Walsh ready to widen his title lead on McManus novices
Mark Walsh could extend his lead at the head of the jockeys' championship by plundering the two featured novices' chases at Navan tomorrow.
The unassuming Kildare-born rider is nine clear of former champion Paul Townend, with another three back to reigning title-holder Ruby Walsh, who skips Gowran Park today but is arguably Walsh's chief threat.
Tomorrow's card at the Meath venue promises to be hugely informative, and Walsh will partner two of the programme's most exciting contenders in the JP McManus-owned duo of Gilgamboa and Noble Emperor.
Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa tackles four others in the Flyingbolt Novices' Chase, a €40,000 Grade Two that the talented Westerner seven-year-old should be winning. Last year's Boylesports.com Hurdle hero was impressive in the way he went about his job in his first two chases, toppling last week's Naas victor Blood Cotil over this course and distance in November.
He was no match for the mighty Un De Sceaux in the Arkle Chase at Leopardstown last time, when he missed a few fences before keeping on to press Clarcam for second. All told, it was an encouraging turn, reaffirming the impression that Gilgamboa will be a better horse when he goes over further.
Bolger had entered him in tomorrow's three-miler, but, with the ground on the slow side, he opted to delay that option. While that decision might reap reward in the long-term, it should also yield an immediate return here, as Gilgamboa is strongly fancied to oblige.
Rivals Real Steel, Bishops Road and Dromnea are all useful operators. However, they don't have nearly the same scope as Gilgamboa.
The Ten Up Novices' Chase has a slightly more competitive hue to it, with the Tony Martin-trained Noble Emperor opposed by the Cheltenham Festival winner Very Wood, Thunder And Roses, Urano and Apache Jack.
It has the makings of a really interesting three-miler, and it wouldn't be surprising to see any of the above quintet score. Bryan Cooper has opted for Very Wood, but Thunder And Roses proved that he is no slouch with a decisive triumph at Fairyhouse last month.
Still, there is a touch of stardust about Noble Emperor. A bumper and maiden hurdle winner last year, he progressed steadily in his three starts over fences to scoot up by 22 lengths at Fairyhouse on January 1. He didn't have much to beat, but he went about his business like a horse that was really beginning to master his job.
This is clearly going to be a far stiffer test, but Noble Emperor is trusted to confirm the considerable impression that he has made already.
In the Boyne Hurdle, Walsh is aboard McManus' veteran dual Cheltenham Festival winner Alderwood for Tom Mullins, with Willie Mullins reintroducing his 2013 four-mile hero Back In Focus after a near two-year lay-off in the €42,500 Grade Two.
Mullins also has Zaidpour and Briar Hill among the eight-strong line-up, but Martin's Dedigout can take the spoils under Cooper. A Grade One winner in 2012, Dedigout is a classy horse that has won here twice before.
An out-and-out mudlark, he ran a lovely race on his Leopardstown return at Christmas after a year off, before improving to thwart Monksland in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park. If Dedigout runs to that level here, he is going to be very hard to beat.
Edward Cawley and Davy Russell get the nod in the handicap hurdle with the consistent Forever Gold, while the nap vote goes to Mullins' Arkwrisht in the bumper. Its fellow Gigginstown-owned Cogryhill is a danger after finishing third to Au Quart De Tour at Fairyhouse, but Arkwrisht's third to Aengus at the same track was also massively encouraging.