Cheltenham Festival favourite Billaway tops a total of 27 entries for Sunday’s Naas Hunter Chase, a race that for many of the leading Irish contenders, will be there final prep race ahead of the renamed St. James’s Place Festival Hunters Chase.
An impressive winner at Down Royal on his latest outing last month, Willie Mullins’ charge could once again cross paths with his Cheltenham conqueror of last year in It Came To Pass who also features among the entries.
His trainer Eugene O’Sullivan has already stated that ground conditions will play a big role in determining if the 11-year-old will run again before the Festival having been absent since finishing fourth at Fairyhouse on his return run in November.
With Enda Bolger’s recent Limerick winner Staker Wallace also among the entries, three of the first four horses home in last year’s Foxhunters could feature in the three-mile contest, with the majority of Ireland’s leading horses in the division also featuring.
Sam Curling has entered his three hunter chase regulars – Aloneamongmillions, Lite Duties and recent Clonmel winner Templebredin, whilst David Christie could be responsible for two runners as his undefeated On The Sod may well be joined by Winged Leader, the horse who had chased home Billaway at Down Royal before December.
Four of the first five horses home in that Down Royal heat are engaged at the initial five-day entry stage as this season’s dual open winner Solomn Grundy is one of two entries for Sean Doyle alongside Er Dancer, another of this season’s Hunter Chase winners, whilst Gordon Elliott could be represented by the former American National winner Jury Duty who has not been seen since chasing home Winged Leader in a Portrush open back in October.
With point-to-points currently suspended, the Naas contest could represent one of the final opportunities for trainers to get their horses qualified for the Cheltenham Festival Hunter Chase, with the BHA recently revealing that a top four finish in this race could count towards a horse meeting the qualification requirement.