'Percy' presents stiff task for 'Duke'
Excitement was naturally the overriding emotion when Douvan was given a tentative engagement on today's Gowran Park card but rather than risk his participation at next month's Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins has kept his superstar at home.
The Cotswolds and a shot at Champion Chase redemption still "remains the plan" and, while the Kilkenny track misses out on a potential bonanza of casual racegoers turning out to see the brilliant eight-year-old, punters are still in for a real treat.
With just 24 days to go until the Olympics of jump racing, final preparations are well under way as a star-studded cast test their Festival credentials.
Douvan is absent but the clash of Our Duke and Presenting Percy is one to savour.
The pair head a quality five-runner field in the Red Mills Chase (2.0) with Ballycasey out for back-to-back victories - and hoping to become the fourth successive grey to win the €45,000 event - while A Toi Phil bids to build on a comfortable Grade Three success in the mud at Thurles and Valseur Lido is out to reverse Irish Gold Cup placings with Our Duke.
It should come down to the market principles and while a longer trip would suit the 'Duke', last year's impressive Irish Grand National winner has won twice over 2m4f.
The 13-day turnaround from his Leopardstown run is the chief concern having suffered recent back problems.
Getting another race under his belt before a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup is the primary aim for Jessica Harrington's runner and, while next month's Festival is also on the horizon for RSA Chase favourite Presenting Percy, he looks better equipped to cope with this race's demands.
Trained in Galway by Pat Kelly and owned by Philip Reynolds, son of the late Taoiseach Albert, the seven-year-old had the Gowran crowd purring on Thyestes Chase Day when revelling in the heavy going to take the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle and is taken to score under Davy Russell.
That trio also combine in the opener as the Cheltenham-bound Mall Dini - favourite for last Sunday's Irish National Trial before being scratched after not eating his feed that morning - aims to break his duck over fences in a tricky beginners' chase (1.20).
Up For Review - winner of a Grade Two hurdle as a novice - returns from a 668-day absence with Mullins' nine-year-old a late addition to the chasing ranks having never jumped a fence in public before so a watching brief is advised.
fragile The Grade Three Red Mills Trial Hurdle (3.10) is an intriguing affair with the champion trainer's talented but fragile Abbyssial making his first appearance in nearly three years against the Champion Hurdle-bound Mick Jazz.
Winner of the Grade One Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival, Gordon Elliott's charge was third behind Supasundae and Faugheen earlier this month and also has a trip across the Atlantic to take in the American Grand National on his radar.
LAGOSTOVEGAS - another of the Mullins contingent - is an interesting opponent, however.
Last seen when second in a Listed event on the Flat in November, the six-year-old mare is in receipt of 18lbs from Mick Jazz and can build on two valuable handicap hurdle wins to prevail for David Mullins.
The vibes around Closutton have been positive about SALDIER, which makes his jumping debut in the maiden hurdle (3.45), and with a tilt at the Triumph Hurdle around the corner, he can open with a win.
Elsewhere, the handicapper has nearly caught Elliott's GRAINEYHILL - which has parachuted 26lbs up the weights in the last month - but Russell's mount can prevail to make it four wins from his last five runs.
Vroum Vroum Mag may not be present for tomorrow's Grade Two Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle (2.20) at Navan but stable-mate BAPAUME is a decent replacement and if you put a line through his poor run in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he is the classiest of the four runners.
The Grade Two Ten Up Novice Chase (4.0) is quality over quantity with Elliott saddling a trio of runners including commanding Thyestes winner Monbeg Notorious. He was stuffed by subsequent Grade Three winner MOULIN A VENT in December, however, and Noel Meade's can hold the upper hand again if he can rectify some sketchy jumping.