Bobs Worth set to ensure vintage Lexus
If the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Bobs Worth pleases in a piece of serious work in Lambourn this weekend, the Lexus Chase could yet challenge the Ryanair Hurdle's status as the most eagerly anticipated race of Leopardstown's Christmas Festival.
Nicky Henderson's usually reliable eight-year-old completely misfired on his reappearance behind Cue Card at Haydock last month. It was the first time in 13 starts that he finished outside of the first three, but Malcolm Kimmins, head of the Not Afraid Syndicate, confirmed that he expects their star chaser to attempt to get his campaign back on track in the three-mile Grade One on Saturday week.
"I think he will do a piece of work at the weekend and we'll take it from there, but at the moment it's looking like he'll be running," Kimmins said yesterday of Bobs Worth (right).
If Henderson does elect to run Barry Geraghty's mount, festive racegoers at the Foxrock venue could be in for a real treat, with Sir Des Champs, his closest pursuer in the Gold Cup last March, also an intended starter for the unstoppable Willie Mullins.
Although Arvika Ligeonniere, which capitalised on Sir Des Champs' crashing early fall to dance home in the John Durkan Chase, is instead set to drop back to two miles for the Dial-A-Bet Chase on the 27th, the champion trainer can also choose from Prince De Beauchene, Rubi Ball and Boston Bob.
A faller two out when still in contention in the RSA Chase in March, Boston Bob could yet be saved for a hurdling campaign, but Mullins is understood to have not fully ruled out the prospect of a return in the Lexus.
Jim Culloty's RSA hero Lord Windermere will strip fitter for his eighth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, while First Lieutenant and Benefficient are two more high-class operators that could turn out. Paul Nicholls' Hennessy runner-up Rocky Creek and his impressive recent Aintree scorer Unioniste are also pencilled in to play a part in what is shaping up to be a vintage edition of the €150,000 showpiece.
Annie Power and Solwhit could well go toe to toe in the woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle the same day, while Mullins' brilliant dual Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly is set for an epic showdown with runaway Triumph Hurdle victor Our Conor and Hatton's Grace winner Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle 24 hours later. If the weekend fare has all the blockbuster appeal, days one and two aren't half bad, either.
On St Stephen's Day, seven entries for the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle include Mullins' ante-post 2014 Triumph Hurdle favourite Analifet, with his superlative dual Cheltenham Festival-winning Champagne Fever among nine in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase. Stablemate Felix Yonger has the option of that two-miler or the Greenmount Park Novice Chase at Limerick the same day, a Grade Two event that Sir Des Champs landed in 2011 en route to Jewson Chase success the following March.
Defy Logic, Don Cossack and Road To Riches are other heavyweight novices that feature among the entries for both races, with the three-furlong longer trip at the Munster venue possibly more suitable for the latter duo.
Charles Byrnes also has the rejuvenated Arnaud in the Greenmount, though he stressed yesterday that the Gigginstown Stud-owned five-year-old won't run anywhere if the ground isn't good.
On the 27th, Mullins' highly regarded Moyle Park could clash with Philip Fenton's smart Royal Bond winner The Tullow Tank in Leopardstown's Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle. The Dial-A-Bet is the feature on day two, and Powers make Arvika Ligeonniere their 6/4 favourite to see off Sizing Europe (5/2) and co.
Henry de Bromhead's evergreen former champion will turn 12 on new year's day, but the Waterford handler is adamant that there is plenty life in him yet. "He's in some form," de Bromhead revealed of his stable star.
"You just wouldn't believe he was 11 when you saw him at home -- he's like a two-year-old. I'm looking forward to taking on some of these younger guys and seeing how the pensioner gets on against them."