The feature race in Ireland on Sunday is the old Kinloch Brae Chase – a Grade 2 contest over an extended 2m 4f (14:45).
Hardline looks each-way value in this year’s renewal, sponsored by Horse & Jockey Hotel. Trainer Gordon Elliott has won three of the last five runnings.
In Hardline, he has an eight-year-old Grade 1 winning novice chaser who enjoyed his finest hour at the Limerick Christmas Festival of 2018.
The feature event there produced a shock when he lowered the colours of Getabird under jockey Keith Donoghue with a gutsy late run.
Hardline ran out a half-length winner and was then far from disgraced when third to La Bague Au Roi in the Flogas at Leopardstown.
This son of Arcadio found the drop back in to 2m for the Arkle during the Cheltenham Festival too sharp.
He then ran much better when up in trip and chasing home the re-opposing Real Steel in a Grade A Punchestown handicap.
As Hardline got badly hampered four out, he did well to finish a 6 1/2 lengths runner-up. He has since reversed that Festival form with Real Steel in the Grade 1 John Durkan on his second start of this season.
Hardline chased home the mighty Min, belying odds of 25/1 when only headed at the last but keeping on well to be beaten just 2 1/4 lengths.
The Gigginstown House Stud owned gelding was again dropped back to 2m at Leopardstown last time out.He had no extra in fourth when falling at the final fence.
Provided he is no worse for that tumble, Hardline looks better suited by this intermediate trip and each-way value at 8/1 with BetVictor here.
Footpad plenty short enough for Kinloch Brae Chase test
Kinloch Brae Chase race terms suit Footpad, but the odds-on favourite had a tough time in the King George VI Chase at Kempton when third and failing to see out the trip.
It’s easy to see why bookmakers have Willie Mullins’ 2018 Arkle hero so short for this.
Footpad is 10lb and upwards clear of the field on adjusted ratings and won a Listed race over 2m 6f here on his penultimate start.
The venue and terms may be pluses for Footpad, but he was beaten favourite on all three of his outings last season.
A prohibitive price of 4/7 with Betfred doesn’t appeal even though he’s reunited with Dayl Jacob.
Footpad simply hasn’t reproduced the scintillating form of his novice chase season in 2017-18.
He is taken on because it’s hard to know what his best trip is after coming eighth over this distance in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
Real Steel is 2lb better off at the weights with Hardline from the John Durkan, meanwhile, so doesn’t have much to find.
Also trained by Mullins, his jumping under pressure at Punchestown last time out let him down at key points in the race.
He is another with course form, however, winning a rated chase over 2m 2f here last February.
Despite odds of 11/4 with Bethard, Real Steel is opposed with better value to be had on Hardline on the pick of his form.
Voix Du Reve is the third Mullins mount here, but very hard to fancy on his last three starts.
He was never travelling at any stage when trailing in a distant last to stable companion Al Boum Photo at Tramore in a Grade 3 on New Year’s Day.
Festival D’ex fancied to follow-up
Elsewhere on Kinloch Brae Chase day, there’s a competitive 2m 6f novice hurdle (13:35) where Festival D’ex puts his unbeaten record on the line.
Also trained by Elliott, this five-year-old son of Saddler Maker could not have been more impressive on debut.
He was pitched straight into the ultra-competitive and valuable Goffs Land Rover Bumper at the Punchestown Festival.
Festival D’ex raced in rear, then progressed towards the inner with half-a-mile left and made rapid headway approaching two out.
As he soon quickened clear in the hands of Jamie Codd and bolted up by 10 lengths, this was a seriously taking bow.
Festival D’ex has since followed-up over hurdles this since when only needing hands and heels from Davy Russell to land a Navan maiden.
It was a comfortable victory and connections now step him markedly up in trip.
That looks significant, and Festival D’ex could be a live contender for the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival depending on how he goes over this distance.
With Elliott’s team on a 22 per cent strike rate in the last 14 days at the time of writing, and Russell again aboard, he appeals most here.
Festival D’ex is 15/8 with William Hill to complete a hat-trick under Rules.
There are dangers, however, and Mullins pair Monkfish and Vis Ta Loi (third in two graded races) head those.
An each-way angle on this race could be Run Wild Friend – a stable companion of Festival D’ex.
Also owned by Gigginstown, this six-year-old son of Shantou has smart bumper form in-behind Envoi Allen and when beating subsequent Grade 1 winner Fiddlerontheroof.
Conditional jockey Sean O’Keeffe also takes a handy 5lb off with his claim. Run Wild Friend is worth a market check and 8/1 with Boylesports here.
In-form Elimay can go in again
The other graded race on the Kinloch Brae Chase card is a Grade 2 over the same 2m 4f course and distance for mares who are novice chasers (15:20).
Elimay is thriving for Mullins and leading Irish owner JP McManus, so she is well-fancied to go in again.
This daughter of Montmartre has won her last three, bolting up in the first of those at the Punchestown Festival over hurdles.
Jockey Mark Walsh eased her on the run-in, so she was value more than the winning margin of 17 lengths.
Elimay then followed-up in a Listed affair at Killarney when making all and scoring by seven lengths.
She went up into Grade 3 company for her chase debut at Cork last time out and comfortably accounted for the re-opposing Agusta Gold by five lengths.
Although she now meets the runner-up off 3lb worse terms, the way Elimay travelled well throughout and kept on well suggests she can confirm the form.
With Agusta Gold now looking exposed, she is fancied to follow-up at evens with Betway.
The main danger to Elimay appears to lie within her own stable courtesy of Cut the Mustard.
Although the oldest in the line-up aged eight, the Sullivan Bloodstock owned mare made an eye-catching chase bow at Limerick over Christmas.
Cut The Mustard travelled well to lead two out and drew readily clear to score by 14 lengths.
A repeat of that effort from this daughter of Al Namix should see her give Elimay plenty to think about and she’s 100/30 with Betfair in this.