Meade's grounds for concern over Formidable
Noel Meade, who trains four of the six potential rivals to the odds-on favourite Sous Les Cieux in Tuesday's Grade One novice hurdle at Leopardstown, yesterday issued a note of caution over the prospects of Formidableopponent running in the race.
The JP McManus-owned four-year-old recorded an impressive triumph on its hurdling bow at Navan last month, having won a bumper at the same track two weeks previously.
Formidableopponent is 7/1 third favourite behind the Willie Mullins-trained 1/2 market leader and Cash And Go (6/1) for the Future Champions Novice Hurdle with sponsors Paddypower.com, but the former champion trainer is worried that the going at the Foxrock venue -- currently soft -- may be turning against him.
"He struggled a bit in the ground the last day," Meade said, "and if it keeps raining, Formidableopponent could be doubtful. Having said that, Leopardstown takes the rain well, so I won't be making my mind up just yet."
Of his three other entries, Meade added: "Dylan Ross and Monksland would want better ground as well, although Monksland could run so long as it's not heavy.
"Il Fenomeno, on the other hand, handles soft ground well, but he pulled a muscle when he ran last time and is only just back in full work. At this stage, I'd say any two of the four could run in the race, though it's unlikely we would run three."
Meade had more definite news of Sam Bass and Cross Appeal, which are pencilled in for Monday's Grade Two UAE Embassy Hurdle and Tuesday's Paddy Power Chase respectively. Cross Appeal was unlucky when blundering away his chance at the final fence en route to finishing third in the Troytown Chase, while Sam Bass recently made it three wins from four starts over flights in a Fairyhouse Grade Three.
"Sam Bass definitely runs," Meade said. "We are very happy with him, and Cross Appeal definitely runs. He seems in good form too. I thought the handicapper was hard on him to put him up four pounds for his run in the Troytown, but he wouldn't get into the race if he hadn't been put up, so maybe it is a blessing in disguise."
Following the publication of the weights for the €106,800 handicap, Cross Appeal is set to carry 10st 4lb. He is a top-priced 16/1 to collect, though two of the three ahead of him in the ante-post market aren't guaranteed a run -- Willie Mullins' On His Own (9/1) and Tom Taaffe's Smoking Aces (12/1).
The eagerly awaited return of Mullins' Hurricane Fly in tomorrow week's Istabraq Hurdle remains a possibility, as the Cheltenham hero features among nine left in the two-mile Grade One.
Morgiana Hurdle victor and stablemate Thousand Stars has also stood its ground, as has Colm Murphy's Hatton's Grace winner Voler La Vedette.
Next Wednesday's three-mile Woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle is another option for Voler La Vedette, while Quito De La Roque is on course to justify 7/4 favouritism for Murphy in the Lexus Chase the same afternoon. In all, 13 could line out in the highlight of the four-day Festival, with Rubi Light and Joncol, first and second in the John Durkan last week, both engaged.
Following Denman's retirement, Paul Nicholls yesterday elected to supplement Noland for the three-mile Grade One. The 10-year-old landed the 2008 Durkan on its last visit to Ireland, but hasn't run since denying What A Friend by a head in the Aon Chase in February.
Betfair, the betting exchange, has unveiled an arrangement to back RTE's racing coverage. The six-month agreement encompasses RTE's television, radio and online racing output.
Trainer Colm Murphy revealed that Robbie Power is likely to retain the ride on Big Zeb in Tuesday's Dial-A-Bet Chase. Power stood in for Barry Geraghty when Big Zeb made a successful seasonal return at Navan, and Geraghty is expected to be on duty at Kempton on Tuesday. Gordon Elliott, meanwhile, has booked the record-breaking amateur rider Derek O'Connor to steer Chicago Grey in Tuesday's Welsh National.