Keri Brion expects to have a clearer idea of French Light’s potential ambitions after running in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
The six-year-old is one of a handful of horses currently based in Ireland with the former assistant to US Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard – and made a promising Irish debut when finishing second at Clonmel last month.
Having missed an intended appearance in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, French Light instead tests the water at Listed level this weekend.
Brion said: “He had a little cough before Leopardstown. It was nothing too serious, but he needed to be 120 per cent to go up against those horses, so we decided to wait for this weekend.
“Quite a few of the horses in the race on Sunday are probably future graded horses, but we think highly of ours and he’s come on a lot from his run at Clonmel, so we’re looking forward to it really.
“The ground is going to be soft or soft to heavy, but I don’t think is going to be any worse than it was at Clonmel and I like the fact we’re coming back from almost two and a half to two miles.
“This run will tell us where we’re going next, for sure. I know there’s only six runners, but there’s some good horses up against us, so this will give us a pretty good gauge as to where we’re at.”
French Light’s five rivals include the Willie Mullins-trained Power Of Pause, who has already won over the course and distance and was last seen finishing third in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.
Noel Meade saddles recent Navan scorer Thedevilscoachman, while Joseph O’Brien is represented by Fire Attack and the long-absent Uhtred, who has not been seen in competitive action since landing a Listed bumper at Navan in December 2019.
“Fire Attack made a really promising hurdling debut when second in a Grade Three novice at Navan in November, but hasn’t built on that in two starts since,” O’Brien told Betfair.
“He isn’t the easiest of rides as he can get quite strong in his races, but he has the ability to be competitive in this sort of company if headgear (hood) can convince him to race more efficiently.
“Uhtred is a promising horse that has won both his starts in bumpers and made a promising hurdling debut in between those two wins last season.
“We had a small setback with him earlier this season which held us up, but he is a good shape now and ready to run. This is a tough enough ask for his seasonal reappearance, but we’ll be hoping that he can show plenty of promise.”
Harry Kelly’s rank outsider Confusionanddelay completes the line-up.
The most valuable race on the card is the 80,000 euro Punchestown Grand National Trial, in which Gordon Elliott could saddle six runners.
The Cullentra handler has declared top-weight Alpha Des Obeaux, as well as 2019 winner Dounikos, Roaring Bull, Monbeg Notorious, Out Sam and second reserve General Principle.
Elliott said: “Alpha Des Obeaux hasn’t been at his best this season and could never get involved in the Thyestes last time. It would be hard to have confidence in him, but at home he is showing that he still retains plenty of ability, so it wouldn’t shock me if he were to bounce back to form.
“Dounikos won this race two years ago and has done very little of note since then. He has dropped back to a rating which would give him a chance, though.
“Roaring Bull isn’t the easiest to predict, but he was second in the Troytown this season and he also ran much better than his final position in the Paddy Power Chase would suggest. I could see him running a big race here.
“Monbeg Notorious should find this race right up his street and this could just suit him better than the two he has contested so far this season. He is another horse who is starting to look reasonably handicapped.
“Out Sam could run well. On his four starts this season I think he has shown that he can win again and the twice he has fallen he looked like he was going to run well both times.”
O’Brien has a trio of hopefuls in Smoking Gun, Thermistocles and High Sparrow, while Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog and Midnight Maestro from Enda Bolger’s yard are among the market principals.