Mullins holds strong Newlands hand as O'Grady waits with Sea
The regrettable loss of yet another Naas meeting last Sunday because of a surprise snowfall further complicates the Cheltenham preparations of several trainers including Edward O'Grady and Tom Mullins.
O'Grady's Tranquil Sea, the Paddy Power Chase hero in the Cotswolds last November, and Tavern Times, which starred on his bumper debut for the Mullins yard at Fairyhouse the previous month, each could now head straight to the festival without the benefit of a scheduled prep outing.
Tranquil Sea is shortlisted for the Ryanair Chase and Mullins will be hoping Tavern Times could improve on stablemate Some Present's second to Dunguib last March in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.
The former has a provisional entry, however, at Leopardstown on Sunday in the Newlands Chase, one of three Grade Two events rescued this week from the abandoned Naas card and now to be run over two miles and a furlong.
Only a dozen horses, including a quartet from the Willie Mullins yard, have been entered in the Newlands Chase in which Carthalawn proved successful over the minimum trip at the Kildare venue a year ago.
While Charles Byrnes could saddle that versatile performer in search of a follow-up this weekend, Mullins has the luxury of choosing between top-rated Barker (159) and last month's Fairyhouse scorer Scotsirish (157). Barker hasn't been seen since unseating Ruby Walsh during the Durkan Chase won by Joncol in December at Punchestown where he had won a Grade One during their spring festival.
The 14 entries for the Novice Chase at the Foxrock venue include another talented Willie Mullins pair Citizen Vic, triumphant in the Moriarty Chase there earlier this month, and the long-absent Mikael D'Haguenet.
Deutschland was the successful favourite 12 months ago in this contest for Mullins and Walsh who could have course and distance Grade One winner An Cathaoir Mor to contend with now.
The Ballsbridge Hurdle over two and a quarter miles looks an ideal vehicle for Mullins to revert Cousin Vinny to the smaller obstacles ahead of a planned tilt at the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Despite his failure to assimilate properly to the larger obstacles this season, Cousin Vinny shares top billing for this conditions affair on the 150 mark alongside Sabrina Harty's Won In The Dark.
Meanwhile, both Hills and Paddy Power cut the odds of Jessica Harrington's Summit Meeting from 33/1 to 20/1 for Cheltenham's Neptune Novices Hurdle after being highlighted by Pricewise guru Tom Segal.
This well-bred horse turned over the Willie Mullins hotpot Arvika Ligeonnaire at Fairyhouse earlier this month with Robert Power up and is expected to progress again on the anticipated better ground next month.
Hills reported renewed interest also yesterday in the number of Irish-trained winners during the Cheltenham festival, with an unprecedented 11 or more scorers popular at 14/1 and consequently trimmed to 10/1.