The Kerry National (16:25) is one of the first big handicap chases of the season in Ireland, a valuable event which is worth €118,000 to the winner, and the last two renewals have been won by Joseph O'Brien.
His sole representative this year is A Wave of The Sea (165), who hasn't won for a year and a half and was largely in and out last season, but he ran creditably when hitting the frame behind Ash Tree Meadow (166) back over fences in the Galway Plate last month. He finished sixth in this race 12 months ago from a 6 lb higher mark and, while he will need a career-best effort to win, he shouldn't be underestimated given he hails from a yard with a good recent record in this race and are in form - highlighted by the Hot Trainer Flag.
Ash Tree Meadow is trained by Gordon Elliott and he holds a strong hand with seven runners in total. The pick of those and the one who tops Timeform weight-adjusted ratings is Salvador Ziggy (169p), who has won all three of his starts since switching to fences in June. He proved much too good for the reopposing Toss Again (163) in a match at Killarney last month, taking over between three and two out and readily stretching clear.
Salvador Ziggy is 10 lb worse off at the weights with that rival now making his handicap debut, and he needs to prove he is as effective in a bigger, more competitive field, but there is no doubt he arrives with plenty of potential - he still has a 'p' attached to his rating, denoting his is open to further improvement, and has the Horse In Focus Flag - and he is a horse to keep on the right side.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Ain't That A Shame (168) seems sure to pose a serious threat, however. He ran several good races before deservedly opening his account over fences in a maiden hurdle at Gowran in March, making the most of a good opportunity but also showing he had the pace to win over two and a half miles.
He was well supported in the Grand National at Aintree on his final start, but he didn't settle properly and was a blatant non-stayer. The return to three miles is a good move and he remains relatively unexposed as a staying handicap chaser, sure to have more races in him from this sort of mark.
Willie Mullins has won this race three times before and his runners always need respecting. Of his two in this year's renewal it is Authorized Art (165) who seemingly has the best chance.
He made a good start over fences last season, completing a hat-trick in a Grade 3 novice at Tipperary and ran his best race since when runner-up to Ash Tree Meadow in the Galway Plate last month. Authorized Art appeared to be well suited by the refitting of cheekpieces on that occasion and a 5 lb pull in the weights with Ash Tree Meadow may be enough for him to reverse the form, while Paul Townend returning to the saddle is a big plus, highlighted by the Jockey Uplift Flag.
Ciel de Neige (167) hasn't got the best record in big-field handicaps, finishing unplaced on all four attempts, but he has shaped better than the bare result on more than one occasion and it wouldn't be a surprise if he popped up in one at some stage. He was another to run in the Galway Plate last time, but was hampered at the start, and was given far too much to do. He is now down to a career-low mark and is well worth a try at three miles. Not discounted.
Another to consider is Stealthy Tom (163), who arrives in the form of his life, having won five of his last seven starts, and has finished runner-up in the other two. He produced another career-best effort when winning a two and a half mile handicap by 10 lengths, cruising clear in the closing stages. Admittedly, that wasn't the strongest listed handicap, but it was hard not to be impressed by the manner of his victory and he will have no problem moving back up to three miles.
Timeform Analyst's Verdict:
Salvador Ziggy has looked a terrific prospect in winning his 3 starts to date over fences and there's every chance he can prove himself to be ahead of a mark of 150. He's a confident choice but the likes of Ain't That A Shame and Authorized Art should ensure that it's not all plain sailing for the selection.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
169p Salvador Ziggy
168 Ain't That A Shame
167 Ciel de Neige
167 The Goffer
166 Ash Tree Meadow
165 Authorized Art
165 A Wave of The Sea
165 Gabbys Cross
165 Life In The Park
164+ Desertmore House
164 Chemical Energy
164 Real Steel
163 Captain Cattistock
163 Stealthy Tom
163 Toss Again
162 Born By The Sea
162 Hurricane George
162x Foxy Jacks
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