Tuesday 16 January 2018

Leblon to leave Mullins pair behind

D McElroy

CHAMPION trainer Willie Mullins, who has been emulating his retired father Paddy's excellent strike rate during the Harvest Festival, returns to Listowel this afternoon in search of a rewarding hat-trick in the Supporters Club Lartigue Handicap Hurdle.

The €50,000 Grade C contest is the highlight and the Mullins yard is doubly represented by Doctor Deejay and Strain Of Fame. Ruby Walsh, who obliged for the Closutton handler for the past two years on Sesenta and Tilabay, is now on Doctor Deejay, which renews Punchestown Festival rivalry with Gimli's Rock on 10lb better terms for a four-length defeat.

That versatile top weight from the in-form Jessica Harrington yard edged out Strain Of Fame at Ballinrobe and the handicapper raised both 6lb in the aftermath, so they could prove vulnerable off their revised marks, particularly as the ground will be much slower than the Mayo venue.

Preference, therefore, is for the Dansili mare Leblon to emulate stablemate Red Key's plucky victory at the track on Sunday for the flourishing John O'Shea/Sean McDermott partnership that has served their Dublin owner Eddie Donegan so well in recent seasons.

A winner over the course and distance in June, Leblon previously led in the pack behind Mullins' well- supported French import Tarla at Punchestown in a mares' contest and she is taken to outpace both Doctor Deejay and Strain Of Fame.

Harrington could have better luck in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Handicap confined to fillies, with in-form Conor Hoban's useful 7lb claim giving Blaze Brightly every chance of confirming Tipperary form with Intapeace.

They were second and third to Joanna Morgan's Fourpenny Lane in the Fairy Bridge Stakes at Tipperary and that kind of form at Listed level entitles them to the height of respect. While the plum draw has gone to Intapeace, Frank Ennis' runner may not get the mile trip now as comfortably as Blaze Brightly, which opened her account over this route in June.

As for the opening juvenile contests, it may be significant that Kevin Prendergast -- who landed the opener with Mujaazef 12 months ago -- has chosen this race to bring Curragh debut runner-up Glendaragh back to the track off a 114-day break.

The Ad Valorem colt was noted putting in some good late work to chase home Moonlit Garden in May and any improvement on that display could give Declan McDonogh's mount the edge over Sligo second Gentleman Duke and Cork third Tradition.

The Listowel Arms Hotel promotion places a greater emphasis on stamina for these two-year-olds and the prize may go to locally born trainer Tommy Stack's Nucals Star after taking third money in a similar Killarney contest behind Mawaakef and subsequent Dundalk scorer Factum.

As last year's winner Zhukhov has been drawn widest of the 14 runners in the Brandon Hotel Handicap, Tom McCourt's veteran could be playing catch-up from the outset, and the softening ground may favour David Nagle's filly Kammaan, which showed plenty of pace when winning for Joseph O'Brien at the Curragh on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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