Pipe plots Irish raid in hunt for big prizes
Having witnessed some of the gifts that went a-begging in recent weeks, an English trainer finally stakes a claim for a valuable Irish prize when David Pipe (right) saddles Notus De La Tour in Leopardstown's €85,000 Grade One novice chase on St Stephen's Day.
The Grand National-winning handler is also expected to run Sona Sasta in the Paddy Power Chase the following afternoon and you could argue that he might have struggled to pick two more competitive targets.
Monday's feature numbers Tony Martin's facile Drinmore Chase winner Bog Warrior among a nine-strong contingent, with the likes of Blackstairmountain, Perfect Smile and Lucky William also on duty.
It should be a cracking highlight of what is a busy card, and an equivalent Grade Two tops the bill at Limerick.
The Greenmount Park Novice Chase comprises a more familiar sized field with four runners, but Willie Mullin's classy Cheltenham Festival hero Sir Des Champs will be kept honest by Four Commanders and Knockfierna.
While the Down Royal spread doesn't boast the same quality, it is a very competitive programme.
All told, after last year's weather-induced disruptions, Monday's fare ought to get the festive racing off to an positive start, with no end of material for studious punters to ponder over the next couple of days.
Race of the day
Monday: The King George VI Chase is a real festive treat, with the rejuvenated four-time winner Kauto Star out to wrest the Kempton crown back off Long Run.
Tuesday: In an informative trial for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy in March, Peddlers Cross, Menorah, Sprinter Sacre and For Non Stop lock horns at Kempton.
Wednesday: The moment of truth for our various Gold Cup prospects in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. It will be disappointing if one of Quito De La Roque, Rubi Light, Joncol or Magnanimity don't stamp some authority on proceedings.
Thursday: Hidden Cyclone and Shot From The Hip are intriguing entries in the beginners' chase at Leopardstown. Shot From The Hip was a Grade One-winning novice hurdler, while Hidden Cyclone has been beaten just once in seven starts.
Outsider to note
2.45 Limerick, Monday
Gets in off a light weight at a track where its trainer Eric McNamara excels.
Grade One Christmas
Kempton (Mon) 2.0 - Bobs Worth
Kempton (Mon) 3.10 - Kauto Star
Leopardstown (Tue) 1.25 - Big Zeb
Leopardstown (Tue) 1.55 - Sous Les Cieux
Three things we will
learn this Christmas
1 The definitive pecking order among the best staying chasers on either side of the Irish Sea.
A year ago, Kauto Star's number looked up when Long Run triumphed in style at Kempton and again at Cheltenham. Then came Haydock in November, when the 11-year-old Kauto Star served it up to his five-years-younger nemesis with a devastating pillar-to-post success.
The question now is was that a glorious swansong or is it the case that the aberration was last term, when Paul Nicholls feels that Kauto Star was simply below par, rather than beyond it. On Monday we should find out for sure, just as Wednesday's Lexus will shine a light on the less established players at home. Quito De La Roque? Rubi Light? Joncol? None of the above? Time will tell.
2 If critics of the new whip restrictions in Britain will be proved right. Ever since the controversial revisions to the rules, detractors, mindful of the ban on remounting, cited the doomsday scenario of no horse completing the course in long-distance staying chases run in testing conditions.
On Tuesday, leaden-legged sloggers will cross more than three and a half miles of bottomless Chepstow turf in the Welsh National, traversing 22 fences along the way. It won't be for the faint-hearted.
3 The truth about Hurricane Fly. To the chagrin of bookmakers and punters, Willie Mullins continues to keep his own counsel on the well-being or otherwise of the best hurdler in the land.
The Fly is pencilled in for the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown on Thursday so, hopefully, Mullins will file a progress report sooner rather than later.
Quote of the week
"I'm not saying anything until I'm ready to run him. Paddy Power can do what they like. I won't talk about him until then."
-- Willie Mullins refuses to comment on Hurricane Fly after Paddy Power closed its book on Thursday's Istabraq Hurdle following a flood of money for the champion hurdler's stablemate Thousand Stars.
€50,000 The size of the jackpot that Tote Ireland guarantees for Leopardstown racegoers. If more than one punter gets the numbers up across the four-day Festival, a raffle will decide the winner. There is €25,000 guaranteed for each day.
€30 What Limerick's Guinness Christmas Village Package costs. The price includes admission to the tented village as well as a hog roast roll and a hot whiskey.
€0Admission is free for members of the Tote Go Racing Club, which can be joined at no cost, at Limerick on Wednesday and Leopardstown on Thursday.
Monday: Down Royal, Leopardstown, Limerick, Fontwell, Ffos Las, Huntingdon, Kempton, Market Rasen, Towcester, Wincanton, Wetherby, Wolverhampton (AW)
Tuesday: Leopardstown, Limerick, Chepstow, Kempton, Southwell (AW), Wetherby
Wednesday: Leopardstown, Limerick, Catterick, Leicester, Lingfield (AW) Wolverhampton* (AW)
Thursday: Leopardstown, Limerick, Doncaster, Kelso, Kempton* (AW), Southwell (AW)
Friday: Haydock, Lingfield (AW), Taunton, Wolverhampton* (AW)
Saturday: Punchestown, Tramore, Lingfield (AW), Newbury, Uttoxeter, Warwick
Sunday: Fairyhouse, Tramore, Catterick, Cheltenham, Exeter, Fakenham, Musselburgh, Southwell (AW)