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Champion Mullins set to boost record

Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins

By Michael Verney

Things are much more relaxed at Ballybrit today with more of a family feel to it but the action on the track will still attract plenty of attention with a field of 20 vying for the €120,000 prize in the Galway Shopping Centre Handicap Hurdle (2.30).

Willie Mullins has won four of the last six renewals and the champion trainer saddles four runners with GPT winner Great White Shark back for more as champion jockey Paul Townend replaces his sister Jody, who was successful in Monday night's feature.

It wasn't until the fourth time of asking that the five-year-old mare got off the mark over hurdles and she is open to far more improvement. There's a lot to like especially knowing her rude health and liking for the track but this is a tough task.

The loveable Rashaan heads the weights and while not at his best in recent efforts, Colin Kidd's seven-year-old sparkled over fences here last summer and another bold bid is expected under Davy Russell.

Owner JP McManus has no fewer than nine runners and trying to assess each of them on their merits would leave one dazed and confused but Tom Mullins' Oscar Knight is particularly interesting with his stable enjoying a brilliant week thus far out west.

Jessica Harrington's Neverushacon is another to catch the eye having run well in the GPT on Monday night - and with a Festival win to his name - but the value choice may be Willie Mullins' Contingency.

Just touched off by stablemate Mr Adjudicator in a similar event at the Punchestown Festival, the six-year-old comes in off a nice racing weight (10-4) and has a lot in her favour under Danny Mullins.

A facile winner when taking her beginners' chase at Tramore two months ago, there may be plenty more to come from the mare and she makes serious appeal as an each-way option.

The opening maiden hurdle (2.0) is above average with Jessica Harrington's Exit Poll reappearing having last been seen when landing a decent bumper at Leopardstown on Boxing Day.

Tony Martin's Mr Everest is another to note with a rating of 87 on the Flat having landed the November Handicap last year and the six-year-old will be race-ready having sharpened up with a run in the GPT here this week.

French recruit Estelle Ma Belle hasn't raced in nearly two years but kept good company on the Flat and Willie Mullins has shown how well versed he is at having them ready to strike despite long absences.

Joseph O'Brien's Top Moon looks the one to beat, however, having chased home the smart pair of Sinoria and Chosen Mate when third in a Listed Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in February and JJ Slevin's mount should take some stopping if running to that type of form.

The two-year-old Galway Shopping Centre Irish EBF Nursery (4.10) isn't lacking in quality with Aidan O'Brien's Royal County Down sure to improve for his Down Royal effort when only scrambling home.

That was only his third run as the Gleneagles colt gets the hang of the game and should prevail under Donnacha O'Brien in what is likely to be a duel with Harrington's Justina, best suited to this drop back to 7f.

Denis Hogan's Make A Challenge won around here on Tuesday and carries a 6lb penalty in the Ardilaun Hotel Handicap (4.45), while Joe Murphy's Galtee Mist is another out to land a famous double this week but both may be undone by Syrena.

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