Leopardstown back on track for big races
GOOD news for the National Hunt fraternity emanated yesterday from Horse Racing Ireland -- as well as on the sponsorship front -- despite the ongoing lack of racecourse action due to this month's big freeze.
HRI announced a series of rescheduled fixtures for later this month in a bid to counteract the worst effects of the frost and snow currently blanketing our racecourses, most notably a two-day Leopardstown treat on January 23-24.
The MCR Group Handicap Hurdle meeting, which was scheduled for tomorrow, has been refixed for this day fortnight and will be televised live by RTE, along with the following afternoon's Toshiba Irish Champion Hurdle card.
Both the valuable MCR Group Handicap Hurdle and the Grade 2 Novice Chase will be reopened for entries as the Navan session originally due to be staged that afternoon has been put back to the following Wednesday.
HRI also confirmed that the card which was scheduled for Punchestown today has been switched to January 20.
Between them, the televised meetings at Leopardstown should allow some high-profile horses, such as the Willie Mullins-trained Mikael D'Haguenet and Cousin Vinny, fresh opportunities to prepare for Cheltenham.
"We are grateful to our sponsors and the Navan management for their cooperation in changing the dates. RTE have been most supportive also in ensuring live coverage on both days to bring these races to a wider sporting audience," commented Michael O'Rourke, chief executive of HRI Racecourses, who offered free admission to the Saturday programme for Navan members.
Fresh sponsorship input is also forthcoming from two significant Irish companies that operate closely with the racing and breeding industries as Connollys of Gorsebridge and Dairygold back new ventures.
The locally-based Connollys have taken over the historic Grade A Thyestes Chase mantle at Gowran Park on January 21 from Wexford's Ellen Construction through the medium of their Tenderleen brand of horse feeds.
The legendary Arkle figured on the Thyestes roll of honour back in 1964 while more recent scorers which helped maintain the race's profile were subsequent Aintree heroes Hedgehunter (2004) and Numbersixvalverde a year later.
Dairygold and Pegasus horse feed, meanwhile, have combined forces for an ongoing series of point-to-point qualifiers that will lead on to a two-and-a-half-mile bumper final on the Easter Monday card in Cork.
Today's all-weather fixtures at Kempton and Lingfield are under threat, with officials at both tracks set to stage 6.30 precautionary inspections.
Although Lingfield raced yesterday afternoon, the possibility of further frost and snow overnight has prompted clerk of the course Neil MacKenzie Ross to check again.
The meetings scheduled for Monday at Ayr and Taunton fell by the wayside earlier in the week and Tuesday's action is heading the same way, with Newcastle having made an early decision to abandon and Leicester checking at 3.30 this afternoon.
The picture is no brighter on Wednesday. Kelso is already of and Doncaster has little or no chance.