Mullins plans to capitalise on Cork thaw with Golden Silver
THE fate of both the Grade 2 O'Connell Group Hilly Way Chase and the following Grade 3 Lombardstown Mares Novice Chase remains in the balance, despite Cork officials being confident of completing at least the six other races at the Mallow venue tomorrow.
Turf Club senior inspector of courses Val O'Connell, the former jumps jockey, who is no stranger to such a scenario, will be walking the still somewhat frost-bound track early this afternoon before giving his verdict on prospects soon after 3.0.
Cork manager Michael O'Neill said he was "99pc sure" of running off five hurdle races and bumper as a gradual thaw continued yesterday afternoon. "The temperature is getting better, but the outside of the 'chase track is still a problem," he added.
"We have six to seven yards of fresh ground available on the inside part of the 'chase course and the fields for these features are fairly small. We still have 48 hours for it to come right, so we're reasonably hopeful of completing the card."
National Hunt professionals and followers alike have been starved of racecourse action here since Thurles on November 25 and Cork has a fighting chance of surviving this afternoon's inspection and relaunching the sport tomorrow as the venue escaped the worst of the Arctic weather.
Naturally, it would be regrettable if the twin 'chases could not proceed as originally planned with Punchestown Festival hero Golden Silver poised to repeat last year's Hilly Way success for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend in the Rebel County colours of Mrs Violet O'Leary.
The champion trainer also saddles the older Scotsirish and one of last season's leading novices, Kempes, before Townend is due to take the mount as well on last month's Clonmel scorer Blazing Tempo, which shares top weight for the Lombardstown Mares event with young Colin Kidd's more exposed Back Of The Pack that has proved a revelation under Mick Darcy since being launched over the larger obstacles.
The Mullins-Townend alliance will obviously be keeping their fingers crossed for a full programme being staged as Golden Silver appears the one to beat in the day's highlight after his useful effort when finishing well to deprive Carthalawn of second prize at Navan behind Big Zeb. Likewise, Blazing Tempo should have progressed sufficiently from her smooth transition to 'chasing in Clonmel to cope with Back Of The Pack.
However, Mullins has opted to withdraw both Ballyhaunis and Gagewell Flyer from the Grade 3 O'Connell Group Stayers Novice Hurdle, perhaps influenced by the presence of Colin Bowe's Askanna, which defeated his other pair Sweet My Lord and Sivota at Punchestown four weeks ago.
This Old Vic mare, which has been holding her form exceptionally well and seems to operate on all types of ground, is a tough nut to crack and can keep up the good work in this stamina test at the likely main expense of John Kiely's charge Araucaria.
The latter and unrelated pilot David Kiely could, indeed, be better rewarded in the Pro/Am bumper when the Oscar mare Metro Star seeks to improve a place on this occasion on her creditable Limerick second to Kalanelli in an 18-runner affair.
A division of the Irish Racing Yearbook Maiden Hurdle, coinciding with the launch of the latest edition of this splendid publication on the Christmas market, may prove particularly beneficial to connections of former smart flat performer The Bull Hayes and House Rules.
A bad mistake five out left The Bull Hayes, named after legendary prop forward John Hayes, who will simultaneously be sitting on Munster's bench for the visit of the Ospreys to Thomond Park, vulnerable to outsider Tadhg's late challenge at Thurles. And a better round of jumping here could give Andrew Leigh's mount a vital edge over dual bumper winner Bishopsfurze, which resumes for the Mullins-Townend partnership.