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Rampant Ruby for a Whiteout on opening day of festival

By Ron McKnight

Whiteout can win the feature, the £50,000 WKD Novice Hurdle, on the opening day of the two-day Down Royal Festival.

The Festival showpiece, the £140,000 Champion Chase, takes place tomorrow and is shaping up to be a cracker, with the brilliant Don Cossack favourite.

Today's selection, Whiteout, represents Willie Mullins, the current Irish champion jumps trainer and has champion jockey Ruby Walsh on board.

Whiteout won the Ulster Cesarewitch at Down Royal last month when dead heating with He'll Be Remembered and followed up as a narrow runner-up over hurdles to his stable companion Daisy's Gift at Gowran.

Modem, the likely favourite and one to beat, is trained by Jessica Harrington whose most recent winner in the Friday feature was future Champion Hurdler Jezki - Ulster great AP McCoy in the saddle - in 2013.

The Harrington horse won the big amateur feature on the first day of the Galway Festival with the trainer's daughter Katie aboard and although favourite for the Galway Hurdle was only a reserve and denied a run. Modem has subsequently won two hurdle races at Punchestown and Listowel.

The JP McManus-owned, Princely Conn and Michael O'Leary's runner, Identity Thief warrant consideration.

Ulster connections are doubly represented with the Hunt family's Officieux, trained by Noel Meade, and the preferred runner from two original entries holds strong claims having won at Fairyhouse in January prior to flopping in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown the following month.

The EBF Grade 3 Lough Construction Mares Hurdle is the chief supporting contest today.

Listen Dear, trained by Willie Mullins and the winner of a Downpatrick bumper and runner-up over hurdles at the local course, appears the likely favourite with Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

Dancing Meadows, however, gets the vote to give trainer Gordon Elliott an early winner at the Lisburn course having beaten Rathmuck Native when winning at Downpatrick and finished fourth in a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham.

Rock On Rosie could prove the main danger.

Gordon Elliott should also collect the opening Eventsec Hurdle with Cogryhill, a bumper and point to point winner making his hurdles debut.

Ruby Walsh is a notable booking for Lord De Beaufai which looks the danger while The Storyteller makes his debut for Joe and Pat Sloan, sponsors of today's feature, and is trained by Noel Meade.

In the Allianz Handicap Hurdle Don Franco could provide a local winner for Draperstown-based Pat Conway.

DOWN ROYAL TIPS: 1.00 Cogryhill (nap) 1.30 Dancing Meadows 2.05 Whiteout (2nd Modem, 3rd Princely Conn) 2.40 Don Franco 3.15 Noble Endeavour 3.50 Sister Annie (e/w) 4.25 Chain Gang (double)

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