Ireland’s only meeting with four Grade One races will take place at Leopardstown on Sunday with the Hennessy Gold Cup the feature of the four.
The latest forfeit stage took place yesterday and following the latest cut-off point only 43 horses stood their ground across the four races with Willie Mullins responsible for just under a third of them.
Each race is likely to have nine runners or less but Sunday’s Leopardstown card is undoubtedly about quality rather than quantity with serious Cheltenham Festival contenders on display.
In the Hennessy itself we have the first two home from the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year with Jim Culloty suggesting that Lord Windermere remains the horse to beat in this year’s renewal and On His Own doing little to take away from his chances of going one better when second in the Lexus at Christmas.
It will be extremely interesting to see how the aptly named Leopardstown Chase winner Foxrock fares out on his step-up to this level, although he isn’t in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Boston Bob and Carlingford Lough, fourth and fifth in the Lexus are also intended runners in a cracking looking renewal.
Sunday’s eight race card begins with the Grade One juvenile hurdle which was won for the last two years by the late Dessie Hughes with Our Conor and Guitar Pete.
Although Peace And Co sets a high standard in the juvenile ranks for Nicky Henderson, it will be very interesting to see how Kalkir responds after a somewhat surprising defeat to Fiscal Focus at Christmas, while Gordon Elliott has made no secret of how highly he holds Limerick winner Vercingetorix. Both the Deloitte Novice Hurdle and the Flogas Novice Chase attracted a dozen entries and it is in the novice hurdle that we could see a real star of the future in Alvisio Ville.
Backed like defeat was out of the question on his Irish debut on St Stephen’s Day at Leopardstown the JP McManus-owned grey won accordingly and looked like he could be anything, although a lot more will be revealed following Sunday’s race. His presence alone certainly adds to the intrigue of the afternoon.
Similar to the novice hurdle, a lot will depend on what Willie Mullins will turn up with in the novice chase as he is responsible for the Gigginstown pair of Don Poli and Valseur Lido, who are both prominent in the betting for Chelteham, and Sandra Hughes will be hoping The Tullow Tank returns to himself if lining up.
The Raymond Smith Memorial is well established as one of the leading hunter chases on the calendar and Sunday’s race is due to mark the return of Salsify who will take on Prince De Beauchene, while the concluding bumper may see Quevega’s full brother, Vivega, return to action.
The fields will be small but the action will be top class.
It was quite alarming to read Katie Walsh’s article in The Herald last Friday night as she recalled paying €47 for two dinners, one dessert and a pot of tea in the self-service restaurant at a Grade One track.
The day in question wasn’t a Grade One day, in fact the racing on offer was fairly low key for a Saturday afternoon, and the crowd reflected that. However, that shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to value for money in a restaurant and the few hardy souls who did decide to go racing that day surely deserved better.
We all know how competitive a market it is. Some tracks do a better job enticing people through the turnstiles than others, but as Katie suggested, imagine the extra cost of having a couple of kids and having a few bets on top of the price of the food.
The Celtic Tiger would hardly approve that.
Punchestown was a much quieter place last weekend following the sudden death of Paddy Murphy last week.
A popular figure around the town of Naas, Murphy was a regular in many betting shops in the town and wouldn’t miss a meeting at Naas or Punchestown. Many in racing knew him only as “the man with the bike” but anyone who spoke to him was always the better for it. May he rest in peace.