King of Queens can book ticket to Festival
Victory in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown tomorrow might be worth far more than the €14,625 prize on offer, as six of the top seven in the weights could do with a win penalty to be sure of a run in one or other of the Cheltenham handicaps.
It's a race that Harchibald won en route to being sent off joint-favourite for the County Hurdle in 2004 and King Of Queens heads the weights this time.
Tom Mullin's eight-year-old has been in fantastic form in recent months, though his progress stalled a little when 10th in the Boylesports.com Hurdle here last time.
However, he wasn't beaten that far on bad ground, and it was encouraging to see Mallowney, which finished just in front of him, frank the form in style at Naas. Now that the ground has dried up again, Paul Townend's mount should be a real contender.
Willie Mullins' Balnaslow, the only one of the seven that has options in Grade Ones rather than handicaps at Prestbury Park, is a novice that could prove well treated.
Inis Meain and St Devote are others that could trouble the selection, but the suspicion is that King Of Queens might just have the class to book his ticket on the boat.
Townend might also take the subsequent handicap chase on Saigheada Beaga for the in-form Terence O'Brien, while the man that replaced him as champion jockey also has a fine book of rides.
Apart from Balnaslow, Davy Russell has some superb spins. In the featured Carrickmines Chase, he rides Spring Heeled for Churchtown-based Jim Culloty.
This is a competitive affair with a €37,500 prize fund, but few have as progressive a profile as Culloty's Dr Ronan Lambe-owned novice. A dual hurdle winner last term, the lightly-raced six-year-old finished third to Alderwood off level weights on his second chasing start over two miles at Navan in January.
He gets in here off just 10st 9lb for a first-time mark of 121 that is 17lbs lower than Alderwood's chase rating, so he might just prove thrown in now that he steps up to a more favourable 2m 5f.
In the preceding novices' chase, the Youghal native's Tony Martin-trained mount Savello is favoured over a few useful opponents now that he has found some form, while he can land the nap on Thunder And Roses in the opening maiden hurdle.
With Operating, Grey Monk and Upazo in opposition, this is another well-contested affair, but Dessie Hughes' Gigginstown representative boasts the best form in defeat this term, courtesy of placed efforts behind Tennis Cap, Talbot Road and Mala Beach.