Top-class prospects only invited
Invitation Only puts his unbeaten record on the line in a strong renewal of the Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
Invitation Only: Runs at Navan on Sunday
Formerly a Grade One event before being downgraded to Grade Two status a couple of years ago, the two-and-a-half-mile contest has attracted a clutch of exciting youngster this time around.
Willie Mullins has claimed five of the last eight runnings and Invitation Only is another leading contender for the champion trainer having won a point-to-point and two bumpers before making a winning start to his hurdling career at Gowran Park three weeks ago.
While that seasonal reappearance was not as visually impressive as many were expecting, with former Mullins inmate Barra keeping him honest in the home straight, owner Graham Wylie feels Invitation Only will raise his game over this longer distance.
He said: "The horse that came second is a very good filly and bear in mind it was a two-mile race and I think he is a two-and a-half-miler, the speed he showed after the last showed how good he is.
"They knew they had a good race on their hands. Willie did train the mare that came second and knows how good she is. He was giving her quite a bit of weight, but it was the turn of foot after the last that impressed Ruby (Walsh)."
Like Mullins, Wylie has enjoyed previous success in this race, with Boston Bob (2011), Briar Hill (2013) and Bellshill (2015) all previous winners for him and his wife Andrea.
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Invitation Only is a best priced 8-1 favourite to claim Cheltenham Festival gold in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle next March.
"The Neptune would be his race, or possibly the Albert Bartlett," Wylie told At The Races.
Gordon Elliott, who claimed this prize with the ill-fated No More Heroes two years ago, fires three bullets at this year's renewal.
Death Duty sets the standard, having followed up his successful hurdling debut at Roscommon with victory in the Grade Three Monksfield Novice Hurdle over this course and distance.
Labaik won his first two starts over obstacles before refusing to race in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, while Baltazar D'Allier made a big impression on his debut under Rules at Naas.
Elliott said: "Death Duty seems in good form and we've been happy with him since the last day.
"It's a good race, but he's a good horse and we're looking forward to running him.
"Labaik didn't jump off last time, but he'd been good before that and we'll take a chance and see what happens.
"Baltazar D'Allier is a nice horse and we're looking forward to running him as well."
Death Duty's owners Gigginstown House Stud have a second representative in the Mouse Morris-trained Wishmoor, Henry de Bromhead saddles Punchestown scorer Monalee and Moulin A Vent from Noel Meade's stable, also a winner at Punchestown, completes the line-up.
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