Unbeaten record on the line in Grade 1 Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle, Sunday
In a quest to record his first ever victory in the Grade 1 Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle (1.50), Gordon Elliott sends the Gigginstown House Stud-owned duo of Death Duty and Blood Crazed Tiger into battle for the Naas showpiece on Sunday. Gigginstown will also be represented by the Noel Meade-trained Bel Ami De Sivola.
Elliott seldom heaps praise on his inmates, and usually lets his horses do the talking on the track, but there was no doubting the high regard in which the Cullentra House maestro holds Death Duty when he described the Shantou gelding as the "best novice hurdler I have" earlier in the week.
Eddie O'Leary, Gigginstown's racing manager, said:
“Death Duty is more next year's horse as we always felt that he was a chaser. He stays well, and with the speed he has shown over his hurdles so far, he will also have the option of the Neptune Novices' Hurdle as well as the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham. Hopefully, with any luck at all, he will prove to be the best of ours but Willie [Mullins] has a great record in this race as well and he will be a tough nut to crack.”
He added: “Blood Crazed Tiger and Bel Ami De Sivola should also run well. However, Death Duty has looked a class above so far and we hope he can improve again on Sunday at Naas.”
Willie Mullins fires two bullets at the €90,000 prize with Ruby Walsh opting to ride Augusta Kate over recent Punchestown maiden hurdle winner Turcagua. Augusta Kate, who is owned by a star-studded syndicate that includes Alan Shearer, Ant and Dec and Lee Westwood, will be bidding to provide Mullins and Walsh with back-to-back successes in the race following on from the triumph of Bellshill 12 months ago.
Other noteworthy winners among the roll of honour for the pair include Mikael D'Haguenet, who won this race in 2009 before going on to land Grade 1 novice hurdle wins at the Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals later that season.
Mullins and Walsh look like the go-to men again in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Novice Chase (1.20) as American Tom bids to follow up on a recent success at Punchestown. A win in the two mile chase would strengthen his claims for the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, for which he is a best priced 10-1 shot at present.
Gigginstown are represented by both Stone Hard and Road To Respect in the race, and Eddie O'Leary said: “Road To Respect would be suited by heavier ground and he will like the big galloping track. He has won around Naas before. Meanwhile, Stone Hard is classy on his day, but he has some problems.”
The first fixture of 2017 at Naas gets underway at 12.50pm with the I.N.H European Breeders Fund Maiden Hurdle and the going at Naas is currently soft.