Mala Beach ready to make amends
There may be no return to the track for champion jockey Ruby Walsh this weekend as his return from a broken leg is delayed but David Mullins' star may continue to soar in his absence with a string of exciting mounts.
With Paul Townend also on the sidelines, Mullins has graduated into the top jockey role for his uncle Willie with six winners for the Closutton maestro in 14 days and the Grand National-winning pilot picks up the plum ride on Bellshill at Fairyhouse today.
The Grade Three At The Races Bobbyjo Chase (3.30) is a prize that 11-time champion trainer Mullins has farmed with seven victories to his name and he pitches the eight-year-old into good company after nearly a year off the racecourse.
Not seen since finishing third behind Might Bite and Whisper in last year's RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Bellshill is likely to be vying for favouritism at the head of the market but punters may be best served to look elsewhere.
The eight-year-old must concede weight to all his five rivals while carrying an 8lb penalty and with next month's Ryanair Chase and a possible crack at either the Aintree or Irish Grand National on his radar, today is unlikely to be the ultimate goal for the season.
Mullins' chief title rival Gordon Elliott - who leads the race for the Irish trainers' championship by just over €350,000 - may be the one to benefit from his ring rust with his duo Mala Beach and Lord Scoundrel sitting pretty at the bottom of the weights on 11st.
Lord Scoundrel has been off the boil for some time but MALA BEACH is particularly interesting stepping down in grade. The ten-year-old clearly wasn't right when pulled up in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival but, crucially, Davy Russell took the sensible option before the ninth fence so he has been kept fresh.
It's been a tough season for owner Chris Jones, losing both Mega Fortune and Zabana, but Mala Beach - which has a stone in hand on Bellshill based on official ratings - can provide some compensation if returning to anything like the form which saw him take Navan's Troytown Chase on his penultimate start.
Of the opposition, Andrew McNamara's Val De Ferbet is consistent but unlikely to keep pace with these rivals while it's hard to ignore the poor form of Noel Meade's horses at the moment with A Genie In Abottle a prime example after back-to-back disappointments.
With a cold spell to hit these shores this weekend, all roads lead to Mala Beach.
The Grade Three Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle (1.45) opens the seven-race card with Elliott's Mitchouka expected to book his Cheltenham ticket after keeping Grade One company twice behind Espoir D'Allen before scoring over course and distance.
Caution Russell's mount may not be the most reliable of odds-on juvenile hurdlers, however, and caution is advised while the performance of Big Ego - second behind Mullins' Saldier last weekend - might give some further insight into his Triumph Hurdle credentials.
A close eye should also be kept on Thosedaysaregone for trainer Charles Byrnes in the concluding Flat Race with the Limerick handler landing sizeable gambles with his last three bumper runners.
The Grade Two Paddy Power Onside App Novice Hurdle (3.10) headlines a cracking Naas card tomorrow where IMPACT FACTOR can continue the sparkling form of Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power.
The six-year-old may have only gotten his head in front twice in his five-race career but he has some brilliant form chasing home the likes of Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Getabird and Paloma Blue before edging Eagle Lion when opening his account last month.
The Pat Kelly-trained Eagle Lion looks Cheltenham bound after subsequently breaking his duck over hurdles in fine fashion and Impact Factor can fend off a trio of Elliott runners, the best of which may be recent Punchestown scorer Hardline.
Elliott and Russell can combine to good effect with Doctor Phoenix in the Grade Three Chase (3.45) to see off stablemate Ball D'Arc, while Wexford trainer Paul Nolan can take the Novices' Handicap Chase with FITZHENRY.
There was a lot to like about CONTINGENCY when chasing home Alletrix at Leopardstown earlier this month as he stayed on well up the finish and the Mullins team can give weight and a beating to four-year-old Pete So High Rated Novice Hurdle (2.10).