Colm Murphy's classy seven-year-old Quito De La Roque has emerged as the main scratching from Sunday's John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
The list of potential runners for the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One was reduced from 17 to eight at yesterday's forfeit stage, with former winners Tranquil Sea and Joncol among those left in. However, following Quito De La Roque's gallant effort to overhaul Saturday's Tingle Creek hero Sizing Europe on his most recent start in the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal, his Wexford handler has instead decided to wait for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.
"If the Durkan had been a week earlier Quito De La Roque would probably have run," revealed Murphy, who secured his second top-level win of the campaign when Voler La Vedette took the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday. "But it falls a week later this year and it might come a bit quick before Christmas and the Lexus."
Quito De La Roque's absence takes some of the gloss off Sunday's showpiece. Paddy Power make Rubi Light their early favourite at 5/2, as Robbie Hennessy's charge bids to make amends for a last-fence spill on his return at Gowran Park in October.
"He is in great form," Hennessy said yesterday of his stable star. "He is schooling well and his fall at Gowran doesn't seem to have affected him in any way. We missed the JNWine.com Chase as we just weren't 100pc happy, but he is ready for Sunday."
Golden Silver, more likely to run in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday, is one of three that Willie Mullins has in the Punchestown feature. Cooldine and Kempes are the other two, and both of those join Quito De La Roque among the initial entries for the Lexus Chase.
Boasting a preliminary showing of 17, the three-miler promises to be a cracking renewal. Paul Nicholls' Denman, successful in the race in 2007, is expected to make his seasonal bow in the Grade One and the Gold Cup runner-up could be joined by last year's Jonjo O'Neill-trained Welsh National winner Synchronised.
Magnanimity, a smart novice for Dessie Hughes last term, is likely to make his reappearance in the race. Beaten a length when fourth to Bostons Angel in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March, the Gigginstown Stud-owned gelding is "a hell of a horse", Hughes mused excitedly when the four-day Christmas Festival was formally launched at his Osborne Lodge in Kildare yesterday morning.
"He fractured a joint at Cheltenham," Hughes added. "That needed four screws and he had four months box rest, but he's come back a more professional horse, and the plan is to start off in the Lexus. He could be a Gold Cup horse."
Voler La Vedette and Morgiana Hurdle winner Thousand Stars could touch gloves with Hurricane Fly if they fulfil their engagement in the Istabraq Hurdle, while Unaccompanied, Zaidpour and Mikael D'Haguenet are others of note in that two-miler. Old foes Sizing Europe and Big Zeb head the line-up for the Dial-A-Bet Chase.
Last weekend's impressive winners Bog Warrior and Sous Les Cieux feature in the novice events at the Foxrock venue, though the latter also holds an engagement in the Grade One Navan Novice Hurdle on December 18. Smoking Aces, another to score on Sunday, is the sponsors' ante-post favourite at 9/1 for the Paddy Power Chase.
In all, 70 horses -- eight English-based -- have the option of contesting the prestigious handicap on December 27. Boylesports make Smoking Aces and Beautiful Sound joint-favourites at 8/1, with the Troytown winner Groody Hill a top-priced 14/1.
Paul Nicholls' Kauto Stone, second to Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek on Saturday, was the most prominent in the betting to be taken out of the Grade One King George VI Chase at yesterday's forfeit stage. The five-year-old will not now get the opportunity to line up against his half-brother Kauto Star, which trades at up to 5/1.
Having bounced back to his best at Haydock last time, Kauto Star remains a possible starter along with 14 others in the St Stephen's Day showpiece at Kempton that he has already won four times. His stable-mate Master Minded (11/2) is also pencilled in to run, as last year's winner Long Run continues to head the market at a best-priced 6/4.