Switch to On His Own can pay dividends for Ruby Walsh
A competitive edition of the Hennessy Gold Cup featuring the reigning Cheltenham victor Lord Windermere spearheads a fantastic day's racing at Leopardstown.
With none of the eight runners in the €150,000 Grade One trading at less than 14/1 for next month's marquee event, something needs to do a bit more than any of these have been doing of late to suggest that tomorrow's race will be relevant come Cheltenham.
On the other hand, the division is wide-open, and Lord Windermere emerged from the ashes of this race in 2014 to then deny On His Own in that dramatic finale in the Cotswolds.
Jim Culloty will be hoping that Davy Russell's mount will show a bit more spark now than he did in the Lexus at Christmas, when On His Own again filled the number two berth behind Road To Riches. He is one of two that will vie to give Willie Mullins a 10th win in the Hennessy, with Ruby Walsh preferring him to Boston Bob this time.
With three other Grade Ones, tomorrow's fixture, which has thrown up nine Cheltenham Festival winners over the last two years, is brimming with quality.
In total, the winners of 19 Grade Ones will grace proceedings, so it promises be a day of racing to savour.
1.15 Grade One Gala Retail Spring Juveniles' Hurdle 2m
Kalkir failed to replicate his Fairyhouse display behind Fiscal Focus at Christmas. It's hard to be confident about him, but he will be thereabouts.
Officieux improved to slam the subsequent winner Hostile Fire at Fairyhouse, so he is going the right way.
Vercingetorix made the job look easy on his hurdle bow at Limerick, form that was franked by the third Social Riser winning since, while Chatham House Rule toppled the re-opposing Petite Parisienne at Punchestown.
Verdict - Vercingetorix looks smart.
1.45 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares' Handicap Hurdle 2m 2f
Misty Lady, Tri Na Ceile and Solita have all been running well, though Tri Na Ceile was no match for the re-opposing Mount Corkish Girl last time. Thurles maiden winner I'm All You Need has a life, while Kileena House can do better than when held on her handicap bow.
Verdict - If Kileena House runs to her best, she should be thereabouts.
2.15 Grade One Deloitte Novices' Hurdle 2m 2f
Silver Concorde was denied in a decent maiden here last time. He did little wrong, but missing the last flight checked his momentum. The champion bumper winner will learn from that, and better ground would be a bonus.
Alvisio Ville has been all the rage this week. He won an ordinary maiden here on his first start for Willie Mullins, but he did it with real panache. He could be anything.
Ruby Walsh is on the Royal Bond hero Nichols Canyon. While he is entitled to another go after unshipping Walsh last time, this is the best race that he has contested. Despite Mckinley thwarting Tell Us More at Naas, Bryan Cooper prefers Identity Thief, which travelled sumptuously when scoring here at Christmas, beating the subsequent facile winner Snow Falcon. He drops in trip but isn't short of pace.
Verdict - A chance is taken on Identity Thief being as good as he looks.
2.45 Grade One Flogas Novices' Chase 2m 5f
Valseur Lido returns for a first time since his superlative Drinmore success. He was shy of the best over flights, but has oozed class in both chasing starts.
The unexposed Jarry D'Honneur is the more interesting of Valseur Lido's stable-mates. He destroyed two subsequent winners at Punchestown, and there will be more to come from him.
Apache Stronghold has not been able to cope with either Valseur Lido or Don Poli at this level already. He is no mug and this is possibly his best trip, but, if Valseur Lido runs to form, it's hard to see him turning the tables.
Shanahan's Turn didn't run his race last time. He is better than that, while The Tullow Tank has also been misfiring. Le Vent D'Antan is a slight dark horse. He won a fair heat in style here last time and is open to improvement.
Verdict - The exciting Valseur Lido appeals as solid nap material.
3.15 Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle 2m
Pulled Mussel drops to a handicap, with Fosters Cross, Vent De La Cote, Sort It Out and Captain Carleton all recent winners. Sort It Out took his chance well at Punchestown, and is nine pounds higher now.
Verdict - Sort It Out is down in trip but might still be fairly treated.
3.50 Grade One Hennessy Gold Cup 3m
Lord Windermere failed to build on his fair turn in the John Durkan when seventh in the Lexus, finding little off the bridle. The deep ground may not have suited, but he has to up his game.
On His Own bounced back to form when pushing Road To Riches hardest in the Lexus. He is ground versatile but seems best when able to dominate, so plenty cut probably suits ideally.
Boston Bob was beaten soundly in fourth here last time. He is consistent, as is Carlingford Lough, which ran a blinder to be fifth on its Lexus return. AP McCoy's mount is a bit more exposed but that's not to say he couldn't figure tomorrow, and a similar comment applies to First Lieutenant.
Home Farm, Texas Jack and Foxrock have it all to do at this level. Foxrock is obviously on the up, and he has the scope to ruffle a few feathers following his decisive handicap triumph here over shorter last month.
Verdict - On His Own could plunder his first Grade One at the age of 11.
4.20 Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters' Chase 3m
Dual winner Salsify returns for a first time since being beaten by On The Fringe and Tammys Hill in the north in December 2013. He may need this.
On The Fringe, successful in 2011, was held by Oscar Barton in the same race this time. He travels sweetly but doesn't finish as strongly as he might.
Prince De Beauchene won a fair Thurles contest in grand style last month. While he is now 12, he could knock a bit of sport out of this gig.
Verdict - Prince De Beauchene comes here ticking a lot of boxes.
4.50 INH Flat Race 2m
Ben Button was second to the precocious My Hometown on his point-to-point debut, while Archive was third to Identity Thief on his track bow at Fairyhouse. Lip Service also showed up nicely on his debut, and Potters Point ran into the classy Tombstone at Naas.
Verdict - If Potters Point runs to the level he did at Naas, he should win.