Lawlor’s Hotel: Horse by horse

We've got a horse by horse guide to Sunday's Grade One Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas – Sky Bet's 'Money Back' race.

Gordon Elliott's Death Duty can take top honours

It will come as no surprise to most racing fans that Willie Mullins has dominated this two and a half mile Grade One contest in recent years, winning the last three renewals and six of the last 12.

Some of the Closutton handler's leading novices have taken in this race en route to the spring festivals with Briar Hill, Mikael D'Haguenet and Bellshill all on the roll of honour. The mare Augusta Kate attempts to join them.

Noel Meade has won the race twice, including with the smart Monksland, and he is represented by Bel Ami De Sivola who is one of three runners carrying the distinctive Gigginstown House Stud silks.

The powerful owners have won the race twice recently; in 2015 with McKinley – trained by Mullins before their split earlier this season – and in 2013 with their subsequent Grand National hero Rule The World.

Here we run the rule over this year's candidates.

Bel Ami De Sivola

Trained by Noel Meade, he made a respectable debut finishing sixth in a hot Fairyhouse bumper in which Death Duty was third although both were with different yards at the time. He has improved with experience for his current stable but was thought to have benefited from the 'better' ground when successful in the autumn which raises question marks about how effective he will be under these testing conditions. Plenty to find.

Blood Crazed Tiger

Has shown improved form since being fitted with a hood and has gone from strength to strength since being sent hurdling, completing a four-timer (three over hurdles) with his last two coming over three miles at Cork. Down in trip and up in grade but neither should pose a problem to this tough individual although it would have been more encouraging if his firm had been working out better than is actually the case.

Death Duty

The third of the Gigginstown runners and their clear number one. Two defeats in seven career starts have both come in Fairyhouse bumpers, latterly to Blow By Blow who went on to win the Grade One bumper at the Punchestown Festival where he beat Moon Racer. Produced a career best when winning a Grade Two at Navan in stylish fashion last time, earning leading quotes for the Cheltenham Festival in the process, to mark himself down as a high-class performer.

Turcagua

One of two representatives for Willie Mullins but overlooked by Ruby Walsh. Thought good enough to contest the Cheltenham Festival bumper last season (sent off 33/1, finished 15th) but has subsequently being beaten by a couple of horses who have been put in their place by Death Duty this season suggesting that he faces a tough task to be competitive here for all that he ran out an impressive winner last time and is open to progress.

Stand Up And Fight

Built on the promise of his debut to win his maiden over this trip at Punchestown but was then stepped up to Grade Three company, finishing over eight lengths behind Death Duty. Entitled to benefit from that experience so could conceivably fare better this time around but hard to see how he can reverse the form on that evidence.

Augusta Kate

Jockey bookings suggest this mare is the Mullins' first string and she has the form in bumpers to back that up. Only fifth when sent off as favourite for the Cheltenham Festival bumper and again returned a beaten favourite at the Aintree Grand National meeting when bumping into a smart performer of Nicky Henderson's. Took to hurdling perfectly well at Thurles but that was a relatively weak mares maiden hurdle and this is a completely different ball game. No doubt she deserves her place in the line-up but will take an exceptional performance to lower the favourite's colours.

Conclusion

As the market suggests, it's very hard to get away from hot favourite Death Duty who is already among the leading fancies for the novice races at the Cheltenham Festival. It's equally clear that Augusta Kate is the likeliest threat to the market leader as the two leading trainers in Ireland go head to head once again with Gordon Elliott and Death Duty taken to come out on top. The possibility of a one-two for Elliott is no forlorn fancy and Blood Crazed Tiger can pose a bigger threat than Turcagua.

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