Hardy Eustace has cushy opener
Saturday Punchestown and Tramore: By just two days the dual-Champion Hurdle hero Hardy Eustace has sneaked into what should be the ideal kick-off on the road back to Cheltenham.
The sight of Brave Inca and Harchibald slogging it out at Leopardstown on Thursday will have no doubt confirmed Dessie Hughes' belief that that Grade One race was too hard an ask for Hardy Eustace's first race since that epic second championship victory last March.
Instead, the horse can ease his way back into action at Punchestown on the last day of the year with just two demonstrably inferior opponents to contend with and the confidence that far more is yet to come.
The first running of the €16,000 Happy New Year Hurdle will host the champion due to the very specific race conditions.
It's open to any horse with just two wins since May 2nd, 2004, and remarkably Hardy Eustace falls into that category. The fact that one of the two was the most important hurdle race of all is irrelevant compared to the fact that just 48 hours before the deadline, Hardy Eustace won the 2004 Grade One Champion race around this very track.
The trademark blinkers won't be on today, no doubt being stored up for when they are really required.
Of the opposition, Tawriffic Laois is rated almost four stone inferior and couldn't win at Limerick on Tuesday while even at his very best that grand veteran Native Upmanship wouldn't have come close to Hardy Eustace.
Of less academic interest will be the first start over jumps of that good flat horse Mister Hight in the three-year-old maiden hurdle.
Even without jumping a flight in public the Wille Mullins-trained horse is Ireland's lowest-priced contender for the Triumph Hurdle at around 12 to 1 third favourite and there will be considerable surprise if the three-time winner and Ballysax runner-up cannot score first time up. Certainly, the testing conditions should not be a problem.
It should be a competitive day all round for the Mullins team as Ruby Walsh can also reverse previous form with Theatre Lane over the three miles of the Beginners Chase but Asian Alliance's chance in the Opportunity Hurdle looks a lot less than Shifting Alliance's on the back of a good run behind Buck Whaley at Leopardstown.
Laureldean could bring off a rather unusual double in the two-mile handicap chase having won a maiden hurdle at Gowran on his last start. After three runs in novice events over October and November Michael Cunningham now pitches the seven-year-old into handicap company off a mark of 92 which is considerably lower than his hurdles rating.
The Willie Mullins camp can also score in the mares maiden hurdle at Tramore with the Punchestown bumper winner Lady Accord and Thursday's Limerick winner Glabejet is no back number to follow up in the handicap chase.
David Wachman provides a really interesting runner at the Co Waterford course in All Sorts Star who goes in the handicap hurdle.
This one scored over the tricky course on the Flat last August and was also second in a maiden hurdle here last year. A run at Navan over a longer trip last time out can be ignored and some of the horse's best form makes this race look winnable.
Harbour View, winner of handicap hurdles at Clonmel and Hereford, could manage only fourth to Randwick Roar at Limerick on Tuesday but looks to have a decent shout in the Beginners Chase while Dusty Sheehy's horses look like they might be returning to form and Lakil House could confirm that in the opening novice hurdle.
Adrian Maguire's string are in fine form and the Loughrea point-to-point winner Right Now looks one to watch in the maiden hurdle after having a nice run behind Jack Ingham in a bumper.