The weather is threatening the hottest jumper in Britain with cold storage – an inspection at Ascot this afternoon will determine prospects for Sprinter Sacre's scheduled Cheltenham Festival warm-up Saturday – but one rising star did manage another chapter in his education in Ireland today.
Ballycasey, impressive in a Leopardstown bumper last season, had cruised away with a maiden hurdle at Clonmel last month. Stepped up in grade at Thurles today, he made four previous winners look pedestrian, sauntering into the lead before the last and easing home by three lengths under Ruby Walsh.
While Willie Mullins has many other promising youngsters in his care, he seems in no doubt that this one is heading to the Festival. He must still choose between the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle, over two miles and five furlongs, and the Albert Bartlett, over three miles, but feels sure that Ballycasey will prove still more potent on spring going. "He's the type that would prefer better ground," Mullins said. "I'm happy he handled this today because I thought it might be too soft." For now William Hill go 10-1 from 14-1 for the Albert Bartlett.
Mikael D'Haguenet also seemed to have the world at his feet at one stage. He has since lived up to that promise only fitfully, but his easy success in a novice chase earlier on the card showed the talent that still lurks. "He has had enough falls," Walsh said. "But he's still got a big engine, and huge ability." While Mikael D'Haguenet could yet return to the Festival, Mullins indicated that he might make a priority of the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
The champion trainer shared mixed fortunes with Walsh through the day, suffering odds-on reverses with Djakadam – who trampled on Walsh after stumbling after the last flight – and Tarla.
Oscar Time's build-up to the John Smith's Grand National, in which he finished second two years ago, met an unwelcome hitch when he gave Sam Waley-Cohen a nasty fall in the Kinloch Brae Chase. Aintree could yet find its way on to the agenda of the rejuvenated winner, Quito De La Roque.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Mr Optimistic (4.00 Wolverhampton) Has tumbled down the handicap and shaped as though returning to form when finishing off his race much better at Kempton last week.
Experimentalist (4.15 Lingfield) Excellent start for this stable when just foiled in a photo last week.
One to watch
Captain Sunshine (Emma Lavelle) Is going to pick up a decent prize, closing well when tumbling at the last at Kempton last Saturday.