By Pat Keane
ONCE again Thurles comes to the aid of the game this afternoon by dividing a race, thus housing eight contests.
The emphasis, however, is on quantity rather than any pretensions to quality and it's a programme, at least most of it, which is guaranteed to test the skills of punters.
In-form Island Pride is the nap choice in the Rock Of Cashel Handicap Chase. The nine-year-old has paid the penalty for repeatedly beating the handicapper, but showed at Fairyhouse on Saturday he remains competitive off his current mark.
John Joe Walsh's gelding ran his usual game race to finish three parts of a length second behind Jirlan and it is encouraging to note that the third horse was another eight lengths away.
Further encouragement is gained from the fact Island Pride has shown his liking for this track in the past, winning twice here.
Dantes Reef, who goes well fresh and rested since a promising fourth to Martin Pipe's Bannow Strand at Cheltenham in November, may be the biggest worry.
Christy Roche's Kadiskar is difficult enough to oppose in the Irish Stallion Farms' EBF Beginners Chase.
He was beaten by On The Net at Thurles in November, as a prelude to being out of his depth, although far from disgraced, when fourth to Nickname at Leopardstown at Christmas.
Two horses of Noel Meade's, who are clearly not to be trusted, get the nod in other events. His Telemachus again disappointed when third to Qudraat at Navan, but the opening Ballynonty Maiden Hurdle may be his level.
Meade's Augherskea, talented but enigmatic, takes a major drop in class in the first division of the Devil's Bit Beginners Chase, having made his debut over fences when a remote fifth to Missed That in the Grade One Arkle Cup at Leopardstown.