Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) | 2m4f | 5yo+ | RTV
Bravemansgame marked himself out as the leading Ballymore Novices' Hurdle contender with his taking Challow Novices' Hurdle success last month, but there could be a shake-up in the Cheltenham picture after this Grade 1 clash, with the highly regarded Bob Olinger out to cement his credentials as a top-notch performer.
His ten-length bumper romp on his debut for Henry de Bromhead at Gowran Park in March backed up the excellent impression he created when landing a point-to-point by 15 lengths the previous November and his hurdles career has got off to a bright start this term.
Racing over what was likely an inadequate 2m, he kept Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow honest for much of the journey in a maiden hurdle at Gowran Park, only beaten a length, before taking advantage of a good opportunity to strike as 1-8 favourite at Navan last month.
This Grade 1, won 12 months ago by brilliant Ballymore ace Envoi Allen, clearly provides a much tougher test for the Robcour-owned six-year-old, but he's given every indication that he belongs in this company.
The 10-1 about him for the 2m5f novice at the Cheltenham Festival could be a lot shorter after this.
Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have been the dominant forces in this race over the past 15 years - the champion trainer has claimed it a record seven times while the Cullentra House operator will bid for his fourth win in the past five runnings.
Blue Lord, an impressive winner at Punchestown in November, is Mullins' sole candidate and could prove the biggest danger to Bob Olinger, appearing open to improvement as he gains more experience.
Elliott takes a two-pronged approach, but both need to up their game.
Wide Receiver, a six-year-old going the right way after winning at Leopardstown over Christmas, is the mount of Jack Kennedy, while Mark Walsh is booked for Ragnar Lodbrok, who is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time as connections aim to sharpen up his jumping.
The Jessica Harrington-trained duo of Ashdale Bob, a strong-staying Grade 2 winner at Navan last time, and Crosshill, who will relish returning to this longer trip than the two miles he somewhat disappointed over last time, are also worthy of strong consideration.
Gavin Cromwell sends out potential Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle type Gabynako, bidding to improve from his third last time behind Ashdale Bob.
Toofarback (2006) and Monksland (2012) have previously landed this quality affair for trainer Noel Meade and Flanking Maneuver, on the mark at Fairyhouse recently, attempts to join that roll of honour, and needs to find improvement, but is clearly going the right way.
What they say
Jessica Harrington, trainer of Ashdale Bob and Crosshill
Ashdale Bob is in great form. He has probably surprised me a bit this season but I always thought he was a very nice horse last year. He is just a bit stronger this year and is finishing out his races very well. Crosshill will definitely appreciate stepping back up to this trip. Hopefully they will go a nice gallop and he settles. The two of them need to settle.
Willie Mullins, trainer of Blue Lord
I'm very happy with Blue Lord. It's a race that's been lucky for us in the past and I don't think our fellow will mind stepping up in trip following his Punchestown win over two miles last time. He's pleased me at home since that run.
Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Bob Olinger
This is a big step for him, so we'll see how he gets on. He seems in good form so we will see where we are.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Wide Receiver and Ragnar Lodbrok
They both seem to be in good form at home. Ragnar Lodbrok has form over further so he wouldn't mind it turning into a proper test, while Wide Receiver is progressing nicely and won well at Leopardstown over Christmas. It looks a hot race, though, so they will both need to improve.