Ferris all set for four days of quality fare
It's a testament to how much Limerick Racecourse's stature has risen in recent years that its four-day Christmas Festival attracts the sheer quality of entries that it does.
On St Stephen's Day, the featured Greenmount Park Novice Chase numbers Gordon Elliott's recent Grade One winner Don Cossack and Willie Mullins' exciting unbeaten chaser Felix Yonger among the potential starters.
The latter may be more likely to run at Leopardstown instead, but Gigginstown House Stud's Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs took in the two-mile-three-furlong Grade Two en route to Prestbury Park glory in 2012, so it will be fascinating to see if Don Cossack might bid to emulate him on Thursday.
Rathvinden, Very Wood, Azorian, Faugheen, The Job Is Right and Ned Buntline are other intriguing prospects pencilled in for the Munster venue, where Jim Dreaper's Welsh Grand National favourite Goonyella first emerged with a facile hunters' chase rout 12 months ago.
"Our main objective has been to improve the quality of horse we attract," the track's general manager Russell Ferris explained.
"Over the last few years, we have seen that happen. Horses like Weapon's Amnesty, Sir Des Champs, Trifolium, Seabass and Rubi Light have all run here on the way to bigger things.
"We'd like it to be the other way around some day, but if we can get the likes of Don Cossack and Flaxen Flare here this week we'll be very happy.
"Last summer we drained the parts of the track that were susceptible to giving us waterlogging issues and that has made a massive difference.
"I have a picture of the track in early December when it was emerald green and the ground was good to yielding. Plenty of rain has fallen since and, if what's forecast materialises, then the word heavy could appear in the going description, but trainers don't mind that after such a dry autumn."
In 2012, a deluge on St Stephen's Day morning did the aggregate attendance figure no favours, yet it still recovered to show a 5pc yearly increase at 25,941. With days three and four falling on Saturday and Sunday this time, Russell is optimistic that they can consolidate that effort.
"The fact that it falls on a weekend is a big help, because last year people were going back to work on the fourth day," he says. "Our pre-bookings are up across all four days this time, so that is very encouraging.
"We've also reduced our admission prices. In the good old days it was €25 in on St Stephen's Day. We were down to €20 last year, and now we have cut it to €18 for the first two days. we are happy to give a bit of value back."