Mikael can prove true class
The envisaged St Stephen's Day programme, liberally sponsored by Bord na Mona and featuring the Grade One With Nature Novice Chase, is finally being staged today as Leopardstown again shares the date with Limerick and Down Royal.
A year ago, favourite Sizing Europe enjoyed a runaway success in the With Nature Novice Chase following the final-fence exit of the challenging Captain Cee Bee and this time Mikael D'Haguenet, which also exited at the last at Fairyhouse recently, attempts to secure worthwhile compensation as he comes up against seven rivals including Sizing Europe's stable companion Loosen My Load, Noble Prince, Realt Dubh and Saludos.
An hour earlier, it's the turn of the first-season jumpers to strut their stuff in the Grade Two Fire Magic Juvenile Hurdle, in which Carlito Brigante sprang a 20/1 surprise last year for Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell, who are responsible for likely favourite Toner d'Oudairies this time.
Meanwhile, Dermot Weld and amateur Robbie McNamara, who combined with Majestic Concorde to capture the Paddy Power Handicap Chase jackpot here yesterday in front of over 12,000 spectators, launch classy Flat racers Hidden Universe and Endless Intrigue over timber.
Owned, like Majestic Concorde, by locally based Dr Ronan Lambe, Hidden Universe has no less than 22 opponents to cope with in the opening Clean Water Maiden Hurdle for four-year-olds, while Endless Intrigue encounters some formidable rivals in the Clean Air Maiden Hurdle, which rounds off the Jackpot.
With Nature Novice Chase (2.0)
One of the key questions to be answered here is whether his Fairyhouse mishap, when seemingly poised to beat Jessie's Dream, will have impacted negatively on Mikael D'Haguenet's confidence, particularly as this was the towering gelding's first run back after an injury.
Presuming he's none the worse for that rare lapse in concentration, the French-bred, which is virtually guaranteed to start hot favourite once more, will be expected by his connections to get back on the winning trail despite the presence of potentially potent dangers.
Although no match for yesterday's fluent Newbury scorer Ghizao at Cheltenham, Loosen My Load is clearly no slouch, though perhaps better suited by a longer trip, an observation which applies also to the impressive Punchestown winner Noble Prince.
Realt Dubh would appear safely held by Mikael D'Haguenet on their Fairyhouse performances, but Saludos from the Jessica Harrington stable that supplied shock victor Bostons Angel here on Tuesday has the pace to keep tabs on the field.
Verdict -- Mikael D'Haguenet for compensation.
Fire Magic Juvenile Hurdle (1.0)
The Fairyhouse principals Toner d'Oudairies, which had romped in at Down Royal previously, and Kalann, staying on well there when undertaking his initial test over timber, combine to set a decent standard for smart Flat mare What A Charm to aspire to.
Whether the demanding conditions underfoot will help or hinder Kalann when seeking to take his revenge over the penalised Toner d'Oudairies only time will tell, but a thorough test of stamina won't faze What A Charm on the balance of her Flat forays.
Verdict -- Toner d'Oudairies will take catching.
Clean Air Maiden Hurdle (3.05)
Quite a tasty affair is in prospect as Shot From The Hip, a beaten favourite at Naas seven weeks ago, Endless Intrigue and the year-older Sicilian Secret clash at a track where they have all visited the winner's enclosure on the Flat in the past.
Foiled by Frisco Depot at the Kildare venue -- with yesterday's easy winner Cottrelsbooley back in third position -- Shot From The Hip, which looked in need of the outing that afternoon, now appears the one to beat as Endless Intrigue may not relish the mud and Sicilian Secret has been struggling to recapture his sparkle.
Verdict -- Trust in Shot From The Hip.