Trainer Paul Nolan hopes that Cuan Na Grai can gain another big handicap victory in the 100,000 Grade Three Greatwood Hurdle (2.20pm), run over an extended two miles on the third and final day of The Open at Cheltenham, Sunday, November 16.
The lightly-raced six-year-old gained the biggest success of his career in the 2006 Galway Hurdle, where he made all of the running on his handicap debut to defeat Shandon Star by four lengths.
He went on to finish sixth in the Grade Two Anglo Irish Private Banking Novices' Hurdle at The Open in November, 2006, but an injury sustained during the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in April, 2007, kept the Erins Isle gelding off the racecourse for 16 months.
After warming up with a good second on the Flat in a Killarney maiden at the end of August this year, Cuan Na Grai is reported to be in rude health following a pleasing fourth on heavy ground in the Grade Two Tipperary Hurdle on October 5.
Co Wexford-based Nolan, who won the Greatwood Hurdle with Accordion Etoile in 2004, commented: "Cuan Na Grai has been entered in the Greatwood Hurdle and I hope that he will take his chance in the race. Hes also been entered in the Morgiana Hurdle on the same day, but I wouldnt want to run him on ground any worse than soft and I think we would get the better ground at Cheltenham.
"Hes a good horse. He was unlucky because he got injured in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown and he was off the track for a spell. He ran very well on the Flat on his first start for over a year and then ran a great race on soft ground at Tipperary.
"He won his maiden and novice races well. I was concerned before the Galway Hurdle that the handicapper had clobbered him, but he just kept improving. He won there on fast going and hes a better horse on faster ground, but we are hoping that he would be able to cope with a little bit of cut.
"When he ran at The Open two years ago, my horses werent really firing and I had a very lean time from November through to February. There was a bit of a virus going round my yard so I scratched that run.
"We did consider going for the Greatwood at that time but he was only a novice and it wouldnt have been easy with a novice. We would be hopeful that he would be a Greatwood horse this year with a bit more experience under his belt."
As well as Cuan Na Grai, Nolan could also be represented in the Greatwood Hurdle by Mudslinger. The Gigginstown Stud-owned gelding has been performing consistently well in handicap hurdles throughout the early part of the season, gamely winning a competitive contest at Bellewstown in August and finishing a quarter-length second under top-weight on his latest start at Gowran Park on October 4.
Nolan continued: "Mudslinger is another possible for the Greatwood Hurdle, but he would be at the other end of the scale in terms of weight. He wouldnt be that far ahead of the handicapper and is a more exposed horse.
"Hes shown a decent level of form in handicap hurdles and he seems to be more consistent than last season. I thought he would have won last time out but he make a mistake at the last. His performances this year suggest that he has improved and I would be interested to see what weight he is allotted in the Greatwood Hurdle.
"If he can get in off a nice light weight then he would certainly be a contender for the race. Hes another horse who is better on faster ground and, although hes got few secrets from the handicapper, I think hes got the quality to run a good race at Cheltenham."