Oscar can shine under northern lights
CHAMPION Ruby Walsh and his predecessor Davy Russell have opted for Cork over Downpatrick on a busy evening that sees the number of jump meetings held in the new season double.
The programme at Mallow racecourse just shades it in terms of quality, but Downpatrick will enjoy its own little bit of history when it offers Tote betting for the first time tonight.
Tote Ireland is not licenced to operate in the North, but an agreement has been reached – similar to the situation that already prevails at Down Royal – whereby the state-owned company provides the track with the infrastructure and expertise to facilitate a pool betting facility.
It is an overdue development that means the Co Down venue can offer racegoers the very same on-course betting options as are available at every other track in the country, so it is to be welcomed.
Unfortunately, it won't make the business of finding winners any easier, but, in the quest to get the Jackpot or Placepot off to a good start, it is worth noting that John Queally makes a rare venture north from his Co Waterford base with Oscar Vespasian.
The Dungarvan handler had no runner at the course last term and had a 33pc strike-rate from three runners the previous campaign.
Granted, the opening maiden hurdle that Oscar Vespasian contests has one significant runner in Draycott Place, which Paul Townend belatedly opted for in preference to Oscar Vespasian when Russell switched to Cork.
John Ryan's five-year-old has been highly tried this term against the likes of Beat That and Vautour, but Oscar Vespasian is still preferred on the basis that he will come here a much fresher horse.
He was last seen finishing fourth to Synchronicity and Macnicholson at Cork in January, and the suspicion is that he will relish the forecast quick ground.
Andrew McNamara steps in for Townend on Oscar Vespasian, and the Limerick native might double up aboard John 'Shark' Hanlon's Patrolman in the subsequent handicap hurdle.
This isn't a great race, but McNamara's mount has been running well, winning and finishing second at Dundalk last month before filling the runner-up berth over flights at Down Royal.
Russell has five rides at Cork and his last-minute decision to divert could prove significant, but it is Walsh that is expected to first join the 14 different riders who have ridden a winner apiece this week.
Willie Mullins' Ashjar gets the nod for him in a competitive curtain-raising maiden hurdle, while the day's nap vote goes to Paul Nolan's Oneforlill in the bumper.
Mullins' debutant Rolihlahla is among those to be feared, but Oneforlill's two runner-up efforts behind Whisper Rock and Missyspet both read well on paper.
If she runs to that level now, she ought to be hard to beat under former conditional jockey Michael Doran.