There is a bumper calendar of racing to enjoy over the festive period, and Joseph Smyth runs the rule over the main horses to follow in Ireland...
The most anticipated race in Ireland over the Christmas period is certainly the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase, were we are likely to see the established and honest Sizing John take on the quirky but exciting Yorkhill.
Sizing John looks the obvious selection given he is the reigning Gold Cup Champion, is proven over the trip and looked better than ever when cruising to victory in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown recently. On the other hand, Yorkhill has looked something special.
Putting his eccentricity to one side, he is a class act and I for one can’t wait to see him tackle the three mile trip for the first time on the racetrack. If the head ruled, Sizing John would be the bet but my heart is firmly in the corner of the freak who resides in Carlow.
We have some fantastic racing in Ireland to look forward to in the coming days, so here is a few that I think may be worth a bet or at least to keep in view with the remainder of the season in mind.
Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)
SUPASUNDAE proved that a mark of 148 was too lenient, when running out a two-length winner of the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Trained by Jessica Harrington, the seven-year-old followed that with a brilliant effort beaten just a length by Yanworth in the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle at Aintree, the three-mile trip looking a positive for the son of Galileo on that occasion.
Following a break of 239 days, there was plenty to like about his reappearance earlier this month in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Tight for room at a crucial stage, he did notably well to finish a staying on third. The step back up to the three-mile trip is sure to be in his favour, with a better surface also set to be more suitable.
The Gordon Elliot-trained Apples Jade looks the obvious target again receiving the seven-pound weight allowance but with that run under his belt, Supasundae looks sure to progress.
Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1)
AVENIR D’UNE VIE looks set to line up in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. Already that field looks thin. Willie Mullins has Arkle favourite Footpad entered who arguably put in one of the most accomplished displays by a novice chaser this year, when easily accounting for Brelade at Navan last month. On ratings hurdles ratings, Footpad is the one they all have to beat.
I was a big admirer of the Mullins recruit over the smaller obstacles but always got the impression that he was a never a true two-mile horse. He looks an improved sort over fences from what we have seen and should take this but if he is to falter, Avenir D’une Vie could be the one to capitalise.
Trained by Henry De Bromhead, the grey first took the eye when running out a 14-length winner of a bumper at Naas in February of last year. Two decent runs in Grade 1 bumpers at the festivals followed, however having won his maiden hurdle first time out, that was as good as it got over hurdles for the seven-year-old. A setback delayed his chasing career and there wasn’t much to get excited about when beaten 53-lengths first time out in November.
His latest appearance was a step back in the right direction, when he easily accounted for the Willie Mullins-trained Saturnas who had achieved a rating of 146 over hurdles. His trainer has always felt that he has been up to this level and under his now preferred front running tactics, hopefully he can give the red-hot favourite a race.
Paddy Power Chase (Grade B)
This looks one of the most competitive races to be run at Leopardstown over Christmas. As expected with a race of this nature, most don’t look particularly well handicapped. POLIDAM looks the standout in the field and his skinny odds reflect that. Having had just the two starts since moving to Willie Mullins, he looked an exciting prospect when running out a nine-length winner from Acapella Bourgeois at Navan earlier this month.
He has been raised nine pound for that effort but he should contain plenty of improvement and the step up in trip looks sure to suit. He is the one they all have to beat.
Of the remainder SUTTON MANOR is an interesting one for Gordon Elliott. Only a six-year-old, he looked well capable over hurdle off a similar mark which he is now rated over fences. He has already shown a fair level of form in his three starts over fences and the step up to the three-mile trip will be in his favour.
To date just two of this seasons autumn four-year-old Irish point-to-point maiden winners have appeared on the racecourse, that being Loughanmore winner Blue Flight who finished a good second in a bumper at Chepstow earlier this month and Tinahely winner Rocco who finished sixth at Ludlow.
WHISPERINTHEBREEZE is another set to embark on his racecourse career, with connections pinpointing a bumper at Leopardstown as the starting point for their exciting recruit. Now trained by Jessica Harrington, he was an impressive winner of his only start, winning a four-year-old point-to-point maiden at Tinahely in late October.
Recording by far the fastest time at the track on the day, some 21 seconds quicker than the average, the Kayf Tara gelding looked a horse with a bright future. Having travelled comfortably in midfield in the early stages, he could easily be spotted going well from three out.
Joining the long-time leader the with ease from two out and although looking green out in front in the closing stages, he won with a bit of ease, without being asked for maximum effort. Although the form of the race has been let down somewhat in recent weeks, it was the manner of victory that marked him out as one to keep an eye on.
Related to the likes of O’Faolains Boy and Oscara Dara who both were bumper winners in their early days, it would be no surprise to see this lad go close first time out for his new connections.
WESTERN VICTORY made her debut in a point-to-point last March where she finished third in what was a strong looking maiden. Earlier this month she made her reappearance at Borris House for handler Colin Bowe and showed good improvement to win by 10-lengths. The race was run on very testing conditions and she produced a time three seconds quicker than division two of this maiden. Having travelled well from the front, she jumped really well to put her rivals under pressure after three-out.
A half sister to Grade 1 winner Tell Us More, she won going away with some ease. Entered in a mares flat race at Limerick on the 26th, she looks a nice type and should go close.
A couple for the handicaps
Trained by Charles Byrnes, OFF YOU GO caught the eye on his only start in a handicap, when finishing third behind Broder at Thurles last month. Having never really landed a blow in a trio of maiden hurdles, the four-year-old showed that he was well capable of winning off his initial rating of 105. Raised just two-pound for that opening handicap effort, he can play a leading role if taking up his engagements at either Leopardstown or Limerick on the 29th.
GOLDEN JEWEL was another who impressed on handicap debut, when he ran out a one and half-length winner at Fairyhouse earlier this month. Trained by Edward Cawley, the narrow winning distance doesn’t do his performance justice. Having travelled noticeably well throughout, his inexperience showed when he hit the front. He has been raised nine pound for that victory but there should be plenty of improvement to come, with the prospect of stepping up in trip also likely to suit. He has entries at both Leopardstown on the 26th and Limerick on the 28th.
The Thomas Gibney-trained AGENT BORU has a host of entries over the Christmas period. The one that looks the most likely and would interest me the most is his engagement in the handicap hurdle at Leopardstown on the 29th over 2m 4f. The gelding has had nine starts on the track but his latest effort was a step in the right direction.
A staying on fifth behind Davids Charm at Faiyrhouse earlier this month suggested that the step up in trip will really be in his favour. Just three pound higher for that effort, there looks to be a race or two to be won with this son of Brian Boru.
We are set to be treated to some top class action over the coming days. Enjoy lads.