By Nick Robson and Chris Wilson
MACS JOY has been installed as favourite to confirm his position as a leading Champion Hurdle hope with victory in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran on Saturday.
The Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old produced a fine run last time out to chase home Brave Inca at Leopardstown and is 6-4 favourite with Cashmans to go one place better at the weekend.
"As it stands Macs Joy will run," said Harrington.
"It looks a good race, but he seems to be well.
"He ran very well at Leopardstown and he should come on for that. He did his best work towards the end of that race, which was pleasing."
Dual Champion Hurdle hero Hardy Eustace is a 7-4 chance after trailing home last in the Leopardstown race, but Dessie Hughes is hoping he can atone on his final run before going for a hat-trick in the blue riband.
"Nothing has come to light for his run in AIG (Champion Hurdle) and it could have been the same reason Central House disappointed at Fairyhouse before he went and won at Punchestown. Hopefully it will be the same result (at the weekend)," he said.
"He seems fine at the moment though and he’s showing me all the right signs and this will be his last run before the Champion Hurdle.
"He’s in good form and this is the last real opportunity to get a run into him."
The Tom Mullins-trained Asian Maze is set to make her eagerly-awaited return after she was last seen winning the Grade One Menolly Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April 2005.
After an interrupted preparation, Mullins is just hoping for a prominent showing from his mare.
"Everything is fine with her at the moment but obviously she hasn’t been quite right so far this season otherwise she would have been out before now," said Mullins. "She’s just had a few little niggles that we thought would clear up quicker than they did.
"She showed good form in the spring last year though and I’d imagine the spring will bring on her on a bit again with a bit of luck.
"The intention is to run her on Saturday, we do have another option on Sunday, but we want to run her Saturday and then if everything goes to plan the next stop would be Cheltenham.
"We won’t be disappointed if she gets beat, I don’t expect her to beat Hardy Eustace and Macs Joy but she just has to have a run. As long as she shows us she is well, I’ll be happy.
"If she did happen to run a big race we would consider the Champion Hurdle and that’s why we gave her the entry just in case, but at the minute the plan is still the (Ladbrokes) World Hurdle.
"She has an important bit of work on Tuesday and if that goes well she will be heading to Gowran."
Paul Nolan’s useful handicapper Escrea, Charlie Swan’s Ground Ball and Morgiana Hurdle second Essex could also feature.
McGruders Cross, Sky’s The Limit and Tolpuddle complete the list at the five-day declaration stage.
Cashmans bet: 6-4 Macs Joy, 7-4 Hardy Eustace, 4-1 Essex, 5-1 Asian Maze, 20-1 Bar.