Timeform preview the Thyestes Handicap Chase that takes place at Gowran on Thursday and pick out their best bet.
"...it would be no surprise to see him run a big race having been dropped a further 1 lb by the handicapper."
Timeform on Dounikos
The form of Willie Mullins' yard has been quite hotly debated over the last month or so, and while there have been more positive signs of late, the Mullins family has been quite honest in its assessment that most from the yard have needed the run. As a result, the returning trio of Up For Review, who is yet to race over this far over fences, Irish Grand National runner-up Isleofhopendreams, and Bellow Mome, who is yet to prove he stays this trip, are all somewhat reluctantly crossed off the shortlist.
Of more interest then - and the mount of Ruby Walsh - is Invitation Only. He is worth another try at this trip (still upsides when hampered and unseated two out in Champion Novices' Chase won by The Storyteller at Punchestown on final outing in 2017/18), and should come on plenty for his reappearance at Tramore on New Year's Day. An official handicap of 152 looks within his grasp, and it's no surprise that he heads the betting. He's the one to beat, but is priced accordingly.
David Mullins gave Pleasant Company a brilliant ride when the pair found only Tiger Roll too strong in the Grand National last April, but Pleasant Company is 6 lb higher here, and while he should improve on his return over hurdles at Leopardstown last month, this may not be enough of a test of stamina. Of more interest is Pairofbrowneyes, who won impressively from 10 lb lower here last March, though his best form has come on softer ground. Jockey bookings suggest that there are some concerns about last time out Punchestown winner Some Neck from a handicapping point of view, but his prominent position in the betting suggests that another bold performance should be forthcoming.
Title rival Gordon Elliott's charge appears to be led by last year's winner Monbeg Notorious, though his regular pilot Jack Kennedy seemingly prefers General Principle. Monbeg Notorious was on a real roll when winning this race from 15 lb lower last season, and he ended the season with a career-best effort when second to The Storyteller in that incident-laden Champion Novices' Chase at Punchestown. This is a tough reappearance, but he's not one to take lightly. General Principle stepped up on his reappearance when 16 lengths ninth to Auvergnat in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown last time, and last year's Irish Grand National winner is respected; he's now only 4 lb higher than for his big-race win at Fairyhouse.
Several of these also ran in that Leopardstown contest, including Polidam, Pairofbrowneyes, Borice, Woods Well (second reserve here) and Dounikos, with the last-named faring best in seventh. After seriously coming off the rails after a good start to last season, when his wins included a Grade 2 at Limerick, Dounikos starting to get his career back on track, and wasn't far off his best (when fourth in the 2018 Flogas Novices' Chase) last month. Ridden by Sean Flanagan for the first time (amateur-ridden the last twice), it would be no surprise to see him run a big race having been dropped a further 1 lb by the handicapper. He acts on any ground, is still only eight, and looks worth supporting each-way. Of the others who ran at Leopardstown, it would be no surprise to see a better showing from Borice, who made a bad mistake on his Irish debut there; he's fitted with a tongue-strap here.
While the focus is mainly on Mullins and Elliott, it would be foolish to underestimate the Patrick Kelly-trained Mall Dini. He's been up and down in trip like a yoyo since going over fences, and remains a maiden in this sphere, but his best efforts have come when tackling this sort of trip (half-length second to Missed Approach in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival), and this strong traveller is tailor-made for this sort of big-field event. Whether you'd trust him to go past late on is perhaps another question.
Others to consider include Mr Diablo, who has a strong chance on ratings if reproducing his career-best second to Tout Est Permis in the Troytown in November. That form has worked out very well, with the unexposed five-year-old winner subsequently winning a Thurles Grade 2 last weekend, and the step back up in trip here should suit Mr Diablo. Third reserve Nick Lost would also be worth a second glance at the foot of the weights if getting a run; he is rated better than when outclassed in the Topaz at Leopardstown last month. Top-weight Alpha des Obeaux hasn't been with his new yard long, but his Clonmel Oil Chase effort in November is very much a standout performance to date. He needs to bounce back in first-time blinkers after a listless run at Tramore last time.
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Back Dounikos each-way in Thursday’s Thyestes Handicap Chase at Gowran