| 12°C Dublin

Muirhead quality to reap reward

The failure of frost to clear in time from parts of the hurdles track at Thurles yesterday leaves the way clear for this afternoon's scheduled Naas fixture to welcome back jumps racing after the big freeze.

Starved of action since Cork a fortnight ago, followers of the sport are being encouraged by Naas manager Tom Ryan to come out in force today and avail of the Kildare venue's decent concessions for their adult patrons.

"While we didn't have much luck with the weather in the past year, the course is back in good shape after the snow and frost, and only a real deluge overnight would stop us from going ahead," Ryan explained.

The emphasis is on quality rather than quantity in the jointly featured Limestone Lad Hurdle and the Woodlands Park Novice Chase, which went a year ago to Noel Meade's pair Aitmatov and Parsons Pistol.

This former champion brings over former protege Denis O'Regan from snowbound north of England for the occasion and the stylish Cork rider should make the journey worthwhile aboard Muirhead at least.

Campaigned almost exclusively in Grade One company, this seven-year-old, rather than veteran stablemate Wild Passion, will be widely expected to reverse recent Leopardstown form behind Solwhit with De Valira.

A modest pace, which De Valira helped to set in the December Festival Hurdle at the Dublin track late last month hardly helped the cause of O'Regan's mount, which had previously split Solwhit and Hurricane Fly at Punchestown.

With top weight Ebadiyan struggling to recapture last season's form, the extra three furlongs of the Limestone Lad Hurdle should be a plus-factor for anyone tempted to take a short price here about Muirhead.

Meade and O'Regan will also be hoping to figure strongly in the following opening leg of the Jackpot with Oscar Looby, despite the gelding's failure to cope with Dancing Tornado and River Liane at Limerick last time out.

Whether their runner has the requisite stamina for a three-mile slog has to be a worry, though, and preference is for both Alpha Ridge, despite a below-par Leopardstown effort, and the Navan specialist Telenor.

A blunder six out impaired Alpha Ridge's confidence jumping-wise in the Knight Frank Chase won by Pandorama and it remains to be seen this afternoon if this proven stayer has got his act together since.

Any repeat in this lesser company of that kind of lapse on the part of Paul Nolan's good money-spinner would probably hand the initiative principally to Telenor in the familiar Notre Pere colours of Mrs Pat Conway.

Galway owner-breeder John Joe Shaughnessy's maroon and white silks could also be worth keeping a close eye on in the opening maiden hurdle as fluent Thurles bumper debut winner Cottage Star switches roles.

As likely favourite Cadspeed is proving expensive to follow over timber, it might be worth taking a chance with Cottage Star for the Meade-O'Regan partnership, rather than similar Clonmel scorer Rock The Bock.

The Irish Racing Writers Novice Hurdle, which could be an ideal vehicle for Luska Lad to regain the winning thread, is notable for the return to action of Galway Plate hero Ballyholland, which Co Down trainer Colin McBratney is prepping to make his presence felt also in the John Smith's Grand National.

Irish Independent