Stellar cast of Christmas jumpers to light up Limerick
If evidence were needed of the relentless rise in stature of Limerick's four-day Christmas Festival, a cursory glance at the early entries would suffice.
On St Stephen's Day, Willie Mullins' 2009 Cheltenham Festival hero Mikael D'Haguenet, a three-time Grade One winner in all, is pencilled in for the featured Greenmount Park Novice Chase, in which he could be joined by Dedigout, likewise successful at the highest level for Tony Martin at Punchestown in the spring.
With other deeply promising prospects like Mount Benbulben and Lyreen Legend also engaged, the showpiece Grade Two, won last year by Mullins' chief Gold Cup fancy Sir Des Champs, promises to be a real treat once again.
The subsequent three days are no less intriguing. On Thursday, the champion trainer's leading Aintree Grand National fancy Prince De Beauchene is a notable contender.
Venture Capital, Our Vinnie and Marasonnien – another Punchestown Grade One victor – are just a few others that might turn up at the Munster venue over the course of the week.
"The quality of horse that we are attracting is fantastic," said the track's general manager Russell Ferris (pictured left).
"The ground is heavy, but trainers don't mind that, and we have had a few dry days since Tuesday, missing the worst of the rain in the east of the country. If 70pc or 80pc of the good entries that we have turn up, we will have some excellent racing."
As well as Sir Des Champs, Seabass preceded its thrilling performance to be third under Katie Walsh in the Aintree Grand National with a win in the Tim Duggan Memorial Chase on day two of the fixture last year.
In 2010, the subsequent Grade One winner Rubi Light was beaten in the same race, and Ferris stressed that attracting such smart prospects is vital.
"In a way, we are that stepping stone to bigger and better things for a lot of horses," he said. "I was talking to Ruby Walsh about this lately, and he was saying that the turf has improved so much here since we opened 11 years ago. It can take that long for ground to settle, and the support we are getting from all the top trainers now is a testament to the track.
"Hopefully, that will one day lead to us earning a Grade One race, which is very much the long-term vision. In the meantime, though, we have next week to look forward to.
"Our advance sales are up 20pc on last year and when you see the horses that are entered, you just want it to happen already. It should be a cracking week's racing."