Lieutenant to lay down law
Morris' charge has class to seal belated first Grade One success in Ryanair
AFTER the latest revision of the Festival schedule at Punchestown, the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase that was scratched from yesterday's card now gets proceedings under way this evening.
The four chases that were originally pencilled in for today are expected to be run at some stage over the next few weeks, along with five other races that will be lost due to the saturated state of parts of the Kildare track which undergoes a precautionary inspection at 8am.
With just seven runners in the Ryanair and because it is over the minimum two-mile trip, officials were optimistic yesterday that the chase course would be up to staging the ¿100,000 feature.
Should it go ahead, then the intention is to continue with the plan to have Wednesday's lost thetote.com Gold Cup form part of tomorrow's updated programme.
Given that it has hardly stopped raining on the beleaguered venue since Wednesday morning, it has been a remarkable effort on behalf of the clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan and his team, who were pumping water off the track as rain dumped down on it in the small hours of yesterday morning to salvage what they have.
Today's reduced five-race spread also boasts Hurricane Fly's bid to avenge his shock Prestbury Park defeat in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle.
The stunning 2011 Cheltenham hero, one of four that Willie Mullins has declared for the five-runner line-up, is odds-on to complete a hat-trick in the Grade One, but it may be no formality.
Worryingly, the champion trainer failed to identify a mitigating reason for the 10-time Grade One winner's eclipse behind Rock On Ruby. If Hurricane Fly does get beaten again here, or even if he labours home in front, the theory that he is simply no longer the force of nature that he was will inevitably grow legs.
Somehow, though, you suspect that writing his epitaph might be a touch previous.
4.55 Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase 2m
Menorah has been a bit hit and miss this term, but posted a fine effort to score in style at Aintree. While he is undoubtedly a very good horse, he has never encountered ground like this before and his sire's progeny don't tend to excel on it.
Lucky William is one that does handle heavy going. He isn't genuine Grade One class but won nicely at Fairyhouse so could run well in a race that lacks depth.
Mouse Morris' First Lieutenant, second in the RSA at Cheltenham, is the best horse in the race. Last year's Neptune hero, also successful at this level over two miles as a novice hurdler, he shouldn't be inconvenienced by the return to the minimum in this ground.
Blackstairmountain has gone astray but is a double Grade One winner, while Shot From The Hip has yet to recapture form that saw him win at this level here in 2011.
Verdict -- First Lieutenant to record a belated Grade One win over fences.
5.30 Grade One Rabobank Champion Hurdle 2m
Hurricane Fly comes here under a slight cloud after his Champion Hurdle defeat at Cheltenham. Third to Rock On Ruby and Overturn, he looked a shadow of his normal self in the latter stages of the race, so what matters now is why he was so subdued.
Having missed various targets prior to his Irish Champion Hurdle triumph at Leopardstown, it is possible that there was a slight 'bounce' factor following that first run since here 12 months ago.
If that's all it was, there is a good chance he will return to his old self now, but you couldn't entirely rule out that he is maybe past his peak.
The Real Article doesn't appeal and Quevega is an unlikely runner, so Zaidpour and Thousand Stars are the two best poised to take advantage if the favourite misfires.
Zaidpour, just 12 lengths behind Rock On Ruby, will relish conditions, though Thousand Stars, an excellent second in the Aintree Hurdle, has the stronger form.
Verdict -- Hurricane Fly deserves the benefit of the doubt after one below-par run.
6.05 Grade One Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle 2m 4f
This is possibly the best novice hurdle of the week. Benefficient wasn't suited by Cheltenham, but had looked a fine prospect when making all in the Deloitte.
His Tony Martin-trained stablemate Dedigout, impressive in handicap company at Fairyhouse, has been beaten only once in four starts over flights. Jenari and Lyreen Legend, first and third respectively in a Fairyhouse Grade Two, are dead consistent, though Lyreen Legend may well be happier in these conditions.
Willie Mullins' Felix Yonger caught many an eye when second to Simonsig at Cheltenham, as did Colour Squadron before he tipped up three-out behind the same horse when travelling quite well at Aintree.
Narrowly denied in a Grade One earlier in the campaign, he could have a big say under Richard Johnson.
Verdict -- Colour Squadron has been threatening to win something like this.
6.40 Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle 2m
Captain Dancer and Malt Master both reappear after making successful hurdling debuts in the autumn. Davy Russell is on Captain Dancer in favour of Gigginstown's Wolf Hall, which won on its hurdling bow at Limerick in April after a winter break.
Bumper winner Ted Veale is a cracking prospect, but this won't be easy on his first try at hurdles.
Oscara Dara, a wide-margin Sandown bumper scorer, was fourth in good company behind Darlan on his jumping bow at Aintree.
Verdict -- Oscara Dara could land another blow for the raiders.
7.10 ITBA Fillies' Scheme Premier Bumper 2m
The Nina Carberry-ridden Lady Of Glencoe was second to Summer Star at Limerick, while The Flying Doc, Honourable Lady, Wontbelongnow and Way Up In The Air also have form. Lughnasa won a fair race in style at Cork in March.
Verdict -- On paper, Robert Tyner's Lughnasa is the one to beat.