Kitten Rock poised to pounce again at Gowran Park
All of nine years after the most recent of his 18 Cheltenham Festival winners, Edward O'Grady could return to the Cotswolds gala with a live contender should Kitten Rock oblige for a fourth time on the spin in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park.
The esteemed Co Tipperary handler was ultimately the man who inspired JP McManus' patronage of the jumps game by supplying his first winner at the Festival in Mister Donovan 33 years ago.
He went on to saddle four of McManus' first five winners there over the next 12 years, but it is now 21 years since his Time For A Run took the Coral Cup under Charlie Swan in the famous green, white and gold silks.
It is amazing to think that the wily O'Grady has gone so long without contributing any more to McManus' overall haul of 41 at the four-day mecca.
Catch Me was second there for the partnership in handicap company in 2012, but Kitten Rock is a horse with the potential to rekindle their once mighty association on the biggest stage of all.
A lightly-raced juvenile last term, the Laverock five-year-old won twice and was beaten a head by Ivan Grozny in a Fairyhouse Grade Three as a novice, before rounding off his season by finishing fourth to Abbyssial in a Punchestown Grade One.
O'Grady has given Kitten Rock all the time necessary to mature, a tactic that began to reap a tangible reward when McManus finally swooped for him following a deeply impressive Naas reappearance in November.
Since then, he has sluiced up at short odds at Limerick and seen off Glens Melody with a bit of authority in another Naas Grade Three.
That form was franked when last season's gallant Cheltenham runner-up scooted up at Warwick last week.
Fancy prices can still be had about Kitten Rock for the Champion Hurdle and that is unlikely to change too much regardless of what happens today, but another polished triumph here would make him increasingly hard to ignore.
A strong traveller and a clean jumper, he has the scope to keep progressing, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares under the excellent jockeys' championship leader Mark Walsh, who has at least an outside chance of being nominated as AP McCoy's successor.
Chief among Kitten Rock's four-strong opposition in the €42,500 two-miler that went the way of Un De Sceaux 12 months ago are Abbyssial and Tiger Roll.
Gordon Elliott turns to blinkers in an effort to revitalise last year's Triumph Hurdle hero Tiger Roll, while Abbyssial is having its first start since June.
An unlikely triumph as a juvenile last term as an oversized son of Beneficial, he is an exciting individual that will relish the prevailing deep ground.
Paul Townend's mount appeals more as an embryonic chaser than anything else, but an early setback put that move on hold until next season.
Regardless, as we saw at Punchestown in the spring, he is plenty good enough to test the race-fit Kitten Rock, and Willie Mullins will have him ripe for battle.
Earlier, Townend will vie to stretch his unbeaten record aboard Mullins' dual Festival winner Champagne Fever to four in the equivalent Grade Two chase.