Elliott's Death Duty can kill off the threat from Footpad in fascinating novice clash
The great Dublin tradition of getting away from the house to swap the hustle and bustle of presents, in-laws and too much food in favour of binoculars, the betting ring and a couple of pints too many resumes today.
Punters have done very well in the opening race in the past few years, so let's hope the bookmakers get off to the worst possible start in 2017.
St Stephen's Day at Leopardstown always throws up a few cracking races, and no doubt the highlight of the day is the clash between Willie Mullins' Footpad and Gordon Elliott's Death Duty in the Racing Post Novice Chase.
12.15 Horse & Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle
On paper this race is usually a little daunting as it consists of newcomers, horses which haven't been seen in a while, and some ex-Flat recruits. However, the market is a good guide here so I don't feel too lazy saying to watch where the money goes.
In the past eight years there's been seven winning favourites and if there's strong support for Margaret Mullins' Debuchet, I'll be happy to jump on the bandwagon. An exciting prospect, we at least know a bit about him having impressed in bumpers, including second place at the Cheltenham Festival.
Verdict: Market support for Debuchet will be a vote of confidence and he's said to school well at home. Gordon Elliott's Manamite is the danger horse.
12.45 Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle
I'm torn between Thomas Mullins' Tara Dylan and Willie Mullins' Quick Grabim.
The latter showed some promise when second in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse recently, although he did make mistakes so a price of 5/2 might be a little short. Tara Dylan was useful on the flat and could have finished closer to the 4/9 favourite Glens Harmony had she not made a mistake at the last on her hurdling debut. She should go off at a double figure price. There's a lot to like about both, but Tara Dylan gets the vote at the odds.
Verdict: An open race where a case could be made for quite a few. Tara Dylan should manage to go close at a nice price if keeping mistakes to a minimum.
1.15 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle
At the beginning of the month Gavin Cromwell's Espoir D'allen blew away his rivals, including Mitchouka in the Grade Three Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and is now prominent in the betting for the Triumph Hurdle.
He should be too strong for these today.
Verdict: Espoir D'allen will probably be too short a price to back, but is impossible to oppose following some smart wins at Punchestown, Down Royal and Fairyhouse. Mitchouka can follow him home once again.
1.50 Cardinal Capital Handicap Hurdle
A very big field here for horses rated 80-116 in which Sillogue Pio gets a tentative each-way vote at around 25/1 from the George Kingstown yard.
A bumper winner over a year ago, he's struggled in handicaps when rated in the 90s, but the assessor has cut him a little bit of slack with a mark of 88.
Verdict: This is not a race for heavy punting, but Sillogue Pio may just manage a place at a big price. Others to consider are Seaweed and Champagne Pat.
2.20 Racing Post Novice Chase
Today's feature Grade One looks like a match between Willie Mullins' Footpad and Gordon Elliott's Death Duty. The former was a joy to watch when jumping like a stag to win his chasing debut at Navan in November, proving himself at this trip.
He'll probably go off as favourite around 10/11, but there won't be much in it, so preference is for Death Duty at 7/4 or thereabouts. With three chase wins under the belt over various distances he's a bit more experienced and the manner of victory in the Grade One Drinmore Chase suggested there's more improvement to come.
Verdict: A fascinating contest which is likely to be fought out by the two market leaders. Both Footpad and Death Duty have very strong claims and look exciting, but the latter is tipped at a higher price, having already won a Grade One over fences.
2.55 The Racing Post App Handicap Chase
Trained by Robert Tyner, Blast Of Koeman could be good value at around 10/1 on his handicap chase debut. A mark of 123 seems quite fair following an easy win in a novice chase at Fairyhouse last time, and that came on the back of a good fourth place on his debut over the bigger obstacles in a similar race at Cork. Philip Enright was on board on both occasions and resumes the partnership today.
Verdict: In an open-looking handicap Blast Of Koeman catches the eye off a nice rating. Joseph O'Brien's Landofhopeandglory has won a Grade Three and is open to improvement.
3.30 Lep Inn Flat Race
Not a lot to go on here, but I suspect Blackbow, which won a point-to-point in Britain, will be quite popular in the betting making his debut for Willie Mullins.
He'll be short enough, so a chance is taken on Gordon Elliott's Boot Camp, which was trading around 6/1 early doors.
This is his first run for the yard, but he hit 1/5 in-running on the exchanges when second in a bumper at Thurles for Jessica Harrington in October. He's related to some decent sorts and should be thereabouts.
Verdict: Gordon Elliott has a strike-rate of 25pc in bumpers in the last decade, and recent recruit Boot Camp looks promising.