Invitation Only puts his unbeaten record on the line at Navan
Invitation Only: winner on his hurdles debut at Gowran Park
PICTURE: Patrick McCann Invitation Only bids to extend unbeaten record
By David Jennings 8:48AM 18 DEC 2016
Preview: Navan, Sunday
Navan Novice Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m4f, 4yo+
DESPITE losing its Grade 1 status in 2014, this remains a mouthwatering affair and Willie Mullins has certainly not been disillusioned by the demotion as he puts his faith in the unbeaten Invitation Only, who is favourite for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at no bigger than 8-1 and as short as 5-1 in places.
The Irish champion trainer has a remarkable record in the race and Invitation Only is bidding to follow in some hallowed hoofprints.
Mikael D'Haguenet won it in 2008, while Boston Bob (2011), Pont Alexandre (2012), Briar Hill (2013) and Bellshill (2015) have ensured this has been a near-monopoly for Mullins in recent years. Only the Gordon Elliott-trained No More Heroes was able to halt his dominance when seeing off Shaneshill in 2014.
Invitation Only is unbeaten, unexposed and could be unbelievable. He won a four-year-old maiden point at Ballynoe by seven lengths, landed a bumper at this venue by the same margin on his debut under rules and followed up with victory at the Punchestown festival that was more impressive than the winning margin of a length and a quarter suggests.
We did not get to see a whole lot of him on his hurdling debut at Gowran Park last month due to the dense fog but he emerged out of it with a cosy success over Barra. It was more workmanlike than spectacular but the step up from 2m to 2m4f looks sure to bring out further improvement.
Mullins said: "He should appreciate the extra half-mile and, while he's stepping up in grade in what looks a very competitive race, we're hoping for a big run. He was inclined to jump to the left at Gowran so, hopefully, going left-handed will suit him better."
Invitation Only faces a stern examination with the exciting Death Duty spearheading a three-pronged attack from the Gordon Elliott stable.
Since finishing third on his bumper debut, Death Duty's only defeat in five starts came at the hands of subsequent Grade 1 winner Blow By Blow at Fairyhouse. His two victories over hurdles have been flawless, most recently in a Grade 3 over this course and distance where he slammed some quality rivals by seven and a half lengths.
Trainer Gordon Elliott, who also saddles Baltazar D'Allier and Labaik, said: "Death Duty has been very good this season. You'd have to like the way he got the job done last time and he hasn't missed a beat since. I'm looking forward to seeing how he copes with this step up in grade but we couldn't be happier with him."
The seven-strong field is completed by Monalee, who was successful in one of the hottest maiden hurdles of the season at Punchestown last time, Moulin A Vent and Wishmoor.