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Voler can make form count

As big days in the Irish racing calendar go, today's triple Grade One affair at Fairyhouse ranks high and with no obvious weather concerns, a decent crowd is expected at the home of the Irish Grand National.

The fact that winter conditions have held off thus far serves as a massive boost to Fairyhouse, given that this meeting was rescheduled no fewer than five times as a result of the arctic conditions that dogged the first half of last year's National Hunt season.

"Corporate bookings are up, the forecast is promising and with a lot of vouchers and coupons gone out, we would be hoping for a crowd of 5,000 plus," says racecourse manager Peter Roe.

Sadly, however, the feature event of the day, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, has only managed to attract five runners in what looks like a weak renewal. Thousand Stars, the Morgiana Hurdle winner, was taken out at Friday's declaration stage, but Willie Mullins still holds three entries here with Mourad, Mikael D'Haguenet and Final Approach. Mikael D'Haguenet is unlikely to run after his win at the venue yesterday but the champion trainer remains optimistic about his team's chances.

"Mourad will love the ground and the trip will be fine, he's going well at home. We're hopeful of a big run," he said. "We left Mikael in just in case anything happens to Saturday's card. Final Approach has it all to do on ratings, but we have to start somewhere. He's likely to be racing over longer distances later in the season."

Mourad is likely to go off favourite with Voler La Vedette next in the order. The pair are closely matched on form, given their proximity to each other in this race last year when Colm Murphy's mare finished third to Hurricane Fly, two lengths ahead of Mourad back in fourth. Given that Voler La Vedette has already got off the mark this season, accounting for Mikael D'Haguenet at Navan, she looks the bet here to hold form with Mourad.

Mullins is also responsible for hot favourite Sous Les Cieux in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle. The French import has a similar profile to last year's impressive winner Zaidpour and should take all the beating.

"We like Sous Les Cieux and he was impressive at Fairyhouse last time. We had a setback last season so decided to just let him off and come back for this campaign and everything has gone well so far," Mullins reported.

Dermot Weld's Galileo's Choice is the interesting runner, given that the son of Galileo was previously seen winning in a 10-furlong Group Three event at Leopardstown in September.

But perhaps a bigger threat to the favourite comes in Il Fenomeno, another recruit from the Flat and a pattern race winner in Italy. Noel Meade's five-year-old retains his novice status over hurdles for this campaign and having got off the mark at Punchestown, he then accounted for highly-rated stablemate Dylan Ross in a Grade Three hurdle at Navan.

The Drinmore Novice Chase looks the most intriguing event on today's card. While previous winners of this race have not all gone on to be top class, the last two renewals have proven their worth with Pandorama victorious here two seasons ago and RSA Chase runner-up Jessies Dream winning last season, leading home subsequent triple Grade One winner Realt Dubh.

The Gigginstown colours dominate the line-up with three out of the six runners, and the first two in the betting with First Lieutenant and Tony Martin's much-hyped Bog Warrior.

Preference is for the former, given his impressive performance to win a Grade Three chase at Cork on his previous run. The son of Presenting has got plenty of experience in and will be helped by the guaranteed pace that Alpha Ridge will provide.

Sunday Indo Sport