Mouchoir and Cooper to lead the Fifth
Mullins' grey has chance to justify rider's tough call in feature
The number of runners trained by Gordon Elliott running at Navan tomorrow, including 11 in the Troytown, which he bids to win for the third year running. Though he has written off his title chance, one feels that he may have a squeak.
Bryan Cooper knew one thing when he became retained rider for Gigginstown: he was certain to pick the wrong one more often that he would like to remember.
His predecessor, Davy Russell, would freely admit that this used to drive him mad - think First Lieutenant over Last Instalment - but such is one of the aspects of perhaps the best job in jumps racing.
Cooper could not have slept last night without tossing around in bed, dreading a recurring nightmare featuring Apple's Jade.
Today's StanJames.com 'Fighting Fifth' at Newcastle is a pretty moderate renewal and likely to have minimal relevance come the big race on the first day of Cheltenham but it is a Grade One and Cooper has picked Petit Mouchoir instead of a horse he finished behind at Down Royal when he was actually 5lb better off. What are we to deduce?
While Apple's Jade beat Petit Mouchoir then, it was hard not to be taken by the quiet ride the grey got and the word on the street is that Henry de Bromhead was far from disappointed with the performance of his new inmate. Likely he will be much more revved up as he bids to emulate stablemate Identity Thief's win in this 12 months ago.
Apple's Jade may too be a different proposition today - surely she is better than that defeat to Rashaan - and it is quite the ride for 17-year-old Jack Kennedy to get. However, Petit Mouchoir has solid Grade One form as a novice and may have more to give.
Sceau Royal has been magnificent in his two seasonal starts and it would not shock were he to confirm that he has progressed past these rivals. Irving, which ran two shockers last season after a couple of wins that November, has had ample time to recharge his batteries.
The undercard features the Weatherbys Racing Diaries "The French Furze" Novices´ Hurdle and expect Get On The Yager to continue to prove that he is better than the unfortunate name he was given against his will.
The At The Races Rehearsal Handicap Chase is a cracker and No Planning might be worth chancing. Jack Kennedy was confident he would only have one ride on the card midweek so it is fascinating he takes up a spare on the Sue Smith-trained nine-year-old, which was fifth in the Midlands National last term.
Most eyes are on the day's big handicap, Newbury's Hennessy Gold Cup. While no Irish runner made the trip over, this has the appeal of a strong renewal and a case could be made for virtually every single participant.
Thistlecrack, vying with Cue Card for status as stable star, should have no issue landing the cramped odds in the opener. Colin Tizzard must be pinching himself that big-race favourite Native River is not nearly as talented as two others in the yard and everything points to a sterling effort from the six-year-old. However, it may have been a case of "right horse, wrong year" with Saphir Du Rheu 12 months ago.
A strong favourite then, he was far from discredited in fifth to Smad Place, and returns to the same track having dropped 10lb. It's likely Paul Nicholls challenged himself to make amends this year and, if that is the case, his prep at Ascot was pretty encouraging.
It is a worry that his season rather derailed at Grade One/Two level last season but he is only seven and he has a weight that means there are no excuses.
The Gerry Fielden Hurdle may provide compensation for Who Dares Wins, which unseated at Cheltenham on Open Meeting weekend. That is a concern but his Flat form suggests he still has races in him off this mark, as does that Chepstow fourth in October.
JP McManus has pulled off a beautiful touch in the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase, changing the silks of In The Rough to that of the legendary late commentator for this commemorative event.
Antony was superb at Ascot but preference here is for Generous Ransom. Cheekpieces worked a treat on stablemate Three Faces West last Saturday and may do on this one too.
The bet365 Handicap Hurdle is another intriguing sort and Born Survivor looks rock-solid. A hardy novice last term, the five-year-old made a nice return to action when second at Aintree on Old Roan day. Likely he has a few pounds in hand for the Skeltons.
The concluding event, a £35,000 handicap chase, can go to Raven's Tower. Not many sons of Raven's Pass end up as steeplechasers but there is little wrong with this six-year-old's jumping and his was a pretty snug win at Aintree last time under the talented Tom Cannon.
By then, perhaps Bryan Cooper and Jack Kennedy will be sharing a taxi together, somewhere in the north of England. It may be about breaking the ice - but at least one of them had a choice made for him - and tomorrow brings fresh challenges.