Jockeys' title race heats up as Walsh makes rare trip west
There will be no shortage of sub-plots as Leopardstown's Christmas Festival kicks into gear today, with over 60,000 punters expected to go through the turnstiles at the Foxrock track during the star-studded four-day extravaganza.
All eyes will be on the race for the Irish jockeys' championship as the competition continues to heat up between the leading trio of Paul Townend (69 winners), Rachael Blackmore (68) and defending champion Davy Russell (59).
Blackmore aims to cement her place in racing history and become Ireland's first female champion pilot by continuing her record-breaking season, while one of the game's greatest riders will sidestep Leopardstown and instead head west to Limerick.
Ruby Walsh hasn't ridden at the Patrickswell track on St Stephen's Day since his amateur days in 1996 and crowds are likely to swell to watch the 12-time champion jockey in action - he partners a fancied trio led by the exciting Getabird in a Grade One Novice Chase.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins raced out of the blocks this season and holds a commanding lead of just over €550,000 from his main rival Gordon Elliott as he bids to dominate the festive season again.
Mullins holds a 28-10 lead over Elliott in terms of winners over the past three Christmas meetings at Leopardstown but Elliott boasts a particularly strong team.
The pair will lock horns over many of the most lucrative prizes on offer starting with today's Grade One Novice Chase, where Elliott's Mengli Khan and Mullins' Voix Du Reve do battle.