Agree on Brave Fountain


IF Merry Gale is to have any chance of winning the Gold Cup in March he must finish there or thereabouts in today's King George VI Chase at Sandown. The Kempton course with its less exacting finish would probably have suited him better but he should he well up to staying this extended three miles.

He did not see out the trip in last year's Gold Cup but he had set a blistering gallop before fading from the second last fence. He certainly faces a difficult task today but if he performs as well as when winning the Martell Cup at Aintree last April, he will take beating.

Mucklemeg, who showed infinite promise when beating the highly rated Aries Girl in the Festival Bumper at Cheltenham 22 months ago, makes her long awaited reappearance in today's Liffey Maiden Hurdle at Naas where she won a bum per prior to going to Cheltenham.

This big mare - she stands nearly 17 hands - got heat in a leg and, needing time, had to be laid off. Edward O'Grady felt it would not he wise to bring her back into training too soon and while she has been back since June, she has not worked on grass until last Wednesday, the ground being all too firm.

Now that the ground has changed it is important to get hurdling experience into her. If she stays right she could be anything hut fitness will be a premium today. She looks well, she is well and I will be disappointed if she does not run a good race - hut I will be pleasantly surprised if she wins.

Mucklemeg was also entered for today's Slaney Hurdle but would have been thrown very much in the deep end. The Aidan O'Brien trained Brave Fountain, runner up to the progressive Myfavouritemartian in a conditions hurdle at Thurles, looks the likely winner.

Success for Brave Fountain would underscore the prospects of the Mouse Morris trained Myfavouritemartian in the Slaney Hurdle. He stays well, as witnessed by his two successes at Thurles, hut now faces the O'Brien trained Minella Gold who landed odds at Tipperary and Fairyhouse. I just favour Minella Gold.

The John Fowler trained Opera Hat started favourite for last year's Boyne Handicap Chase but could only finish fourth. However, she has won twice over this course and distance, more recently when making her seasonal debut in November, and can atone for her fall at Fairyhouse last month. Butches Boy is a decent chaser and may present a greater threat to Opera Hat than Son Of ar who may find this distance well short of his best.

The Craddoxton Novice Chase is open enough. I fancy Trench Hill Lass who ran Love The Lord to a neck at Navan, form well advertised when the latter beat Lisselan Prince by three lengths at Limerick.

Michael O'Brien's charges are in fine form and his Masai could take beating in the Slate Handicap Hurdle. However, the concession of more than a stone to Wesbest may prove too onerous. The selection ran well at Navan and while well beaten by Noble Choice, finished ahead of the subsequent Leopardstown winner Miltonfield.

Tidjani and Trouville Lass could dominate the finish of the Barrow Maiden Hurdle. The former cut little ice behind Elas Image at Punchestown but did not jump well and Trouville Lass was runner up to Magical Lady over the same course. Tidjani is worth another chance.

Ask The Butler was beaten by hat could be another Mucklemeg in Cheltenham Festival Bumperbound newcomer Wither Or Which at Leopardstovin. The latter made all to win by 20 lengths and if Ask The Butler can capture the Dodder Flat Race he will advertise Willie Mullin's promising charge.