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Dunguib is one to admire

PROMOTING the nexus between horse racing and betting is arguably key to the future prosperity of the sport, but one will hardly need a punt to admire Dunguib's talent this afternoon.

The awesome son of Presenting, ground permitting, should land Leopardstown's Deloitte Novice Hurdle, one of four Grade Ones on a glittering day's action. There is a chance that Philip Fenton -- whose eye is very much on Cheltenham -- will scratch the seven-year-old if conditions are extremely testing.

It is hard to look beyond him but the task may not be straightforward, with the likes of Saludos taking him on. Jessica Harrington's Bob Back gelding was turned over by Luska Lad at Punchestown last week; pilot Robert Power attested afterwards that going left-handed will suit better. He holds Fionnegas, which is far from exposed, on course form over Christmas, when Some Present was one of the first beaten. He is becoming somewhat frustrating.

The turnout for the opening Spring Juvenile Hurdle is most disappointing. Only three have even won a hurdle race -- hardly a conventional profile contesting a top-grade event. Pittoni may be short enough at the 4/7 generally available, but he is the one to beat on what could be a very big day for his handler, Charles Byrnes.

Cross Appeal is better than his forgivable effort behind Carlito Brigante at Christmas here, while Soldier Bay, strictly on Punchestown running, has every chance of shaking up the favourite. That said, he did not go on from that at Gowran, while Big Game Hunter has looked green over hurdles so far and is held by the selection. While Joncol can take the feature Hennessy Gold Cup, Byrnes' Weapons Amnesty also appeals at around 3/1 in the other Grade One race.

The deep ground is a slight concern, though he handles it and has progressed nicely as a novice chaser. This is a fascinating race, as Roberto Goldback jumps like a pro and could go right to the top over fences having hacked up two weeks ago.

Moreover, the very smart Zaarito bids to wrestle free from the memory of his fall behind An Cathaoir Mor; Cousin Vinny is a lively outsider and his price might contract appreciably in-running if he is good at his first couple of obstacles.

The Hunters' Chase features perennial fancy in these events, Agus A Vic. With the likes of Afistfullofdollars and Ballistraw in the race (both of which had very smart form in conventional chases), this may not be a formality for Patrick Martin's nine-year-old, which bids for a hat-trick in this race.

Rahan De Marcigny faced an unenviable task taking on Beroni on New Year's Eve at Punchestown. He appeals in the two-mile handicap hurdle for Noel Meade off the same mark. The other handicap is just as tricky, Prairie Call only a tentative pick after winning last time for Bill Harney. The bumper, in the absence of a Willie Mullins runner, may go the way of John Kiely's Frawley.


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Leopardstown: 1.05 Pittoni 1.35 Prairie Call 2.10 Dunguib 2.40 Weapons Amnesty 3.10 Rahan De Marcigny (Nap) 3.45 Joncol 4.20 Agus A Vic 4.50 Frawley.