A Toi Phil and American Tom face off in festival rehearsal
Horse & Jockey Hotel Kinloch Brae Chase (Grade 3) | 6yo+ | 2m4f | ATR
A year ago Sizing John began his march towards a fantastic Gold Cup treble at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown by landing the biggest chase of Thurles's season.
The Kinloch Brae has also been won by Cheltenham Festival heroes Don Cossack and Newmill, both of whom landed the race twice, and while this year's event might not offer obvious clues, two of the five runners hold entries at the festival.
A Toi Phil, who represents Gordon Elliott, and the Willie Mullins-trained American Tom, are entered for the Champion Chase and the Ryanair.
A five-time chase winner, including three at Grade 2 level, A Toi Phil, the mount of Jack Kennedy, proved no match for Bachasson when beaten 13 lengths into second at Tramore on New Year's Day.
However, Elliott reports Gigginstown House Stud's eight-year-old in "good order", and said: "A Toi Phil has loads of experience and has been very consistent. The conditions of the race suit him quite well, we're happy with him and he should have a good chance."
Mullins, who achieved his only success in the race with Apt Approach in 2012, said of American Tom: "He ran quite well when third in a Grade 3 at Naas on his first start of the season and you'd imagine that should have brought him on.
"He's never gone further than two miles over fences but we don't expect the extra half-mile will be a problem. He's a pound well in with A Toi Phil on official ratings."
Woodland Opera, a Grade 2 winner over two miles who has won over 2m5f, represents Jessica Harrington, who will be seeking a fourth success in this event.
Arctic Skipper, winner of the Grade 2 Fortria Chase at Navan in November 2016 and entered for the Unibet Irish Gold Cup on February 4, returns to action following a 389-day absence and will be wearing a tongue-tie for the first time.
His trainer Vincent Halley said: "I'd imagine he'll improve for it. He's in good form and has been working nicely. We're looking forward to running him, but he's been off a long time.
"He got very bad colic and it took him a long time to get over that. He also had problems with his breathing, so he's had a wind procedure."
Also returning from a lengthy absence is Nambour, whose trainer Mouse Morris said: "He's a lovely sort and a very good jumper. He was quite progressive until he had a setback. This looked a suitable race to start him back as he would be hard to place in a handicap.
"We're hoping for a good run and that he'll come out of the race well before we push on with him."
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