Reigning champion hurdler Hardy Eustace and Irish darling Solerina are set to clash in Sunday’s Giltspur Scientific Tara Hurdle at Navan.
The duo were declared for the Grade Two event today and a fascinating battle is on the cards.
The Dessie Hughes-trained Hardy Eustace will be having his first run since winning the Emo Oil Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April.
Hardy Eustace, who was following up his Cheltenham win there, was forced to miss his scheduled comeback in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month after he scoped dirty before the race.
Hughes reports the seven-year-old to be back in top form, but he thinks the two-and-half-mile trip may well play to Solerina’s strengths, particularly as she is fit from racing.
“He’s in good form and it looks like it will be between us and Solerina,” said the trainer.
“She’s had four races so far so she may just have the fitness edge on us, and she’s a tough horse that very seldom gets beat once she is in front.
“I don’t think the extra half a mile will be in our favour, but it looks a good race and our horse is well.”
Solerina benefited from Hardy Eustace’s absence in the Hattons Grace Hurdle, sluicing up by six lengths from Brave Inca without being put under too much pressure.
That was her second Grade One win of the season as she beat subsequent Greatwood Hurdle winner Accordion Etoile in the John James McManus Memorial Hurdle on her reappearance in October.
The seven-year-old mare is trained by James Bowe, and his son Michael, who is also assistant trainer, issued an upbeat bulletin today.
“She’s just been her usual self – she’s very laid back and doesn’t do too much at home so we’ve just kept her ticking over,” he said.
“She’s come out of the race well and is in good form. She’s been out in the field this morning to have a bit of a roll and she’s just enjoying life.”
Solerina has won 14 times in 23 starts over hurdles and she has already beaten Hardy Eustace once, when they finished first and second in the 2003 Deloitte and Touche Novice Hurdle.
However, Solerina was a distant sixth when the pair met in the Emo Oil race at Punchestown and Bowe is not underestimating Hardy Eustace’s claims.
“Hardy Eustace is the champion hurdler and she will need to be on the top of her form, but the main thing is that she comes back safe and sound,” he said.
“You must remember that Hardy Eustace was a renowned two-and-a-half-mile horse in Ireland before he won at Cheltenham and I think the conditions will suit him just as well as they will Solerina.
“Solerina has had the benefit of racing, but Dessie Hughes won’t have him lacking fitness. It will be a great race.”
Only five go to post for the Tara Hurdle with Rosaker, who finished second to Solerina in last month’s Lismullen Hurdle, Yogi and Glentorpe completing the field.
The Bowe family will also be represented in the Grade Two Barry & Sandra Kelly Memorial Novice Hurdle by Sweet Kiln.
The daughter of Beneficial put up a gutsy performance at this track last month to claim the Monksfield Novice Hurdle.
Despite making an error at the second-last flight, Sweet Kiln stayed on resolutely to beat Petertheknot by three and a half lengths.
Bowe was impressed by the determination Sweet Kiln showed there and he hopes she shows the same kind of heart on Sunday.
“It was a good performance last time and when she made that mistake at the second-last, it just seemed to make her decide that she was not going to lose,” he added.
“I thought she was beat then, but she stayed on and she obviously has a good attitude. Hopefully she will be in that state of mind on Sunday. She has been in really good form.”
Sweet Kiln will face eight rivals at Navan including Petertheknot.
The Willie Mullins-trained pair of Major Vernon and Our Ben look to be the other main challengers.