Jonathan Burke was only 11 when his father Liam trained the 2007 Galway Plate winner and the rising-star of the jockey's room can complete a memorable family double when teaming up with Balnaslow in today's €200,000 summer steeplechase highlight.
At first glance it’s hard to escape from JP McManus’s apparent vice-like grip on a race he is aiming to win for a fourth time in five years and a seventh time in all. The owner had a memorable 1-2-3 last year and has seven of the 20 runners this time, topping and tailing the handicap with Kid Cassidy and the 2011 runner-up Wise Old Owl.
Ranged between them are a trio of cross-channel based McManus runners that help make up a five-strong raid from Britain in total with champion trainer
aiming to repeat his 2008 Plate success with Oslot by running the inexperienced Caid Du Berlais.
Considering he knows exactly what Vulcanite, Rum And Butter and It's A Gimme are capable of, Tony McCoy's decision to side with the dual-Cheltenham festival winner Alderwood looks significant. The former Grade One winning hurdler hasn't run since October and never run this far over fences before, although he did win a maiden hurdle at the trip.
McCoy’s judgment in such things is usually impeccable but Alderwood hardly strikes as being notably well handicapped and has to give a stone to Balnaslow, one of just two runners from McManus’s great rival, Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud. It is this one of the three Willie Mullins-trained hopefuls that could put a spoke into the McManus wheels.
Burke has been riding out at the champion trainer's almost since the days of Sir Frederick winning around Ballybrit for his father and won the valuable Land Rover Bumper for Mullins last April on Very Much So.
He only took out a jockeys licence in March of 2012 and completed his Leaving Cert earlier this summer but since turning professional the 18-year-old has made a big impression.
He takes a valuable 5lbs off Balnaslow today and that could prove critical to a horse whose winter form ties in with market leaders such as Spring Heeled and Art Of Logistics but who could relish both the ground and trip more than most.
Spring Heeled provided Jim Culloty with a memorable Kim Muir win at Cheltenham in March but Balnaslow was right with Spring Heeled at the turn-in before fading up the hill. The Mullins runner is almost a stone better in now with three furlongs less to travel while he is also significantly better in with Art Of Logistics for a narrow defeat last October.
Caid Du Berlais and Sam Twiston-Davies are very much the unknown quantity of today's big race but Nicholls knows what's required to win the Plate. So too however does Willie Mullins who has suspected for some time there's a big handicap in Balnaslow.
If Balnaslow is at the right end of the handicap, Greatness is even more so for the second of the handicap hurdles. A half-mile step up from a win at Kilbeggan in May should only help Tony Martin’s runner who could have found ground conditions too quick on his previous flat start at Fairyhouse.
Shane Shortall’s claim can also be a big plus to Supreme Vic who won in some style at Limerick last week and a mile and a half on the flat can suit the versatile Little King Robin in the amateur maiden.
Dermot Weld has won the concluding maiden 14 times in the last 20 years, including the last five, so the newcomer Brooch will be heavily examined, but the hardy handicapper Moonbi Creek is interesting now that he is back with the "King of Ballybrit".