Lieutenant leads Ryanair hopefuls into battle at Thurles
Ladbrokes Ireland Kinloch Brae Chase | Grade 3 | 2m4f | 6yo+ | ATR
The absence of the recently retired Don Cossack, who won this in 2015 and 2016 – last year en route to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory –means festival clues this time might be thinner on the ground. But the blurry Ryanair picture could become a lot clearer.
Black Hercules began the campaign as ante-post favourite for the Ryanair following his impressive victory in last season's JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but his season has failed to take off, with below-par efforts in Grade 1s at Punchestown and Leopardstown leaving him with questions to answer.
Sub Lieutenant has answered most questions Henry de Bromhead has asked of him. His handicap mark has soared from 145 to 162 and his close third behind Djakadam and Outlander in the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase at Punchestown confirmed the suspicion he is a live contender for the Ryanair.
Sizing John has spent most of his life looking at the backside of Douvan so will be delighted that rival is nowhere to be seen here. Jessica Harrington has entered last year's Racing Post Arkle runner-up in the Irish Gold Cup, so certainly doesn't seem to think stamina will be an issue.
Smashing likewise runs in the colours of Alan and Ann Potts, but he has yet to recapture the form that saw him topple Road To Riches at Navan last April. He is another on a retrieval mission.
The six-runner field is completed by veterans Boxing Along and Letter Of Credit, who are now 12 and 13. Victory for either would be a shock.
David Mullins has a 100 per cent record on Sub Lieutenant. He has been aboard the eight-year-old three times, the most recent of their three wins together came when seeing off Outlander in a Grade 2 at Down Royal in November.
All five of Smashing's wins over fences have come with either soft or heavy in the going description, so he will be more at home here than was the case at Punchestown (good) and Leopardstown (yielding) on his last two outings.
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Black Hercules
He's been disappointing so far this season and just hasn't hit top form yet. Hopefully he will here. His work has been good at home but he has not been able to reproduce that on the racetrack, as of yet.
Jessica Harrington, trainer of Sizing John
We're going to learn a lot including whether he truly stays. I've decided to put him in the Irish Gold Cup next month at Leopardstown as I do think he'll stay longer trips – I don't see any reason why he won't. He's very laid-back at home but every time he sees a fence he lights up and attacks them. I think he'll improve a lot for his run at Christmas and I'm expecting a big run.
Mouse Morris, trainer of Smashing
Hopefully he'll show a bit more this time. He didn't see out the trip in the Lexus. This will be more his cup of tea. The ground and trip will suit, and he seems in good form.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Sub Lieutenant
He's in great form. It's a competitive race, as you'd expect, but it looks an ideal race for him. He's done well since the John Durkan.