Sport Horse Racing

Monday 19 February 2018

Fingers crossed for festive cards

Inspections -- everywhere you look, inspections, quickly followed by abandonments and contingency plans, then more inspections. Flexibility, it seems, is the order of the day.

Officials at a snowbound Leopardstown yesterday made an early decision to move their St Stephen's Day fixture back to Thursday, December 30, just as Down Royal had elected to do previously.

Limerick accepted defeat for its Sunday card shortly after Leopardstown's announcement, while Market Rasen and Towcester were already lost from Sunday's schedule in England. Further festive casualties will follow.

With inches of snow still covering Leopardstown, Kempton and Chepstow, it's hard to see much light at the end of the tunnel. Still, it's Christmas, so we live in hope.

If the ground staff at Kempton manage to peel away the wrapping that is currently protecting the London track from the elements in time for St Stephen's Day, the 2010 King George VI Chase will be as much about expectation as hope.

For as long as Kauto Star has been around, it has been ever thus. One of the best, most versatile steeplechasers of all time, the dual Gold Cup winner is all set to bid for an unprecedented fifth successive triumph in the Christmas highlight.

A standing dish at Kempton, he was back to his imperious best at Down Royal last month, so business ought to continue as usual on Sunday.

In a way, though, it's not business as usual at all, with Kauto Star tackling the King George for a first time without Ruby Walsh.

Noel Fehily, who reaffirmed his new-found status as the go-to man for the big day when imperious on Master Minded last week, was Walsh's intended replacement, before ruling himself out due to injury yesterday. With Tony McCoy confirmed to do the steering, the expectation remains the same.

For all that the Christmas schedule turns on Kauto Star's latest bid for immortality, however, there is plenty else to look forward to if the elements relent. On the King George card, JP McManus' champion hurdler Binocular will bid to regain the winning thread, while the smart novices Aiteen Thirtythree, Jessies Dream and Loosen My Load are all in the Feltham Chase, a third Grade One on that programme.

Should Leopardstown succeed in getting its festival under way on Monday, Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver will clash in what promises to be a thrilling renewal of the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase.

A Grade One novice hurdle follows directly after, with the Paddy Power Chase, traditionally one of the biggest betting races of the entire season, another festive treat.

Sandwiched in between that Monday feast, the Coral Welsh National, which is subject to a midday inspection today, could feature various Irish raiders. Among those entered for the Chepstow slog is this year's Irish Grand National hero, Bluesea Cracker.

From Tuesday, the focus of attention will return to Leopardstown, where the usual array of quality is in store. Joncol, Hurricane Fly, Solwhit, Mikael D'Haguenet, Pandorama and Cooldine are just some of the stellar names that are pencilled in over the ensuing three days. Hopefully, the temperatures rise in time.

Irish Independent

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