An elimination heat for the hotly contested title of No 1 giant slayer takes place at Clonmel this afternoon when War Of Attrition, who humbled Kicking King last time out, and Rathgar Beau, the horse that ended Moscow Flyer's unbeaten record in completed chases, put the slingshots down and prepare to slug it out.
In best pre-bout tradition there were bullish words from both camps yesterday, but it is War Of Attrition who has the benefit of race-fitness on his side.
Conor O'Dwyer, who has ridden Mouse Morris's six-year-old on eight of his 12 outings, including his gutsy win in the Swordlestown Cup at the Punchestown Festival and his three-length victory over Kicking King, is happy with the way his partner stepped up to two miles six furlongs last time and expects another bold run at Clonmel.
"We were always confident that when he went further we'd see the best of him, so hopefully we can step up again tomorrow," he said. "I think he jumped better and travelled very well at Punchestown, and was not short of a bit of pace either.
In the opposing camp, Eamonn Sheehy, Rathgar Beau's trainer, reports his nine-year-old to be in top condition and believes the gelding can make a winning return in his first race since April, when he signed off with a memorable win over the top two-miler of recent years in the Kerrygold Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
"Rathgar Beau's good and I don't believe he'll need a run either - he's a very easy horse to get fit," Sheehy said. "It was great to see him get at least one Grade One and hopefully he'll get another by the end of the year.
"It won't be easy because War Of Attrition has a run under his belt, but Rathgar Beau is a seasoned campaigner and has plenty of experience. I wouldn't swap him for anything," the Kilkenny trainer said.
The €60,000 (£42,000) contest has particular relevance for those hoping to assess Kicking King's prospects for Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock. Was the Gold Cup winner toppled by a genuine talent or was it lack of fitness that brought his defeat?
Either way Kicking King faces a tough challenge again, with Nigel Twiston-Davies's Ollie Magern, his chief market rival both in the Haydock race and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, coming in for backing in the market yesterday and the support of his rider, Carl Llewellyn.
"Ollie Magern's in great form and all reports are positive so I'm looking forward to it," Llewellyn said. "I should think the likes of Kingscliff [runner-up to Ollie Magern in Wetherby's Charlie Hall Chase] will come on for the run, but Nigel's very happy with him.
"He's got to keep improving to go and beat Kicking King and a few of the others, and Beef Or Salmon also has to be respected, but hopefully he'll do just that.
"It was very fast at Wetherby and I possibly went a bit too quick, so hopefully he'll be a bit more relaxed at Haydock"
Harchibald, another of Ireland's leading jumpers, faces a crucial workout today ahead of a possible attempt on the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday. Last season's Champion Hurdle runner-up missed two weeks' work when suffering a knock in winning at Tipperary in October. The six-year-old looked to have luck on his side that day as he was two lengths behind Solerina when she fell at the final flight.
Nap: Nick The Jewel
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