Warrior to shine in festive search for stars
Having passed up the opportunity to steer Bog Warrior in favour of First Lieutenant in the Drinmore Chase last month, Davy Russell is reunited with Tony Martin's exciting prospect in this afternoon's Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown.
While the jockeys' championship leader had to watch from afar as Ruby Walsh eased the keen-running seven-year-old to a commanding victory at Fairyhouse, there was never any question that he wouldn't be in the box seat this time.
Still, it is a measure of the increasing strength of Russell's retainer, Gigginstown House Stud, that the rider again had the choice of two in such a good race, Gift Of Dgab being his cast-off here.
That one shouldn't cause Russell any further blushes, though Bog Warrior does face plenty of stern opposition. David Pipe travels the similarly exuberant Notus De La Tour, Noel Meade saddles Perfect Smile and Willie Mullins relies on Blackstairmountain.
By the end of play, we will certainly have a clearer idea of where the balance of power lies in the novice chasing division. The remainder of the seven-race spread doesn't offer quite the same depth of quality, but it is highly competitive fare.
Invariably, this is a card that throws up its share of stars, so it's just a matter of finding them.
12.20 Maiden Hurdle 2m 2f
Christy Roche's Touch Back was quite impressive in a bumper at Thurles last month. It may ultimately have been a weak race, but he should continue to improve.
Tirmoyle has placed form in a bumper and maiden hurdles, but flopped badly last time. The French import Marasonnien is respected on its debut for Willie Mullins.
Experienced over both hurdles and fences, the five-year-old finished second to Paul Nicholls' useful chaser Aerial when it last ran in June 2010.
Verdict: Hailing from where it does, Marasonnien gets the nod to be fit enough.
12.50 UAE Embassy
Maiden Hurdle 2m
Midnight Game hasn't been disgraced on his two previous Irish runs. He was beaten only by the subsequent graded winner Corbally Ghost first time, and then was simply outclassed when fourth in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
Bombadero shaped encouragingly for Denis Cullen when second to Monksland at Navan, so should go close again.
Theleze was odds-on when third at Limerick, but will settle better now and the form has been franked by the runner-up Sligo Publican.
Joxer is also interesting. Successful in a Punchestown bumper first time up, the son of Gold Well didn't do much wrong when splitting two elder rivals at Fairyhouse.
Verdict : This looks winnable for Midnight Game.
1.20 UAE Embassy Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle 2m
One Cool Shabra returned to winning ways at Gowran Park, but Sam Bass has his measure on previous form.
The latter has improved after being beaten at the Kilkenny venue in October, the last of his three triumphs coming in a Fairyhouse Grade Three.
The remainder of those that we are familiar with could be up against it, but there are two interesting newcomers. Pur Style is already a Listed winner over hurdles in France, so could have a big say on its first outing for Edward O'Grady, while Dermot Weld's Celebrity Sevi has been set a daunting task on its hurdling debut.
A Listed winner at Dundalk in November, he would have been the best of these on the Flat, and has form on soft ground.
He was recently purchased by JP McManus.
Verdict: Sam Bass is the form choice.
1.50 Handicap Hurdle 2m 2f
Shariyan, Sughera and Harold's Cross all bring winning form to the table.
Of that trio, Sughera may be the one to keep on side, as he is relatively unexposed.
Ferry Point also has a chance. A strong-finishing second to Bay Of Kotor on its first run since March at Fairyhouse recently, his conqueror followed up in emphatic style at Navan two days later.
Verdict: Ferry Point's reappearance promised much.
2.20 Grade One
Novice Chase 2m 1f
Notus De La Tour recorded comfortable victories on his first two chasing starts in England before coming up short behind Walkon and Zaynar at Cheltenham last time. With the latter going on to hack up in an Ascot Grade Two, that form is solid.
Bog Warrior is the pick of Tony Martin's duo.
Unbeaten in four completed runs, he arrived on the big stage in style with a 31-length Drinmore triumph three weeks ago.
A useful novice hurdler last term, Perfect Smile showed a liking for fences when hacking up on his chasing bow at Fairyhouse and it may be somewhat unwise to discount him.
Blackstairmountain, although previously frustrating, was the best of these over hurdles and did everything right when sluicing up at Gowran Park.
Verdict: A drop to two miles should hold no fears for Bog Warrior.
2.55 Irish Racing
Handicap Chase 2m 1f
From a stable that does well with its runners here, Mirador Del Conde is certainly no forlorn hope. For the first time since he finished third to The Bishop Looney at Galway in October, he has his optimum conditions of two miles in testing ground.
Jigalo is consistent, but also frustrating.
The Nina Carberry-ridden Peak Raider really caught the eye in second at Fairyhouse last time and hit form this time last year.
Donnas Palm is another to consider.
Placed in Grade Ones over hurdles, this is just his third chasing start. Successful first time up at Wexford, he was third in a graded contest last time, and is favourably treated on his best hurdles form.
Verdict: Donnas Palm should have a big say in this company.
3.30 Irish Foal
Levy Bumper 2m
Coming from Willie Mullins' yard, Champagne Fever, a bloodless winner of its only point-to-point start back in April, warrants plenty of respect.
Thomas Edison, Rear View, Gray Hession, Bright New Dawn and The Mighty Milan all have placed form.
Beaten only by the subsequent dual hurdle winner Corbally Ghost at Thurles in November, The Mighty Milan had Morning Royalty and Too Scoops, both successful in bumpers since, directly behind on that occasion.
Verdict: The Mighty Milan is deserving of the nap selection.