Willie Mullins’s Grade 1
focus today will be on Gitane Du Berlais at Sandown, but the champion trainer presents a notable quandary with two other mares at Fairyhouse, where Lyrical Theatre could be a value bet to upset her stable companion Morning Run in the Solerina Hurdle.
Grand National winning jockey Daryl Jacob's link with Gitane Du Berlais's owner Simon Munir means he is in the hot-seat for the Irish hope in the Scilly Isles Novice Chase and the Limerick winner looks a big threat with a 7lb mares allowance on her side.
On this day a year ago, Gitane Du Berlais beat her stable companion Vicky De L’Oasis in the Grade 3 Solerina, justifying market confidence that Ruby Walsh had made a rare error in picking the wrong horse.
The champion jockey has another choice to make this time and has opted for Morning Run, unbeaten in five starts, including when overcoming another of today’s opponents, Carrigmoorna Rock, at Down Royal three months ago.
Morning Run is an exciting prospect and as low 8-1 for Cheltenham’s OLBG Hurdle, but she does have to concede half-a-stone to Lyrical Theatre, also a triple-bumper winner, who hardly impressed on her jumping debut but is proven on the sort of deep conditions both will encounter here.
With Paul Townend heading to Ffos Las for five rides for Welsh trainer Rebecca Curtis, Danny Mullins takes over from his cousin, Patrick, on Lyrical Theatre and the six-year-old should have learned from her Thurles experience last month.
Kicking King’s half-sister Whistle Dixie increased her paddock value with a good bumper success at Limerick over Christmas which indicated the former point-to-point winner can concede weight all round in the Fairyhouse finale, while Murphy’s Filly can emphasise the fairer-sex theme in the handicap chase.
Adrian Heskin’s mount is another former point-to point winner who ran behind Gitane Du Berlais at Limerick and subsequently was a long way off Smashing in a Beginners. This longer trip can see her go close to exploiting a mark of 98.
Heskin is also on board Velvet Maker in the second of the maiden hurdles for Barry Connell, and while better ground would suit, this one's form makes him hard to oppose.
The veteran former Irish Grand National hero Lion Na Bearnai tries to repeat his 2014 victory in the opener and has a race fitness edge on Los Amigos.