Brave Inca poised to take centre stage at Fairyhouse

BRAVE INCA heads a list of six possible runners in the Ballymore Properties Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Colm Murphy’s Champion Hurdle hero is set to make his return to the track in the two-mile-four-furlong heat after finishing third to Iktitaf in the recent Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

Brave Inca took third behind Solerina in last year’s renewal and could renew rivalry with Morgiana runner-up Asian Maze.

The John Queally-trained Al Eile is also entered, while Noel Meade may be represented by Wild Passion and Lismullen Hurdle winner Rosaker.

Frances Crowley’s Brogella completes the field at the five-day stage.

Notable defections include Hardy Eustace, Iktitaf and Black Jack Ketchum, who has still yet to be seen on a racecourse this season.

Cashmans bet: Evs Asian Maze, 6-4 Brave Inca, 6-1 Al Eile, 8-1 Rosaker, 16-1 Wild Passion, 50-1 Brogella.

Meanwhile, dual Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace and crack mare Asian Maze will be entered in the Grade Two International at Cheltenham on December 9.

Hardy Eustace followed a pipe-opener on the Flat in October with an impressive 11-length victory over Mighty Man in the Grade Two Coral Ascot Hurdle on November 18.

Trainer Dessie Hughes said: “I’ll take him to the International if the ground is good, and by that I mean normal winter soft ground, but if it’s heavy I won’t.

“If they’re racing on fresh ground he’ll definitely run.

“He travelled through his race really well at Ascot and that was more like him. He’s in tip-top condition.”

Ominously for his rivals, Hughes believes the best may be yet to come from the nine-year-old, who landed the Champion Hurdle in 2004 and 2005, before finishing a gallant third to Brave Inca this year.

Hughes added: “He should be at his best this year, I think.

“They usually are if they’re not raced when they’re young and he didn’t race before he was five.

“Ten isn’t too old to win the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and that’s the aim for him.”

Trainer Tom Mullins will play a waiting game with Asian Maze. “She will be entered in the International and we’ll make a decision nearer the time.

“We’ll see how the race shapes up, how she is and what the ground is predicted to be.

“We were thrilled with her second place to Iktitaf and she came out of the race well so we’re very happy with her.

“We’re looking for nice ground for her at Cheltenham – nothing faster than good and nothing worse than soft.”

Asian Maze’s Grade One successes have all come at two and a half miles or further and there was much conjecture last season as to whether she possessed the pace to be a live Champion Hurdle candidate – a question which went unanswered after a fourth-flight fall in the extended two-mile showpiece in March.

Mullins added: “On her recent Punchestown run, you would think she has the pace for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.

“Hopefully, we can run her at Cheltenham and then she’ll likely have another good crack at a two-mile event at Christmas – probably Leopardstown, but possibly Kempton – and then we could more or less make a final decision on her long-term target.”

Boylesports offer a £200,000 bonus to any horse that can win the International, formerly known as the Bula Hurdle, and the Champion Hurdle at the Festival.

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