Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 17 December 2017

Mallowney can shine to maintain unbeaten Naas record

Mallowney, with Davy Russell up, jumps the last en route to winning the Underwriting Exchange Dan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse.
Mallowney, with Davy Russell up, jumps the last en route to winning the Underwriting Exchange Dan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse.
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

While tomorrow's Naas spread will struggle to live up to its billing as a trials day for next month's Cheltenham Festival, it has a habit of throwing up some smart performers.

Six years ago, Go Native plundered the Grade Two Paddy Power Novices' Hurdle en route to Supreme Novices' glory, and the mighty Annie Power stamped her authority all over the race in 2013. It was also in 2009 that Rite Of Passage devoured the bumper.

Dermot Weld's gelding could only finish third in the Cotswolds subsequently and he filled the same spot in the following year's Neptune, but he then emerged on top in a thrilling edition of the Ascot Gold Cup in 2010.

Over two years later after 18 months off, Rite Of Passage enhanced his legend by returning to the Berkshire venue to claim the Champions Day stayers' race, and Prestbury Park devotees will tease that it was only when he was dropped in class that he excelled.

In the eyes of many, the four-day gala in the Cotswolds each March is a sacred institution that has been elevated above all else. That's as it is.

Still, one of the most interesting runners at the Kildare venue tomorrow isn't entered at Cheltenham. Of the five declarations in the Grade Two conditions chase, four have Festival options.

Mallowney doesn't, as his shrewd Thurles-based handler Tim Doyle has other plans. Despite operating just a modestly-sized stable, Doyle hasn't let Cheltenham's bright lights blind him to what's best for his Oscar nine-year-old, a keen sort that goes best with plenty of ease underfoot.

Cheltenham and its habitually good ground and all its frenzy wouldn't be ideal. Doyle recognises that, and skipping the Festival last year doubtless played a part in Mallowney's dismissal of three horses that had graced the big stage when he recorded a valuable triumph under Davy Russell at Punchestown on May 1.

Reunited with Russell for a first time since May in the Dan Moore Chase at Fairyhouse in January, Mallowney posted an even more superlative display, slamming Bright New Dawn and Days Hotel to claim the €60,000 winner's prize. Days Hotel won this €46,000 Grade Two in 2013 and 2014, and the suspicion is that it will prove a lucrative stepping stone for Mallowney now, with Doyle eyeing the two-mile Grade One at the Punchestown finale as his most suitable Grade One target.

That is the long-term play, but his sensible strategy can yield another valuable reward at Naas, where Mallowney is unbeaten in three starts. A 12lb hike for that 10-length Fairyhouse rout leaves Russell's mount on an official mark of 160, 2lbs inferior to Willie Mullins' Twinlight, from which he receives 5lb tomorrow.

If the handicapper is correct, then, this really is Mallowney's to lose, as Twinlight's form has petered out a little since his opportunistic Grade One success at Christmas.

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