Tidal to face familiar foes in Hennessy bid
A Leopardstown rematch between Tidal Bay, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs remains an intriguingly real possibility after all three featured among 16 entries for the Hennessy Gold Cup on February 9.
Under an inspired Ruby Walsh, Tidal Bay swooped to deny First Lieutenant in a thrilling Lexus Chase last month.
In the aftermath, Mouse Morris stated that the runner-up would go straight to Cheltenham for either the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase, but the prospect of his veteran Paul Nicholls-trained conqueror again putting it up to the other two young pretenders at the Foxrock venue remains exciting.
Peter Casey's Flemenstar and Willie Mullins' Sir Des Champs, both of which emerged with a degree of credit despite finishing just third and fourth in the Lexus, have been made joint-favourites by bookmakers Paddy Power at 6/4 to turn the tables on their more senior rival, which is 7/2 to reaffirm his superiority.
Sizing Europe, which also has Punchestown's Tied Cottage Chase as an option, is next best at 7/1.
Other entries that have the potential to make the showpiece event another cracking spectacle are Tidal Bay's stablemate Kauto Stone, yesterday's rejuvenated Thurles winner Quito De La Roque, the recent dual hurdle victor Bog Warrior and Quel Esprit, which landed the €92,000 contest for Mullins and Walsh in 2012.
The entries have also been unveiled for the same card's Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
Mullins' Champagne Fever, beaten at 1/4 at Naas recently, is one of 28 that have been put in that, with John Ferguson's Tolworth Hurdle victor Melodic Rendezvous, second to the champion trainer's grey at Punchestown in April, one of five English contenders.
Mullins' Annie Power and Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack and Cause Of Causes are other classy entries in the two-and-a-quarter mile Grade One. Tidal Bay's name also appears in the entries that have been made for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham, with a record 61 horses given the opportunity to contest the three-miler.
Mullins has 10 to pick from, including the mighty Quevega, but there may be no more worthy challenger from here than Noel Meade's Monksland, a fine winner at Leopardstown on its first stab at the trip last month.
"All is well at the moment and the plan is to run," Meade said of the six-year-old's participation in the big race.
"I am just giving him an easy time, and then we will start building him up for Cheltenham. With Big Buck's out of it, the World Hurdle has opened up. The plan is not to run before Cheltenham and we are hoping there could be more improvement to come."
Rich Revival, which made it two from two over fences with a narrow triumph at Navan on Sunday, might also end up at the March Festival, though an ambitious tilt at the Irish Grand National on April 1 is also being weighed up.
"We could possibly enter him in the four-miler at Cheltenham," his Wexford handler Liz Doyle said, "but the ground would have to be very soft for him to go.
"The Irish Grand National is another race we have at the back of our minds. It might be a bit soon for him to go for that, but this time next year he could be too exposed."
There was no joy for the Irish runners in Dubai yesterday, though Mick Halford's Russian Soul and David Marnane's More Than Sotka both made the frame.
Meanwhile, the death was announced yesterday of former leading amateur rider Roger Hurley. The Limerick native, who had a revered association with the legendary PP Hogan, broke Enda Bolger's then record of 33 point-to-point winners when crowned champion between the flags with 35 winners in 1987.
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.