Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase (Grade B) | 3m | 4yo+ | 3m | ATR
Success in Ireland's big staying handicap chases was a significant part of Gordon Elliott's excellent campaign last season and on Sunday he launches a six-strong challenge for the Troytown Chase as he bids to land the prize for the fourth consecutive year.
Empire Of Dirt was successful a year ago, following the triumphs of Balbriggan (2014) and Riverside City (2015).
But the Elliott sextet face a seemingly formidable opponent in hotpot Acapella Bourgeois, the 5-2 market leader who makes his debut for Willie Mullins having moved from Sandra Hughes in the summer.
The seven-year-old won last season's Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at this track by 32 lengths, a race in which he beat subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner and Grade 1 winner Road To Respect.
Owned by the Slaneyville Syndicate, whose Total Recall cantered home in the Munster National under similar circumstances, Acapella Bourgeois carries topweight under Paul Townend and, with him running off a mark of 149, punters will have to consider how much he has in hand off his current rating.
Jack Kennedy – victorious on Riverside City – rides General Principle, who had his prep for the Troytown at Clonmel ten days ago when he finished fourth over hurdles.
Elliott said: "General Principle came out of his Clonmel run well and is in good order.
"He won a Grade 3 novice chase over the Troytown trip last season and ran very well when fifth in the Irish Grand National. He looks to have a decent chance."
Potters Point and Lisa O'Neill, who combined to win the Kerry National at Listowel in September, join forces again.
Elliott said: "Potters Point went up 9lb for his Listowel win, so it'll be tougher for him this time, but he's in good form and we know he stays and goes on testing ground."
Another of the Elliott sextet who will relish the conditions is Mala Beach, who finished second to A Genie In Abottle on his reappearance at Galway last month.
"He'll love the ground and is in good shape, but he has a lot of weight," Elliott said.
Elliott believes Roi Des Francs – "he's got plenty of weight" – and Space Cadet, who will be having his first run since the Punchestown festival in April, might be up against it, but Poormans Hill could go well off bottom weight.
The six-year-old has won four times from five starts since joining Elliott and has risen 28lb in the ratings since the first of his handicap chase wins at Downpatrick in September.
"This will be a stiffer test for Poormans Hill but he has only 9st 10lb less Andrew Ring's 3lb claim," said Elliott. "He's fit and well, stays and goes on the ground, so he could have an each-way chance."
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Acapella Bourgeois
He was very impressive when winning the Ten Up Chase over the course and trip last season and seems to relish testing ground. But 11st 10lb and having to concede up to 28lb to his rivals represents a mammoth task on his first start of the season and in his first handicap.
Noel Meade, trainer of Wounded Warrior and Bonny Kate
Bonny Kate goes well fresh. We've done as much as we can with her at home and she'll be fit and ready to go. She'll love the ground and we're hoping she can go well. Wounded Warrior has been running disappointingly and he'll need to get his act together. We've tried a few different things with him and hopefully he'll give a good showing.
Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Arkwrisht and Tesseract
The distance was probably a bit far for Arkwrisht in the Cork National last time and this trip should suit better. It's a competitive race but hopefully he'll have his chance. Tesseract is in good shape. He did it the hard way at Wexford last time but off his low weight we're hoping he'll go well.
Liz Doyle, trainer of Last Goodbye
His last two runs suggested he's crying out for further and he'll get that extra distance this time. He loves it heavy too. We were delighted with him at Cheltenham in March but he was found wanting for half a gear. With another couple of furlongs he'd have nearly got there. He's getting everything we think he needs and I expect him to be very competitive. He's bucking fit.
Alan Fleming, trainer of Hurricane Darwin
We couldn't be happier with him and his confidence is high after a couple of wins. Hopefully the testing ground won't prove to be a big issue. He handled it at Clonmel but it probably wasn't a great race. I know this is a very good field but we're really happy with where he is.
John Ryan, trainer of Icantsay
He's in fantastic form. The key is getting him to jump off and if he does that he'll bowl along in front. He's a super jumper, goes on the ground and stays the trip well. With his low weight he could take some catching.
Philip Dempsey, trainer of Whatareudoingtome
We'd be a little bit worried about him on heavy ground. He's got a nice low weight but he's struggled on that sort of going before.