Quite where he would have finished had he stood up in the King George is hard to assess, but he had just begun to master eventual winner Cue Card at the time of his departure, at the second-last fence and could be deemed a somewhat unlucky loser.
Given the way the race was run, that effort was further evidence he is developing into a strong stayer, and today’s drop back to two and a half miles may not be ideal. In light of the opposition, however, that shouldn’t be an issue and the Gordon Elliott-owned gelding can use this as a confidence-building exercise prior to a tilt at the ‘big one’ at Cheltenham.
Wounded Warrior, who also sports the colours of Gigginstown House Stud, can give him most to think about.
The nap goes to Bitofapuzzle, who can prove too smart for her rivals in the Grade 2 Ocovango Coolmore NH Sires Mares’ Novice Chase. Harry Fry’s mare is lightly raced for an eight-year-old, but boasts a record of seven wins from nine career outings, and one of those two defeats came when third behind Glens Melody in last season’s Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
She made her breakthrough at the top level when winning at Fairyhouse a month later, and made a successful chasing debut last month at Exeter. The daughter of Tamure is built like a chaser and can yet prove better in this sphere than over hurdles.
Today’s race represents a significant step up from her task at Exeter, but she should prove equal to it. The danger may come from Emcon, who was a shade below her best in her last couple of outings but, prior to those, was most impressive on her chasing debut at Clonmel.
She was just behind two of today’s rivals last time out, at Navan, but the trip was on the sharp side. Back over two and a half miles today and 3lbs better off with winner Queens Wild, she can reverse that form.
He Rock’s looks a value option in the Thurles Handicap Chase, a race in which he finished a modest third last term. Steve Mahon’s horse showed his first signs of form over fences when third behind Kilcrea 12 months ago and just two races later made the breakthrough, over today’s course and distance and on similarly testing conditions.
He followed that up with a couple of decent efforts in defeat and, while yet to make a mark this term, he has had three recent runs and, thus, won’t lack for fitness.
Considerably better off with Winter Magic for their recent meeting, he should appreciate the drop back to two and three-quarter miles, and can outrun likely generous odds. The aforementioned Winter Magic should be hard to keep out of the frame.