The feature at race on Naas on Saturday, the 2m Grade 3 Poplar Square Chase (13:05), has cut-up but now looks like a golden opportunity for Duca De Thaix to prove himself better than a handicapper.
Trained by Gordon Elliott for the powerful Gigginstown House Stud, this six-year-old has won two of his 10 chase starts and placed on a further six occasions.
It took five tries over fences before Duca De Thaix got his head in front, landing his handicap debut in this sphere off 133.
He followed-up on that off 10lb higher in a Grade A contest when holding ill-fated stable companion Cubomania by half-a-length.
Connections then pitched him in at the highest level for the Irish Arkle off the back of that effort.
It was a big ask and Duca De Thaix was far from disgraced in coming fourth. This is obviously easier.
Although then a distant third at Navan and Thurles and never a factor when fifth in Grade 1 company at the Punchestown Festival, his experience is a plus.
The son of Voix Du Nord is also getting 12lb and 10lb from Ornua and Winter Escape respectively off the race terms.
With weight in his favour and off an official rating of 150, this is actually the easiest assignment Duca De Thaix has had for some time.
Ornua’s running style is difficult to maintain, while Winter Escape has posted arguably better form over further.
On that basis, they are opposed and Duca De Thaix appeals most each-way at 13/2 with BeVictor for the Poplar Square Chase under Rachael Blackmore.
Unexposed Cilaos Emery feared in Poplar Square Chase
Irish champion jumps trainer Wille Mullins had English Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres entered, but relies on Cilaos Emery here instead.
The seven-year-old has had just the one chase outing, but won it by comfortable four lengths at Gowran Park.
A dual Punchestown Festival winner, Cilaos Emery is very lightly-raced for his age with just eight career starts under Rules.
His defeat of subsequent Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon in a Grade 1 novice hurdle back in 2017 reads very well in the context of this race.
When stepped up to 2m 4f for the Hatton’s Grace the following season, Cilaos Emery found it beyond his stamina.
He was far from disgraced in defeat there when dropping to fourth or when chasing home Mick Jazz in the 2017 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
A belated chase debut in January where Cilaos Emery was held-up in touch and made steady progress to lead at the second last suggests he could be anything in this sphere.
With the trip and ground no problem, this unexposed horse clearly has plenty more to offer. Paul Townend now takes the ride for the first time.
As with Duca De Thaix, Cilaos Emery doesn’t have any penalty to carry here and that’s an obvious advantage.
He can be backed at 8/15 with Ladbrokes for the Poplar Square Chase against more experienced jumpers.
Gardens Of Babylon a strong Fishery Lane fancy
Leading Irish owner JP McManus has seen his famous green and gold hoop silks carried to victory in the last two runnings of the 2m Grade 3 Fishery Lane Hurdle for four-year-olds (12:30).
The legendary gambler has three horses engaged this year, and the clear pick of his trio in this renewal is Gardens Of Babylon.
Trained by Joseph O’Brien, the son of Camelot brings juvenile place form at the highest level into the contest.
Gardens Of Babylon landed his hurdles bow at Leopardstown by half-a-length from the re-opposing Surin.
He then ran a huge race to be beaten a nose when giving the same rival 12lb.
The difference in weight between the pair is now back to a standard 7lb sex allowance.
On both previous occasions they have met on those terms, Gardens Of Babylon has come out on top.
Connections pitched him into Grade 1 company on just third hurdles outing and he chased home the ill-fated Sir Erec at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Gardens Of Babylon was far from disgraced when third in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
He then chased home French Made – giving away a sex allowance – in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse.
As Gardens Of Babylon then resumed winning ways with a comfortable 6 1/2 lengths success in a valuable novice contest at Punchestown, he still had huge potential.
A summer campaign in ultra-competitive handicaps at Galway and Listowel haven’t seen him to best effect.
However, Gardens Of Babylon is now back in graded company and off these terms should have the beating of his six rivals.
Barry Geraghty, who partnered him in those two Grade 1 outings, is back in the saddle. That’s a plus and Gardens Of Babylon is 3/1 with Bethard to resume winning ways.
Surin respected, more to come from Averne
The aforementioned Surin comes out closest to him on adjusted ratings and has also had runs.
Trained by Elliott for Gigginstown, this Authorized filly warmed up with this for a win over further on testing ground at Wexford.
There is very little between Surin and Gardens Of Babylon on their previous encounters.
Elliott’s County Meath yard is operating at 22 per cent strike in the last 14 days at the time of writing, so is in better form than the O’Brien stable.
With just half-a-length in it from Leopardstown on both occasions and a nose at Fairyhouse, Surin cannot be discounted, especially in testing conditions.
She has proven she handles a softer surface, while Gardens Of Babylon has form on better ground.
For that reason, Surin is respected at 4/1 with BetVictor but taken on because she hasn’t achieved as much at this level as her old rival.
Trainer Gavin Cromwell landed the Fishery Lane spoils 12 months ago with the ill-fated Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen.
New recruit Averne is another McManus runner and makes his Irish debut after moving over from France.
This Doctor Dino gelding has had three runs over hurdles and placed third in the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas.
Although beaten 22 lengths by Quel Destin and outpaced by the winner and runner-up, Averne kept on well.
Prior to that, he scored on heavy ground at Auteuil. After just four career starts and three over obstacles, Averne is open to any amount of improvement.
He missed the spring festivals, so isn’t exposed like Mullins and Rich Ricci runner Tiger Tap Tap.
Taking all that into account, Averne could be well worth an each-way punt at 20/1 with Betfred now eased in grade and following a break.