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Last Updated: 24/01/14 5:37pm
Minsk: Could be well handicapped
Owner Barry Connell feels Minsk could be on a lenient mark as he steps into handicap company for the first time in the fiercely competitive Leopardstown Handicap Chase on Saturday.
With a total prize fund of 100,000 euro, it is no surprise a strong field of 22 is set to go to post for the two-mile-five-furlong contest and Minsk is an intriguing contender for trainer Dessie Hughes and jockey Danny Mullins.
The 2011 Irish Cesarewitch winner was talked up as a potential star over hurdles a couple of years ago and while he failed to make it at the top level, he showed some decent form and is rated significantly lower over the larger obstacles.
He was not disgraced when third behind Djakadam here a month ago and Connell is quietly confident of a bold show.
He said: "Minsk is in good form and is progressing with every run. He could be quite well handicapped on 131, so we'll see how he runs.
"He is a novice and it's his first handicap, but I think the experience will be good for him if all goes well. We'll look towards running in the novice handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival."
Connell is also represented by the Colm Murphy-trained Glam Gerry, but concedes he is difficult to predict.
"Glam Gerry has been a bit in and out, but if he reproduced his best run in the Byrne Plate at Cheltenham two years ago, he'd have a chance," said Connell.
"He ran quite well in this race last year to finish fifth, so fingers crossed he runs well again, but Danny (Mullins) rides Minsk and he is the number one hope."
Cairdin has run well to fill the runner-up spot on his last two starts and trainer Mags Mullins feels he is capable of being involved in the finish.
She said: "Fingers crossed hopefully he'll run well, although these handicaps are a bit of a lottery. Adrian Heskin came over to sit on him last weekend and said 'God, he feels good'. He jumped one fence just to get to know him.
"He's always run well at Leopardstown, and ran well there at Christmas. It's a little bit further this time, its two miles and five (furlongs) and usually he runs over two miles or two and a quarter.
"But he's bred to be a three-miler, and I always thought that was the distance he'd want. I'd be hopeful he'll get the trip and I'm happy with him."
Paul Nolan saddles last year's runner up Sweeney Tunes and King Vuvuzela, who beat Cairdin at the track last month.
Nolan said: "Sweeney Tunes ran a cracker in this race last year and in the Irish National and again ran really well in the Paddy Power at Leopardstown over Christmas. I think just dropping back a little in trip might help him.
"He's in good nick since his last run but he seems to be in the grip of the handicapper.
"King Vuvuzela had a good win at Leopardstown the last day but the handicapper didn't miss him either and he's gone up 10lb. He's gone up 24lb for two wins but he has a lovely weight and should run well.
"He might be coming to the end of his tether but hopefully he'll still be competitive."
Daring Article won successive races at Punchestown for Robert Tyner before falling in the Paddy Power Chase.
Tyner said: "I got a couple of good schools into him since he fell in the Paddy Power. He doesn't seem any the worse of his fall and is going well. It was uncharacteristic of him to fall but anything can happen in these big-field handicaps.
"I didn't enter him in the Thyestes as the ground was always going to be too testing but it should be fine at Leopardstown as it never seems to get too bad around there."
Handicap king Tony Martin is represented by bottom weight Living Next Door as well as Undertheboardwalk.
"Living Next Door ran a blinder in the Troytown and then things just didn't go his way over hurdles at Leopardstown, so we're hoping that he'll give a good account of himself," said Martin.
"Undertheboardwalk ran well in the Paddy Power at Christmas. He earned some money there and hopefully if he does that again he'll have given a good account of himself."