No mistaking Identity at Leopardstown
The final afternoon of the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown has a terrific look to it and Nichols Canyon will be under the microscope against Identity Thief in the Ryanair Hurdle.
No mug by any stretch of the imagination in his novice season, it was nevertheless a huge shock to see Nichols Canyon floor stablemate Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
That robbed the champion hurdler of his unbeaten record, but in truth there did not look to be any real fluke about it.
Faugheen, of course, has bounced back to win back-to-back runnings of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and if Nichols Canyon does the business in style, Ruby Walsh might have a bit of a dilemma come Cheltenham.
It is an 'if', though, so at the prices it is worth chancing Identity Thief, who looked an improved performer at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Headed after making a mistake at the last by Triumph Hurdle second and general good yardstick Top Notch, Henry de Bromhead's charge showed an excellent attitude to rally and prevail by a neck.
De Bromhead knows the time of day and spoke in fairly glowing terms in the immediate aftermath.
All eyes for the future will be on No More Heroes in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase. There is a very strong case for suggesting the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old is the best staying novice seen out so far this year.
A very useful novice hurdler, two outings over the bigger obstacles have yielded impressive successes, most recently when taking the scalp of Monksland in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse.
He promises to have even more to offer trying three miles for the first time over fences and ought to be hard to beat.
Ben Pauling can claim a landmark victory when Barters Hill steps up to the top table for the Betfred "Goals Galore" Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury.
The young Gloucestershire handler has never won a Grade One, but that should all change at the Berkshire circuit.
Barters Hill looks a gifted animal and should be given total respect in this sort of company.
The five-year-old is unbeaten in five starts under Rules, and looked especially smart at Aintree in the spring when he claimed the scalp of Bellshill in a Grade Two bumper.
Barters Hill is not short of boot - he would win plenty of races over two miles - but this sort of trip looks just about ideal at this stage of his development.
Even in spite of his relative inexperience, Pauling's inmate has a great opportunity to further enhance his tall reputation.
Keep an eye, too, on Kasakh Noir, who runs in the Betfred Mobile Juvenile Hurdle.
The Flat racing comes from Southwell, where Singzak should go well in the 32Red.com Handicap.
David Griffiths' seven-year-old has not won since February 2014, but he is now handicapped accordingly.
He is also in decent fettle, too, having finished an encouraging second over a mile and three-quarters at this track on December 12.
Singzak has gone up 3lb, but he is still 10lb lower than when he last won a race and should enjoy himself back over two miles, a distance at which he finished a slightly unlucky second at Wolverhampton in March.
Southwell expert Sofias Number One can also be followed with a degree of optimism in the Coral Handicap.
Roy Bowring's seven-year-old has been out of sorts for quite a while, but he showed up much better at this track a few weeks ago, when third over a mile - his first run since August.
The gelded son of Silver Deputy goes back up in trip at the Nottinghamshire circuit, which has to be considered a gamble from what he has hitherto done on a racecourse. That said, Sofias Number One has won seven races at this track in the past, with Bowring aware of his inmate's stamina capabilities better than anyone.
Pepite Rose, who finished a distant runner-up in the Peterborough Chase last month, is recognised as a major player back against her own sex in the betdaq.com Two Per Cent Commission Mares' Chase at Doncaster.
DONCASTER: 12.00 Catherines Well, 12.35 Go Long, 1.10 Baltimore Rock, 1.45 Zeroeshadesofgrey, 2.20 Pepite Rose, 2.55 Live Miracle, 3.25 Simply Wings.
KELSO: 12.05 Dakota Grey, 12.40 Chavoy, 1.15 Norfolk Sound, 1.50 Castlelawn, 2.25 Another Mattie, 3.00 What A Dream, 3.30 Alizee De Janeiro.
LEOPARDSTOWN: 12.10 Down Under, 12.45 Space Cadet, 1.20 Morning Run, 1.55 No More Heroes, 2.30 Identity Thief, 3.05 Ma Garrett, 3.40 Lucky Pass.
LIMERICK: 12.20 Delegate, 12.55 Popboru, 1.30 Uranna, 2.05 Toushan, 2.45 Nambour, 3.15 Kennedys Mor, 3.50 Dounikos.
NEWBURY: 12.15 Kasakh Noir, 12.50 Sandy Beach, 1.25 Henllan Harri, 2.00 BARTERS HILL (NAP), 2.35 Balgarry, 3.10 Isaac Bell, 3.45 Banyu.
SOUTHWELL: 11.55 Singzak, 12.30 Romantic Comedy, 1.05 Sofias Number One, 1.40 Inshaa, 2.15 Burmese Whisper, 2.50 Arizona Snow, 3.20 Powerful Wind.
DOUBLE: Barters Hill and Singzak.