners, both of which have plenty going for them. In the handicap hurdle that follows, he will saddle Dollar And A Dream for Ruby Walsh. A beaten favourite off 107 at Listowel, Dollar And A Dream had previously won off 98 at Galway. He has been largely progressive, and there was lots to take from his Listowel defeat.
Ridden by Philip Enright, he was forced to make his challenge wide, which is often a hindrance at the Kerry venue. However, he kept finding, and he is the sort of horse that could still improve sufficiently to justify his British mark of 113. Off 11st here, then, he shouldn't be too far away.
In the amateur riders' chase, Gordon Elliott's course runner-up Definite Ruby must be a player under Jamie Codd, although her win ratio isn't the most encouraging. Martin relies on Our Sox, a far more unexposed individual that has the assistance of Katie Walsh.
Our Sox has run just four times over fences. On his latest outing at Punchestown, he caught the eye when third behind Much Wants More, having nodded badly two-out. There should be more to come from him and, while he remains quite inexperienced for a test like this, that is countered by a negligible weight of 10st 4lb.
If Our Sox enjoys some luck in running, he could prove favourably treated. In the £30,000 novices' hurdle, the October course winner Penglai Pavilion faces three precocious sorts in Alcala, Shantou Village and Champers On Ice, which is making its hurdle debut. This isn't an easy race to assess, but a chance is taken on Shantou Village obliging for Neil Mulholland, the least high-profile handler represented.
Deeply impressive in each of its point-to-point, bumper and maiden hurdle victories, Shantou Village is stepping up to two miles and five furlongs here, after winning at its leisure over two at Carlisle. Noel Fehily's mount is clearly a horse with enormous potential and the longer trip should play to his strengths, so he gets the nod to trump the opposition before going on to better things.
The preceding novices' chase is the most intriguing race of the day, not least because it features the return of More Of That, Jonjo O'Neill's classy 2014 World Hurdle hero that flopped so badly on its only outing last term. Geraghty's partner clearly has issues to overcome, and, while it entirely conceivable that he will fulfil his potential, Dell' Arca is the one to be with today.
David Pipe's smart six-year-old won the Greatwood Hurdle at this three-day fixture in 2013. He was ultimately disappointing over flights thereafter, though his third to Faugheen at Punchestown in April was no bad effort. Prior to that, he was fourth in this race on his fencing debut last year.
He then finished second to Coneygree at Newbury before reverting to hurdling. On his resumption over fences at Uttoxeter in May, he absolutely danced up for Tom Scudamore. It wouldn't be the biggest surprise were he to do the very same here.