'Riches' takes on deadly duo in King George for the ages
Racing fans are rejoicing that stablemates Cue Card and Thistlecrack are to clash at Kempton - but Eddie O'Leary wishes that the pair was kept apart.
Trainer Colin Tizzard has been widely hailed for announcing he would be pitting his two best chasers against each other in the King George VI Chase on Monday. Thistlecrack's owner Heather Snook said she initially favoured the Feltham Chase, a novice event, but changed her mind.
O'Leary, manager of Gigginstown Stud, is hoping that the big duel does not transpire, as the Noel Meade-trained Road To Riches is set to represent his and brother Michael's team at Kempton and would have a far better chance if one of the big two went elsewhere.
He said: "Road To Riches is likely to appreciate the better ground at Kempton, with Leopardstown expecting some rain. I think it's good for racing that the big two run against each other but not for us! Thistlecrack is an aeroplane and Cue Card won the race last year, when we ran Don Cossack, who fell. It is going to be a special renewal.
"Road To Riches is a very good horse on his day. His King George run is a bit speculative. We took out Outlander from the race and he may go to Leopardstown or Tramore on New Year's Eve."
Don Poli, the RSA Chase winner of 2015 and last season's Gold Cup third, faces an uncertain future after a dire run at Down Royal on his first spin for Gordon Elliott.
"I'd hope to see a different horse on winter ground; if we don't, we don't have a horse any more. He has been hunting and doing this and that but we can draw a line through him if he does not show some spark in the Lexus on December 28," added O'Leary (right).
Valseur Lido is also liable to represent Gigginstown in that race, while another of its main representatives at Christmas is Petit Mouchoir in the Ryanair Hurdle tomorrow week. A faller in the Fighting Fifth, O'Leary leaves little doubt as to how he feels that race would have panned out had he stayed on his feet.
He said: "I think he'd have won and not only that his fall stopped our other runner, Apple's Jade, winning the race. It wasn't a great race when you see how well some others ran.
"Identity Thief is to go for the Racing Post Novice Chase on Monday. It'll be a great race against Min and the Arkle at Cheltenham is the long-term aim. If Min kicks our lad out of the way at Leopardstown, we will know where we are, but let the best man win."
O'Leary added that Alpha Des Obeaux would be "a different horse in the spring" but that the step up in distance would suit him at Leopardstown.
After capturing a memorable hat-trick of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Irish Grand National and Aintree National last season, the operation greets the end of the year with much to reflect on happily.
He added: "Last season was incredible. We'll never achieve that again. I'd say we'll have a downhill spiral this season but so far it's going OK."
The highlight of the campaign was Don Cossack's Gold Cup win. O'Leary remains only hopeful about the holder's prospects of a repeat win in 2017.
He explained: "His leg seems fine after his injury - but it's alright being fine now, it's when he races that matters. If he does not make the Gold Cup next season he will be retired."
Elliott is eyeing the Red Mills Chase at Gowran in February as a possible starting point for the horse after reporting that he is back cantering nearly four months.
The Co Meath trainer has decided to give Apple's Jade a break over the Christmas period following her Royal Bond victory at Fairyhouse earlier this month.
Bookmakers are struggling to split Cue Card and Thistlecrack at the head of the King George market, with 61pc of voters on a Twitter poll expecting Thistlecrack to go off favourite. Road To Riches is 25/1 best, with seven runners only left in the race.
Kempton's Christmas Hurdle has been re-opened until 11am today after only five entries were received.
There was welcome news from Britain yesterday when Freddy Tylicki revealed that he is out of hospital and starting his rehab after being paralysed in a fall at Kempton in October. The German-born rider who has strong links to this country suffered a T7 paralysis when coming down in a three-horse melee at the track. He has since been hospitalised but has maintained a positive outlook and updated his fans yesterday.
"I have been waiting on this day for a long time and it's finally come! On the road to the rehab clinic," he tweeted.
TV3 is to confirm today that it has agreed a deal to broadcast around 50 meetings per year from Britain - a huge boost for terrestrial TV fans of the sport in Ireland, many of whom do not have access to new British provider, ITV.
TV3, which has been in talks with the Racecourse Media Group, would show such major festivals as Cheltenham and Royal Ascot. RTE did consider a similar deal but it was reportedly deemed impractical for the national broadcaster to show so many fixtures.
Paddy Power have indicated they will have all of next Monday's races priced up on Friday night. The firm is betting on the Irish trainers' title, offering even-money Gordon Elliott and 8/11 Willie Mullins.
Sun Bets has been revealed as the new sponsor of the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival, the race reverting to its original name. Sponsors from 2004, Ladbrokes, had renamed it the World Hurdle.