'Sundae' can make it a Supa-Saturday for Harrington yard
With reigning champion Buveur D'Air turned over on St Stephen's Day, opportunity knocks for challengers to his throne to step up to the Champion Hurdle plate at Leopardstown today.
Having looked imperious when swatting aside Samcro in the Fighting Fifth, there was little optimism that anyone could compete with Buveur D'Air but his surprise defeat to stablemate Verdana Blue at Kempton three days ago has opened the door for others to throw down the gauntlet.
The Grade One Ryanair Hurdle (2.30) will see many of those vie to climb the pecking order, none more so than Gordon Elliott's Samcro, which hasn't performed as expected after a scintillating novice hurdling campaign.
The fencing career of last year's impressive Neptune winner was delayed for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle - a prize his trainer and owners Gigginstown House Stud have never won - but the gloss has been taken off with two defeats.
The six-year-old proved no match for Buveur D'Air and has a serious point to prove, although Jack Kennedy's mount looks very skinny in the betting against some seasoned two-mile hurdlers.
Elliott has also had a tough Christmas period with just two Leopardstown winners over the three days so it's hard to justify Samcro representing any value with big questions to answer.
Reputation One of those looking to dent his reputation further is last year's Champion Hurdle second Melon, which had his comeback delayed when missing the Morgiana after not impressing at home.
Willie Mullins sends him into battle at the Foxrock track today with Ruby Walsh aboard but the 246-day lay-off has to be a worry at short odds in a hot renewal.
His stablemate Sharjah - this year's Galway Hurdle winner - put in the performance of his career to swat aside Faugheen in the Morgiana and has clearly progressed enough to land a blow for Mullins.
Scottish invader Bedrock - once again partnered by Rachael Blackmore - lowered the colours of Samcro at Down Royal and Iain Jardine's charge looks another progressive sort. The raider deserves respect, although it would be a shock if the five-year-old takes this, while 2016 winner Petit Mouchoir makes his seasonal debut over hurdles.
While showing much early promise novice chasing last season, things didn't really go to plan and it would be a major surprise if Henry de Bromhead's steed can land this.
The one of most interest is Supasundae. Jessica Harrington's charge may have been soundly beaten by Apple's Jade in the Hatton's Grace but will shape much better today.
Robbie Power was hard at work a long way from home but the dour eight-year-old kept going right until the line to take second and never knows when he is beaten.
Another advantage in his favour is that his two Grade One wins have come over today's trip of two miles - this year's Irish Champion hurdle at this track and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle - and Power's mount can score.
The form of Delta Work's dramatic Drinmore victory was given a major boost earlier this week when Le Richebourg, second home that day, hosed up in a competitive Grade One. There was a lot to like about how Davy Russell's mount overcame adversity to score at Fairyhouse having looked to have thrown away the race at the last.
Elliott's five-year-old looks bullet-proof in the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase (1.55) over three miles having shown that stamina is no issue when taking the Pertemps Hurdle at this year's Cheltenham Festival winner over the same trip.
Gigginstown have five of the seven runners - champion trainer Mullins has no representative - and if Delta Work is be upset, it's likely to be in the shape of stable companion Blow By Blow, which was too bad to be true in the Drinmore and should put his best foot forward here.
Former Cheltenham Festival winner Limini - another Mullins inmate - will be a tough nut to crack in the Grade Three Advent Insurance Irish EBF Mares Hurdle (1.20) but there's little value in the likely odds-on shot.
Harrington's Forge Meadow may be the one to give her most to think about with the classy mare switching back from fences to the smaller obstacles having finished second in this 12 months ago.
The Grade Two Sky Sports Racing Novice Hurdle (2.10) is Limerick's headline act where Philip Dempsey's Derrinross can back up his runaway Grade Three success.
Big things will be expected of the Mullins-trained Voix Des Tiep in the opener, but preference goes to Noel Meade's promising Where Eagles Dare.