Stage set for Casey's Flemenstar to confirm brilliance
It's a long time since a Lexus Chase boasted a field of such enormous indigenous potential as today's Leopardstown feature.
Indeed, the same could be said of any of the domestic three-mile Grade One chases, as rising stars Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs and Hidden Cyclone stake their claims for top honours in what promises to be a vintage edition of the €150,000 contest.
Unbeaten in seven, Flemenstar has delivered most at this point, his superlative display in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown the latest of three Grade One victories.
Peter Casey's seven-year-old steps up to three miles for a first time here and how he copes with the trip will surely have a crucial bearing on the outcome.
Should he rise to the occasion under Andrew Lynch, talk will soon turn to a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as few Irish chasers in recent years have possessed as much class. That, though, is to put the cart before the horse. Today's contest is a fantastic race in its own right and whatever wins will emerge with its reputation enhanced.
With an Irish cap on, the very least we can hope for is a local triumph, as five of the last six renewals have gone for export, Pandorama's 2010 success the only interruption to the raiders' inexplicable dominance.
Noel Meade's giant nine-year-old reappears now for a first time since picking up an injury in last year's Gold Cup, as Tidal Bay and Midnight Chase make the journey from England.
Both are reliable yardsticks, but no more than that. The hope would be that some of the home defence can claim to be no less – and possibly better.
12.25 Madigans Maiden Hurdle 2m 4f
Foxrock is an interesting debutant for Ted and Ruby Walsh, having obliged on its point-to-point bow at Loughrea in October.
Sizing Solution is another recent winner in that sphere, likewise Talbot Road, which finished fifth in a bumper last month. Distracted and Shamar both have track form, as has Mala Beach. Gordon Elliott's charge improved to finish third to Bright New Dawn and Ned Buntline at Fairyhouse.
Verdict – Mala Beach can collect under Davy Condon.
12.55 Mongey Communications Novice Handicap Hurdle 2m
Grange, Treat Yourself, Doc Hollywood and Flying Light are the ones to focus on. All have been in good heart, though Flying Light hasn't run since proving a slightly disappointing favourite at Galway in October.
Treat Yourself and Doc Hollywood come here looking for hat-tricks. The JP McManus-owned Grange's only defeat in three runs came when he looked unlucky to fail by a head at Punchestown on his penultimate outing.
Lightly raced, he returned to score in style there last time, prompting a nine-pound hike in the process.
Verdict – Grange can lump top-weight to victory under AP McCoy.
1.25 Grade Two Woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle 3m
Zaidpour comes here on the back of a commendable Hatton's Grace triumph at Fairyhouse. As a winner over three miles in the past, this step back up in distance poses no fears, so he is the one to beat. Monksland finished second on that occasion. Just out of his novice season, Noel Meade's five-year-old has scope to improve, and might just be better over this trip.
Folsom Blue is another on the up, while last year's winner Voler La Vedette, fourth at Fairyhouse, hasn't been quite the same of late.
An operation to correct her breathing was on the cards, so it will be interesting to see how she fares now. On its first start since completing back-to-back Cheltenham Festival victories in 2010, Weapons Amnesty is one to watch.
Verdict – Monksland is a progressive sort with nap appeal over this trip.
1.55 Racing For Christmas Rated Hurdle 2m
Of those that appear best in at the weights, Pires has been in the most prolific form, taking a Down Royal handicap chase off 127 in November. He has previously been frustrating over flights, but few of these have nearly as much ability.
Dont Tell Pa has been in tremendous form. His winning spree came to an end at Thurles last time, but he could still do better at just five years of age.
Verdict – Dont Tell Pa might have more in him yet.
2.25 Grade One Topaz Novice
Mount Benbulben finally got it together last time. He has bundles of class and needs plenty cut, so will not be far away if his suspect jumping holds up.
Back In Focus continues to impress. He is an out-and-out galloper that bagged a stylish win at Punchestown last month, but this is a step up in class again.
His Willie Mullins-trained stable-mate Aupcharlie is a bit of an unknown quantity. While he only won a maiden over hurdles, he looks more of a chaser, though whether he is ready for a race of this quality is another matter.
Tofino Bay is respected after his Troytown success, with Dedigout another contender. A staying-on second to Arvika Ligeonniere at Fairyhouse, this trip should suit him.
Verdict – Mount Benbulben is less than surefooted, but he has bundles of potential.
3.0 Grade One Lexus
Tidal Bay sets the benchmark. He has belatedly developed into a solid staying campaigner, and his Hennessy second under top-weight was a fine turn.
First Lieutenant also ran a stormer in the Newbury feature, while China Rock, a winner at this level in the mud at Punchestown, has plenty talent. Quito De La Roque, third in 2011, hasn't really progressed, while 2010 winner Pandorama has it all to do on just his second start since that famous victory.
Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs and Hidden Cyclone are the three most exciting prospects. Hidden Cyclone has a lot to find on paper, but will relish this test and still has scope to improve.
Sir Des Champs should also come on for his reappearance, when he looked slightly burly prior to keeping on for second to Flemenstar at Punchestown.
This longer trip will also be to his advantage, but there is no denying that Flemenstar dispensed with him quite easily on that occasion. A former point-to-point winner that has gradually learned to race more sensibly, Flemenstar is on a solid upward curve.
He is a class act that has won three Grade Ones, so he will take all the beating if he stays.
Verdict – Flemenstar can defy fears about the trip to confirm his huge promise.
3.35 Thornton's Recycling INH Flat Race 2m
Bally Longford, Gabriel Brandy and Tangled Web have shown the most so far. All have been placed, with Tangled Web possibly the one to expect more from after a commendable runner-up finish behind the well-backed Drumlee at Thurles.
Verdict – Tangled Web can build on a fine debut effort.