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christmas calling

Next week is the highlight of the racing calendar for many with so much racing to look forward to across Ireland and England but tomorrow will prove to be a nice early start to the Christmas racing period with a potential star of the season lining up at Fairyhouse and a wide open competitive handicap hurdle to test any punter.

The Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux would be good enough to grace any Grade One novice chase this season but after failing to complete on his chasing debut last month, plans to step up in grade had to be shelved despite the fact that the six-year-old was going to win by a distance if he had finished.

The fences are there to be jumped though and Un De Sceaux's mistake is one that Willie Mullins admitted he hoped the horse "doesn't make a habit of" but should he jump around Fairyhouse like he did for most of his chasing debut at Thurles, he should indeed open his account at the second time of asking.

While he is the real class horse of the weekend, at Ascot tomorrow afternoon the Ladbroke Hurdle is an intriguing 19-runner handicap that see's the bookmakers go 4/1 the field.

The Irish runners that are making the trip over all have claims of landing a blow but the pick of the four has to be Bayan, who is simply a model of consistency and is a great each-way bet at 12/1, and Clondaw Warrior, who has rock-solid form after finishing third in the Greatwood which still leaves him in this race off a low weight.

Four-year-olds have run very well in this race in recent years and tomorrow's field includes seven four-year-olds with the Harry Fry-trained Activial the race favourite.

However, the horse that could really be on the upgrade is the five-year-old Shelford who represents last year's winning trainer and jockey combination of Harry and Dan Skelton.

A two-time winner on his last two starts, Shelford has a lovely racing weight with 10st7lbs on his back and he could prove to be the one they all have to beat.

In the Long Walk Hurdle only five runners go to post and while it's hard to see any of these make a real dent on the market for the World Hurdle it looks an ideal race for Zarkandar to oblige in.