Invitation Only bids to follow in some hallowed footprints
Navan Novice Hurdle | 2m4f | Grade 2 | ATR
Downgraded but still in vogue. Despite losing its Grade 1 status in 2014, this remains a sexy affair and Willie Mullins has certainly not been disillusioned by the demotion as he puts his faith in the unbeaten Invitation Only, who is favourite for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at no bigger than 8-1 and as short as 5-1 in places.
The Irish champion trainer has a remarkable record in the race and Invitation Only is bidding to follow in some hallowed footprints.
Mikael D'Haguenet won it in 2008, while Boston Bob (2011), Pont Alexandre (2012), Briar Hill (2013) and Bellshill (2015) have ensured this has been a near-monopoly for Mullins in recent years. Only the Gordon Elliott-trained No More Heroes was able to halt his dominance when seeing off Shaneshill in 2014.
Invitation Only is unbeaten, unexposed and could be unbelievable. He won a four-year-old maiden point at Ballynoe by seven lengths, landed a bumper at this venue by the same margin on his debut under rules and followed up with a victory at the Punchestown festival that was more impressive than the winning margin of one and a quarter lengths suggests.
We did not get to see a whole lot of him on his hurdling debut at Gowran Park last month due to the dense fog but he emerged out of it with a cosy success over Barra. It was more workmanlike than spectacular but the step up from 2m to 2m4f looks sure to bring out further improvement.
But Invitation Only faces a stern examination with the exciting Death Duty spearheading a three-pronged attack from the Gordon Elliott stable.
Since finishing third on his bumper debut, Death Duty's only defeat in five starts came at the hands of subsequent Grade 1 winner Blow By Blow at Fairyhouse.
His two victories over hurdles have been flawless, most recently in a Grade 3 over this course and distance where he slammed some quality rivals by seven and a half lengths. He falls into the 'could be anything' category.
Labaik refused to race in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle last time so all eyes will be on him at the start, while Elliott's trio is completed by smooth Naas maiden hurdle winner Baltazar D'Allier.
Monalee was successful in one of the hottest maiden hurdles of the season so far at Punchestown and it is no surprise to see Henry de Bromhead taking a big jump in class with him. Noel Meade runs Moulin A Vent and the seven-strong field is completed by Wishmoor from the Mouse Morris stable.
Mullins the man at Navan
Gordon Elliott may have had six out of the seven winners at a meeting here last month but it is Willie Mullins who has the more impressive course record. The champion trainer has had a whopping 55 winners from just 144 runners at this venue in the last five seasons – a 38 per cent success rate.
What they say
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Death Duty, Labaik and Baltazar D'Allier
They are three lovely horses. Death Duty has been very good this season. You would have to like the way he got the job done last time and he has not missed a beat since. I am looking forward to seeing how he copes with this step up in grade but we could not be happier with him. Baltazar D'Allier did absolutely nothing wrong when winning at Naas and he won his point nicely as well so it will be very interesting to see how he gets on. We have been trying everything with Labaik, he has even been hunting, so hopefully there won't be a repeat of what he did at Fairyhouse.
Willie Mullins, trainer of Invitation Only
He should appreciate the extra half-mile and, while he’s stepping up in grade in what looks a very competitive race, we’re hoping for a big run. He was inclined to jump to the left at Gowran, so, hopefully, going left-handed this time will suit him better.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Monalee
He is in super form. David [Mullins] really liked him at Punchestown and, while I know it is a big step up from a maiden hurdle to a Grade 2, this will tell us what direction we are heading for the rest of the season. We like him.
Mouse Morris, trainer of Wishmoor
It was a nice first run for me at Naas and I hope he has improved from it. It is a hot race, though, so we are up against it.
Noel Meade, trainer of Moulin A Vent
We were actually going to give this a miss but he is in such good form that we said we have to have a go. It is a very, very hot race and a Grade 1 in all but name. He is a horse I have always liked.