Rebeccas Choice looks cut above rest
Welsh handler Dai Burchell is expected to take the beginners' chase at Hereford tomorrow with the Paul Moloney-ridden Rebeccas Choice.
Both Burchell and Moloney have respectable strike-rates around Hereford, and this eight-runner contest isn't going to take a whole lot of winning.
Rif and Will Scarlet were both well held at Chepstow last time, while Brackloon High's second at Fontwell in December came in a really poor race.
David Pipe's Chartreux is probably the biggest threat to the selection. The former Dromahane point-to-point winner returned from a lay-off to twice run respectably at Cheltenham last year, and he could prove hard to beat on his fencing bow.
However, Rebeccas Choice comes here race-fit, while the experience of three previous chasing starts is also in his favour. Second on his two most recent outings at Ludlow and Exeter, he was a runaway winner on soft ground over flights in the past.
With the going officially soft at Hereford, that augurs well, so there are grounds to believe that Rebeccas Choice might defy the ratings gap between himself and Chartreux to prevail on this occasion.
Later on, Noel Fehily can steer Space Mission to victory in the two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase.
Having been off for a year, Space Mission ran a super race to be only denied at the death on his debut for Charlie Mann at Huntingdon on St Stephen's Day.
He raced close to the pace, so it was a fine performance to hold out for as long as he did.
Moreover, the run proved that the lightly raced 10-year-old retains much of his ability. Space Mission gets in tomorrow off 11st 7lb for a career-low rating of 111, which gives him a live chance of scoring for a first time over the bigger obstacles.
Outsider to note
Esteem warrants a speculative each-way investment in the two-mile handicap hurdle at Hereford tomorrow afternoon.
David Evans rarely runs many over jumps, but always does well with those he does keep for the winter pursuit, and this nine-year-old isn't without a squeak. Having been sidelined for 18 months, Esteem had his supporters in the betting ring at Ludlow last month.
Sure enough, he travelled well that day but the lack of a run ultimately told as he tired to finish fifth. Off the same mark now in a lesser race, he should improve to at least show a return on a place docket.
Hereford 1.30 -- Esteem
Hereford 2.0 -- Rebeccas Choice
Hereford 3.30 -- Space Mission
Naas 2.40 -- Uncle Tom Cobley
54,750 Attendance at Leopardstown's four-day Christmas Festival, up 3,740 on the comparable fixture in 2009. Limerick also saw its gate rise by 2,633 to 24,633.
9 The number of meetings Richard Hughes will miss in India after he received a month-long ban for 'foul riding' at Mumbai on Sunday. Having suffered interference, the Kildare native was deemed to have elbowed his offending colleague.
2 Near misses that David Marnane endured at Meydan this week. On Thursday, the Bansha trainer's Nocturnal Affair found one too good, while Angel's Pursuit was short-headed yesterday afternoon.
Quote of the week
"Emmet settled him in behind and he cruised up to the others. When he gave him a squeeze, he shot clear. I was absolutely delighted with him, it was just what we wanted to see. We're working towards the Irish Champion Hurdle with him and hopefully we'll get there." -- Willie Mullins issues an upbeat bulletin on Hurricane Fly after watching his nephew put the champion hurdler through its paces over 1m 5f at Leopardstown on Thursday.
Three things we
learned this week
1 Willie Mullins is happy with Hurricane Fly. Having stated at various removes in recent months that he would keep his own counsel until his sensational hurdler was ready to run, the champion trainer's reticence disappeared after an away day at Leopardstown on Thursday.
In front of the RTE news cameras, Hurricane Fly, sporting support bandages on both front legs, came readily clear of his work-mates under Emmet Mullins.
To all intents and purposes, it looked as satisfactory a gallop as Mullins suggested, albeit a tad inconclusive for an outsider. Asked about the identity of the three horses that Hurricane Fly dispensed with, Mullins' coyness returned with interest.
We can only assume they weren't cumbersome three-mile chasers!
2 Cork-based trainers continue to buck the trend. Despite the recession crippling the trade, Bandon's James Dullea and Killeagh native Ken Budds have both saddled their first winners on the track in recent weeks.
Clonakilty's Sinead O'Sullivan was another whose endeavour was rewarded before the turn of the year, while Jimmy Mangan, John Joe Walsh, Robert Tyner, Mick Winters, Terence O'Brien and Jim Culloty are likewise firing on all cylinders. Shameless parochialism? No harm in it.
3 Following David Pipe's declaration that Grands Crus is being considered for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Paul Nicholls has revealed that his two-mile novice Al Ferof could also contest the Champion Chase in March.
On top of the Kauto Star-Long Run dichotomy, that's another issue to polarise opinions over the next two months.
Monday: Taunton, Wolverhampton (AW)
Tuesday: Leicester, Southwell (AW)
Wednesday: Fairyhouse, Doncaster, Ffos Las, Kempton* (AW)
Thursday: Catterick, Fontwell, Kempton* (AW), Southwell (AW)
Friday: Dundalk* (AW), Huntingdon, Lingfield (AW), Musselburgh, Wolverhampton* (AW)
Saturday: Punchestown, Kempton, Lingfield (AW), Warwick, Wetherby
Sunday: Navan, Kelso, Kempton (AW)