Solwhit on course for Christmas comeback
AS Big Buck's prepares to return to a racecourse on Thursday -- for a gallop at Exeter -- the horse which succeeded him as the king of staying hurdlers, Solwhit, is on course to return to action at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The achievement of Solwhit in landing the Cheltenham-Aintree double last season seems to have been largely overlooked by commentators across the water who have been lamenting the long-term absence of Big Buck's.
The Paul Nicholls-trained 10-year-old has been sidelined since taking his winning streak over the small obstacles to 18 in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury 13 months ago.
The four-time World Hurdle hero is likely to make his return to action in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, but will give racegoers a chance to assess his well-being on Thursday.
Solwhit, meanwhile, is set to make his seasonal debut in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28. The Charles Byrnes-trained nine-year-old followed up his Cheltenham success in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree a month later before finishing second to Gemix at Auteuil in June.
"He's on target for Leopardstown," said Byrnes. "He had a break after Auteuil so he was late coming back in. That's why he's just ready to start now."
On the same day that Solwhit returns, the Foxrock venue stages the Lexus Chase, which is already developing into a highly competitive affair with news that smart grey Unioniste is a likely raider from the Nicholls yard.
The five-year-old outstayed Wishfull Thinking to win a decent race at Aintree last time out, having finished third on his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, and is one of four Ditcheat entries in the three-mile chase.
Unioniste's owner John Hales said: "It's looking likely that we'll take him over to Ireland, but no firm decision has yet been made. We'll have to consider the ground, likely opponents, weather -- Paul will weigh it all up and then decide."
Elsewhere, the build-up is continuing for the King George VI Chase at Kempton, where Colin Tizzard is confident the track will suit Cue Card down to the ground.
Last season's Ryanair Chase hero may have disappointed in the Christmas showpiece 12 months ago, but he staked a strong claim to putting the record straight when making all the running to win the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Cue Card is 5/2 market leader with the sponsors, and Tizzard enthused about his prospects at a William Hill King George media day on the gallops at his Dorset yard. "I would think the others have to improve to beat him," he said.
Dynaste, the 7/2 second favourite, was beaten four and a half lengths by Cue Card at Haydock last month, but the David Pipe-trained grey has a course and distance success to his credit in the Feltham Chase last year.
The Nicholls-trained Al Ferof is third in the ante-post betting following his successful comeback in the 1965 Amlin Chase at Ascot after 12 months out.
At Ffos Las yesterday, a cheque for £100,000 was handed over to the JT McNamara fund. The presentation was made by Sarah Llewellyn, the daughter of Ffos Las chairman Dai Walters, to Brough Scott, chairman of the trustees of the Injured Jockeys Fund in Britain.
The money was raised through prize auctions and a raffle at Ffos Las last month. The total was just shy of six figure, with Walters topping it up.
William Hill King George VI Chase, sponsors bet: 5/2 Cue Card, 7/2 Dynaste, 9/2 Al Ferof, 6/1 Silviniaco Conti, 10/1 Sir Des Champs, 12/1 Long Run, 14/1 Captain Chris, Mount Benbulben, 25/1 bar.