Mount heads paltry field for Navan showpiece
Despite an initial entry of 21, just four horses stood their ground at the five-day stage for Sunday's Grade One novice hurdle at Navan.
Small fields have been the norm this term in the domestic feature races, with two of the six top-level events that have already been held numbering just four runners, and none featuring any more than seven.
That situation promised not to improve any yesterday, as Gordon Elliott's recent course winner Mount Benbulben topped the list of nominees for a contest that has a prize fund of €70,000.
"He is a definite runner if all goes well between now and Sunday," Elliott said of the classy Beneficial gelding that current owner Barry Connell bought from the trainer's landlady, Gillian Callaghan, for £250,000 at the sales in April. "He's in good form and has done everything right so far. He has won on heavy ground, so that won't be a problem."
Ipsos Du Berlais, beaten at long odds-on at Thurles last month, is Noel Meade's sole entry in the two-and-a-half-miler, with Willie Mullins set to rely on the Graham Wylie-owned Boston Bob, an impressive course and distance winner last time.
Jessica Harrington's Jetson, fifth behind Mount Benbulben on November 27, completes the quartet. A year ago, Harrington's Oscars Well accounted for five rivals in the same race when much of the track was covered in snow.
Given the pot on offer, it's hard to comprehend that a maximum of four runners will face the starter this time, with English trainers' ongoing lack of interest in exploiting such opportunities very surprising in light of the pitiable money they are racing for in Britain on a daily basis.
Elliott, whose charge has been installed 5/4 favourite by Paddy Power to complete its hat-trick over flights, also had upbeat news of Jessies Dream.
Quoted at 40/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the son of Presenting hasn't run since finishing second to Bostons Angel in the RSA Chase at the Festival last March.
Explaining the absence, Elliott said: "He had a little setback when he came back into training but he's grand now. He's back in good form and is working well. I'd say he'll have a run somewhere in January and then hopefully he'll run in the Gold Cup."
Synchronised, meanwhile, is still in the shake-up for this month's Lexus Chase at Leopardstown according to Frank Berry, racing manager to the horse's owner JP McManus. Following Kempes' fatal fall at Punchestown on Sunday, McManus has only the Jonjo O'Neill-trained representative left in the three-miler.
With Denman retired, the Grade One is cutting up slightly. Synchronised remains a 6/1 favourite to secure back-to-back triumphs in the Welsh National 24 hours earlier, but Berry maintains that resilient eight-year-old, a 20/1 shot to collect at Leopardstown, could yet travel.
"It's either the Welsh National or the Lexus," Berry confirmed. "We definitely haven't ruled out the Lexus if the ground was soft, but you never know with the weather."