Hurdles might represent the pinnacle but while JP McManus knows what they’re like to win, the legendary owner relishes successfully teasing out the toughest handicaps too and even though today’s €190,000
Chase is as tough as they come, McManus could have an appropriately named answer in Competitive Edge.
With three wins in the most valuable single pot of the entire Christmas period – Worldwide Web (2003), Keepatem (2004) and Colbert Station last year – the McManus team know what's required to win a race that has again attracted a maximum field of 28 with any number holding real chances.
McManus doesn’t have the strength in numbers of last year, when Colbert Station led home a panel of seven runners carrying the famous green and yellow colours, but he does pitch in four runners with Tony McCoy on the well-fancied Cause Of Causes.
McCoy got it right last year with Colbert Station and it's not as if he doesn't know Competitive Edge having ridden him to win here last season over two miles, and also in the Irish National at Easter when he finished out of the money on Conor O'Dwyer's runner.
That Irish National was a big stretch in terms of distance compared to what Competitive Edge had been running over and strictly speaking there is a question mark over his ability to last out today's three mile trip.
However, the six-year-old’s pedigree contains plenty of stamina and testing going represents no problem to him. He is also comparatively unexposed and enjoyed a good pipe-opener for a task such as this when running a nice race over hurdles at Naas in October.
Home Farm has been prominent in ante-post betting but faces a major task with topweight and it is Questions Answered who sneaks in under the 11st mark on the back of a couple of wins over hurdles that leaves him looking attractively rated.
Attract many punters
Willie Mullins runs two and the combination of Rockyaboya and Ruby Walsh at the bottom of the handicap will attract many punters. McManus's great rival, Michael O'Leary, also has four hopes carrying the Gigginstown colours, and Davy Russell has elected to side with the dour-staying grey Panther Claw who runs here instead of taking the option to run in tomorrow's Welsh National at Chepstow.
Ground conditions can hardly get too deep for Panther Claw who ran well for a long way in last season’s Irish National and who sports first-time cheekpieces today.
Jacksonslady and Shot From The Hip are the other two that fill out the McManus quartet, but with McCoy on Cause Of Causes likely to attract most attention, there looks to be a touch of value in siding with Competitive Edge and Mark Walsh.
Conor O’Dwyer tasted a lot of big race success around Leopardstown during his illustrious riding career, including partnering Keepatem in this race nine years ago. Now he can experience Paddy Power success as a trainer.