Smoking Big Cigars earns the nap selection to land the Meath Handicap Hurdle on this afternoon’s card at Navan. The Sandra Hughes-trained gelding made his seasonal debut at Fairyhouse in November, and was sent off favourite to land a competitive handicap hurdle.
The lightly raced gelding ran well for a long way but faded out of contention in the straight and eventually came home seventh, beaten more than 18 lengths behind De Benno.
As it was his first run for some time and the stable was out of form at the time, he’s entitled to show plenty of improvement.
With the stable amongst the winners recently and jumping as a strong suit for the selection, he looks sure to go very close in what looks a winnable race.
The danger may come from Hogan’s Alley, who should leave previous form behind now trying handicap company for the first time.
The opening race looks a match between Gurteen and De Plotting Shed, with preference for the former, who has hurdling experience and looked smart when winning a bumper at Leopardstown.
Woodford Island will be a short price to shed his maiden status in the two-seven hurdle.
Perhaps the most interesting of his rivals is stable companion Be The Hero, who was unconsidered in the betting on debut and ran to market expectation.
If money were to arrive for him, it would be significant but, in its absence, it should be a straightforward task for Woodford Island.
The main action of the weekend takes place tomorrow at Leopardstown and it should prove another bonanza for trainer Willie Mullins.
Douvan is unopposable in the Frank Ward Solicitors Irish Arkle, while Faugheen can lead home a Mullins 1-2-3 in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle.
The latter blotted his copybook on his return, when touched off by Nichols Canyon, but bounced back to winning ways with an emphatic victory in the Christmas Hurdle, at Kempton.
While Nichols Canyon may have most scope for improvement, he had a very tough race when getting the better of Identity Thief at Leopardstown, and this race will demand even more.
He may have caught Faugheen by surprise when stealing a march on his stable companion in the Morgiana Hurdle and is unlikely to be afforded a repeat.
With Faugheen looking back to his best last time, he can score at the expense of Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire.
On the undercard, Kayf Supreme gets the nap to defy top weight in the Colours Bar Handicap Chase.
The Jim Dreaper-trained seven-year-old has won two point to points, and was sent straight over fences, for a hunter chase, on his racecourse debut.
He was a beaten odds-on favourite on that occasion, but showed improved form on his seasonal return, finishing third behind Bonny Kate in a beginners’ chase.
He faced a very stiff task on his next and most recent start but was noted finishing well to take fifth place behind the very promising Zabana in a similar contest at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting.
That was over 19 furlongs, and the extra couple of furlongs of this race should prompt further improvement.
He can land the spoils en route to better things.
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