By Pat Keane
DUAL bumper and triple point-to-point winner Conna Castle is fancied to enjoy a first success over flights in the opening division of the Festival Hospitality Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown this afternoon.
The seven-year-old has only run twice so far this campaign and Jimmy Mangan's gelding should now be primed to strike.
Following a spin on the level at Galway, Conna Castle made a moderate start over hurdles at Cork in November when a remote sixth behind The Fingersmith.
He was then absent for two months until reappearing at Naas in January. This time the selection produced a far better display, taking third behind Knight Legend and Mattock Ranger.
The form has been working out reasonably well, with Drummer First and Walkin Aisy, fourth and fifth respectively, scoring in the meantime.
Dropping down three furlongs in trip and likely to strip a lot fitter on this occasion, Conna Castle is fancied to beat Cosmo King, a creditable three parts of a length runner-up behind market-leader Well Mounted at Punchestown.
Noel Meade's Jazz Messenger can shrug off top weight in the Irish National Hunt Festival Novice Hurdle.
He won an ordinary maiden at Navan and then stepped well up on that to slam Pierse Hurdle second No Where To Hyde by six lengths, back at Navan.
Mercuric, beaten five lengths into fifth spot behind Code Of Rules (levels) at Fairyhouse, can reverse the placings in the Book Your Festival Tickets Hurdle.
Jessica Harrington's grey showed improved form subsequently when beating Derrykeel an easy two and a half lengths at Down Royal.
Tipper Road, in good shape right now, holds a leading chance in the second division of the Festival Shopping Village Handicap Hurdle.
He ran a cracker at Navan on Sunday, only giving best in the closing stages to course specialist Maralan.