Oscar Knight can prove Geraghty wrong in Paddy Power Chase
Jockey opts to partner with McManus’s Squouateur for biggest race at Leopardstown
Oscar Knight (foreground) was edged out by Noble Endeavor in last year’s running of the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
JP McManus is targeting a sixth success in Wednesday’s €190,000 Paddy Power Chase and Oscar Knight could be the one to provide it to the legendary owner.
Arguing so, however, requires convincing yourself that Barry Geraghty has got it wrong by picking McManus’s other big hope Squouateur for the biggest prize of the Christmas action.
Since Geraghty’s big-race record bears comparison to any rider in racing history – not to mention his Christmas diet will have been dictated by having to make Squouateur’s 10-7 weight – that’s no easy task.
Geraghty has managed to do 10-4 in the last year, and made 10-8 to win on the fifth of McManus’s Paddy Power winners, Minella Foru, in 2015.
But the fact he’s opted for Squouateur on the horse’s first time back at three miles since looking like taking a major hand in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham in March will be all that many punters need to make their minds up.
Nevertheless in the context of an ultra-competitive 28-runner field all in pursuit of one of the major handicap prizes on the year, there has to be some niggling doubt about Squouateur’s relative inexperience.
Such a niggle might look silly just after 3.00 on Wednesday afternoon but beforehand it’s still tough to knock Oscar Knight’s credentials for going a couple of places better than last year.
The Tom Mullins-trained hope chased home Noble Endeavor and The Crafty Butcher in 2016 having been right in contention at the last.
The crucial part of that race for Oscar Knight however came earlier in the race when he was badly hampered and in the circumstances he did well to get back into it.
Oscar Knight failed to fire subsequently in the Irish National but he had a wind operation following that and looked a potent force last month when winning at Naas over hurdles.
He had Diamond Cauchois back in third on that occasion and that one subsequently bolted up in a good handicap at Navan.
Oscar Knight is just 6lb higher rated than a year ago and if Mark Walsh can secure a clear run around for him he should be a major player.
Willie Mullins supplies the long-time ante-post favourite Polidam who failed to fire on his Irish debut last spring but then upset the odds at Navan recently when beating his stable companion, Acapella Bourgeois.
The champion trainer’s capacity to improve a horse is famous and Polidam could step up again for a longer trip. However, he did run 21 times in France before going to Mullins so can hardly be termed as unexposed.
Like McManus, Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown team has four options for the Paddy Power, three of them for Gordon Elliott who has eight hopes in all. The Elliott team includes Ucello Conti who is having a third go at the race.
Joseph O’Brien has two hopes including his new French recruit Vieux Morvan although a horse that has run 42 times in his native country hardly looks an obvious fit for any unexposed role either.
With 25 races under his belt neither does Oscar Knight. However, given normal luck-in-running this could be the day he delivers the major handicap pot he has promised to do.
Wednesday’s two Grade One prizes could easily be portrayed in terms of Mullins v Elliott.
The country’s two top trainers dominate the seven-runner Future Champions Novice Hurdle with Elliott’s hot favourite Mengli Khan taken on by four Mullins runners. It is Mullins’s Min who towers over the Rewards Club Chase.
With Douvan on the injury sidelines, Min steps into the two-mile breach for Mullins and it will be a major surprise if he can’t again get the better of Ordinary World & Co at his leisure.
Douvan won this at 1-8 a year ago but those trading at very short odds about Min might recall how Un De Sceaux started at 1-4 in 2015 only to crash out at the second last.
Mengli Khan has been the dominant two-mile novice hurdler of the season to date and was a good winner of the Royal Bond earlier this month. The giant four-year-old will thrive on the decent ground but the Mullins team are taking him on in strength.
Real Steel appears to be their number one hope although Sharjah has been impressive in two starts on heavy going and may not depend on such conditions to be at his best.
Mullins saddled five winners on day two of Leopardstown a year ago and he appears to have a lot of good ammunition for the same races.
Mr Adjudicator is his hope in the juvenile hurdle while the bumper contender Carefully Selected was an impressive point-to-point winner. Bunk Off Early looks to go well fresh and seems to be the stable pick for the Beginners Chase.