Bacardys has run a string of fine races since returning to the smaller obstacles, so appeals most for the 3m Grade 1 Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday (14:00).
One of three engaged for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, this eight-year-old has form figures of 212 on his last three starts in the Emerald Isle.
Although he hasn’t taken to chasing, Bacardys remains a very good hurdler. He was beaten just three lengths by the re-opposing Unowhatimeanharry in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
That was a marked improvement from the son of Coastal Path who had only been sixth in the Cheltenham equivalent.
Connections have kept Bacardys to hurdles this season and he bolted up in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on reappearance.
He lowered the colours of Apple’s Jade, who again re-opposes here, and was value for more than the 9 1/2 lengths winning margin.
As Bacardys also confirmed that form when runner-up to Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse last time out, there is no reason why he shouldn’t do so again.
He meets Apple’s Jade off exactly the same terms. The extra half-a-mile in the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle should be no problem for Bacardys.
Mullins is having a customary good festive period with his runners, so it would be no surprise to see the stable’s first string go one better here.
Bacardys is 7/4 favourite with Boylesports for Grade 1 glory and to land a race the stable has won three times this decade.
Question marks over Apple’s Jade and Unowhatimeanharry
The aforementioned Apple’s Jade has won the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle in each of the last two seasons, but doesn’t look the force of old.
Trained by Gordon Elliott for Gigginstown House Stud, this seven-year-old mare mopped up races during the early part of last season.
As with the previous campaign, however, the fine form shown by Apple’s Jade tailed off come springtime.
The daughter of Saddler Maker, who has also been declared in Sunday’s Matheson Hurdle, just hasn’t sparkled in her last five runs.
She was 30 lengths behind the ill-fated Espoir D’Allen when sent off favourite for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Apple’s Jade was then outbattled close home but far from disgraced when a half-a-length third over this trip in the Liverpool Hurdle on Grand National day at Aintree.
She was only fifth in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, then got turned over at 1/4 by Bacardys on reappearance and lost her Hatton’s Grace crown when outpaced by Honeysuckle.
It is a worrying downturn in form, and Elliott reaching for cheekpieces is the response.
They are going to have work the oracle, so Apple’s Jade is taken on despite odds of 11/4 with Betway for a hat-trick in this.
The oldest in the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle line-up is Punchestown Festival hero Unowhatimeanharry.
Trained by Harry Fry for JP McManus, this horse is rising 12 and looks vulnerable to younger legs.
Although his five-length runner-up reappearance run behind subsequent Long Walk Hurdle winner The Worlds End at Wetherby doesn’t look too shabby, Unowhatimeanharry faded out of contention when beaten 25 lengths by Paisley Park in the Long Distance at Newbury.
He is another who should be taken on this.
Penhill could come on for return in Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle
The race is lacking depth this year, so dual Cheltenham Festival winner Penhill should come on for his return to action in the Hatton’s Grace following 584 days out.
Also trained by Mullins, the Tony Bloom owned eight-year-old wasn’t given a hard time at Fairyhouse when all chance had gone.
Penhill has impressive form figures of 11212 over the 3m trip. On the pick of his back form, the Mount Nelson gelding has obvious claims.
He is also the top rated of the seven-runner Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle field on an official mark of 158.
Penhill is also entitled to strip fitter for that Hatton’s Grace outing, and the emphasis on stamina here is a plus.
He clearly needed the run after so long out and Mullins has handled him carefully since he joined the stable from British Flat trainer Luca Cumani.
With the likes of Arkwrisht and Dommage Pour Toi having plenty to find, Penhill is 5/1 with Paddy Power and one to consider each-way.
Killultagh Vic is the third of Mullins’ trio, but was behind Apple’s Jade and Bacardys last time out. He turns 11 in the New Year and is another whose best days look to lie behind him.