The feature 2m Grade 2 Fortria Chase at Navan on Sunday (14:10) is more competitive than 12 months ago.
Last year’s winner Ballyoisin faces a battle to retain his crown from Duc Des Genievres and A Plus Tard.
Off these terms, preference is for the latter who is trained by Henry De Bromhead for Cheveley Park Stud.
A Plus Tard is a French import who is two from five over fences and stays further, which is a clear plus is the forecast soft to heavy ground.
This five-year-old son of Kapgarde beat Duc Des Genievres by over three lengths in a beginners chase at Naas on his second start in this sphere last December.
As A Plus Tard now meets the winner off 1lb better terms, he should confirm the form. Good ground was against him in a Grade 3 when runner-up to Winter Escape next time up.
A Plus Tard resumed winning ways with victory in the Listed 2m 4f Close Brothers at the Cheltenham Festival on handicap chase debut off a mark of 144.
He bolted up on the softer surface around Prestbury Park by 16 lengths. It was a hugely impressive display, but A Plus Tard failed to stay 3m when upped in trip at the Punchestown Festival.
Although this distance is on the sharp side, the conditions mean it may take some getting.
That, coupled with A Plus Tard getting 9lb from Ballyoisin and 8lb from Duc Des Genievres, makes him the one to be on at 6/4 with Paddy Power.
Given the latter won the Arkle at Cheltenham and doesn’t mind soft, Duc Des Genievres rates the main danger to the selection.
Ballyoisin is race-fit after an autumn campaign over hurdles, but this is harder than the last Fortria Chase renewal.
Apple’s Jade primed for Lismullen Hurdle hat-trick
Top Irish mare Apple’s Jade has won the 2m 4f Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle (13:05) in each of the last two seasons.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, the seven-year-old has landed 10 career Grade 1 races. Her record first time up is good and Apple’s Jade is versatile as regards ground.
The daughter of Saddler Maker has gone on from this to land the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown’s Christmas Hurdle in 2017 and 2018.
Although Apple’s Jade hasn’t maintained her form into the last couple of spring seasons, she has been formidable in the winter.
She is effective over trips between 2m and 3m, so this distance may be optimum. A rating of 162 puts her 10lb and upwards clear of the field.
Apple’s Jade has clear and obvious claims of a Lismullen Hurdle hat-trick on Fortria Chase day, as her closest challenger on figures is Bacardys.
That eight-year-old Willie Mullins trained rival is winless in two-and-a-half years since his novice hurdle campaign.
This simply looks a penalty kick for the reigning Irish Champion Hurdle heroine, but cramped odds of 1/3 with Ladbrokes reflect that.
The most interesting of her four rivals is Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light, who won a Grade 2 hurdle over 3m at Ascot in February.
This is probably a pipe opener for the Jessica Harrington trained eight-year-old but race terms mean she gets 2lb all-round.
After winning the Warfield against her own sex off 146, Magic Of Light may be well-treated compared to her revised chase mark of 158 after chasing Tiger Roll home at Aintree.
This trip may be on the sharp side for her, but underfoot conditions mean her stamina could be key. Magic Of Light is worth considering each-way at 12/1 with BetVictor here.
Abacadabras fancied to beat Fast Buck
The other top class race is the 2m Grade 3 For Auction Novice Hurdle (12:35). Fast Buck is top rated of those with a hurdles mark, but smart bumper performer Abacadabras made a winning bow over obstacles and is taken to follow-up.
After winning his racecourse debut at Galway, the Gordon Elliott trained five-year-old ran out through the rails in a Grade 2 at the Dublin Racing Festival.
That race was won by Envoi Allen, who went on Champion Bumper glory at Cheltenham. Abacadabras placed fourth in that, and the form is strong. The winner and third home, Thyme Hill, have since made winning hurdles bows.
He also scored first time up over timber in a Gowran Park maiden after finishing runner-up in the Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown.
Although not exactly flawless with his jumping, the Gigginstown House Stud owned Davidoff gelding led after two out and was pushed clear.
As Abacadabras was in firm command, he was eased close home and value for more than the 5 1/2 lengths winning margin.
With Fast Buck posting better form on a sounder surface, he is taken on despite Listed success at the Galway Festival over the summer.
An unexposed rival like Abacadabras, who is even money with Betway, appeals more on this cracking Fortria Chase day card.