Nicholls' fine Prospect can deny De Bromhead raider
THE Irish assault on Cheltenham's three-day Open meeting gets under way this afternoon with a robust 12-strong challenge.
Henry de Bromhead, who has plundered Prestbury Park with great accuracy since saddling Sizing Europe to scoop the Greatwood Hurdle in 2007, is again well represented. The Waterford handler, whose Loosen My Load features among the final declarations for tomorrow's Paddy Power Gold Cup, saddles two today in a bid to enhance his course ratio of 6-27 -- a strike rate of 22pc.
In the card's only graded race, a novice hurdle that Loosen My Load won in 2009, he relies on Absolutlyfantastic, a progressive four-year-old that lost little in defeat to Rebel Fitz at Cork last month. A total of four live raiders tackle this nine-runner contest, and they're joined by the former Dermot Weld-trained Sublime Talent.
Interestingly, Ruby Walsh teams up with Tony Martin's Redera rather than Paul Nicholls' Prospect Wells. That one collected readily for Daryl Jacob at Chepstow recently when Walsh opted not to travel to England having received a five-day whip ban under the controversial new rules a couple of days earlier.
Jacob, likewise, retains the ride on Chepstow runner-up Dualla Lord in the concluding novice chase, with Walsh riding only the fancied Crack Away Jack for the champion trainer in an earlier handicap. While it would be unwise to read too much into the bookings, it is unusual that Walsh would not be on all of Nicholls' main contenders.
The other Irish runners in the novice hurdle are Tom Hogan's Tipperary scorer Flycorn and Jessica Harrington's Steps To Freedom.
Unbeaten in two hurdle races, Steps To Freedom recorded a fair triumph in a Punchestown Grade Three last month, but it's hard to go against the well-bred Prospect Wells which was a very useful Flat horse.
In the cross-country race, Garde Champetre is expected to collect for a second time in three years for Enda Bolger and Nina Carberry, while Jim Culloty's Barrel Of Laughs appeals in the opening amateur riders' handicap chase. In a wide open contest, Culloty's booking of James 'Corky' Carroll is significant on an unexposed sort that is two from two over fences.
However, the best is saved until last with David Pipe's Grands Crus and Colin Tizzard's Cue Card squaring off in the novice chase. The likes of Zaynar and Champion Court ought to ensure it is no two-horse race, but the 'big two' set the standard.
While reluctant to take on a horse of Grands Crus' immense potential, the fact that Cue Card has the benefit of a run over fences may prove significant, and it's worth pointing out that Micheal Flips and Silviniaco Conti, the two horses that got closest to him at Chepstow, have since franked the form. What's more, Grands Crus may be better suited by further than today's two-and-a-half-mile journey.
Pipe and Tizzard are also represented in tomorrow's feature by Great Endeavour and Oiseau De Nuit, respectively. In all, there will be 20 runners in the Grade Three, with Ruby Walsh on Paul Nicholls' heavily backed 7/2 favourite Mon Parrain.
Nicholls' Poquelin tops the weights, followed by Philip Hobbs' classy Punchestown Festival winner Wishfull Thinking. Tom Taaffe's Finger Onthe Pulse is the only other Irish contender alongside Loosen My Load, with the latter more popular at 16/1.