The Listener hears Lexus call
SO that's why they call it the Turf. The thaw may have arrived just too late for the big holiday fixture at Kempton, but yesterday it disclosed a mysterious green surface at several other venues.
Ffos Las is all set to restore jump racing to Britain this afternoon and there is a decent chance that Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, a critical crossroads in the Irish season, will finally get off the ground as well.
Assuming racing goes ahead, the going is guaranteed to be heavy. That is a pity, when the meeting would otherwise set up some very legible signposts to Cheltenham.
You have to doubt quite how relevant a slog in hock-deep ground will prove come spring conditions at the Festival, but beggars can't be choosers. Many Irish trainers are becoming anxious that their novices, in particular, will remain perilously short of experience if they don't gain some now.
However, that is hardly an issue for most of those contesting the day's most valuable prize, with the Lexus Chase being largely contested by familiar names -- none more so, despite a year's absence with a tendon injury, than The Listener. The veteran of many successful raids to Ireland, he adores this ground and his trainer is adamant that the chaser retains all his old gusto as he nears his 12th birthday.
"He has only run 28 times in his life and there's plenty of petrol left in the tank," Nick Mitchell said. "He's still very enthusiastic, to the point of being a bit of an idiot sometimes, and we haven't missed a beat with him at home."
Few among the home defence retain any pretensions to troubling the likes of Kauto Star and Imperial Commander at Cheltenham in March, but keep a close eye on Cooldine. He shaped nicely enough over an inadequate trip on his reappearance and, should he fail to cut the mustard today, there could well be a silver lining at Aintree in April.
Cooldine looks an ideal sort for the John Smith's Grand National, but could somewhat fall between stools if running well enough here to warrant another Gold Cup preparation.
The least-exposed member of the field, by some way, remains Pandorama. True, a crack at the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury last month proved wholly without positives. He blundered at the second, was badly hampered at the fourth, and was pulled up soon afterwards.
Having been withdrawn at the start before an intended pipe-opener at Down Royal, with a perplexing nosebleed, he could hardly have made a less productive start to his second campaign over fences. But he looked so exciting in his first, notably when rallying to beat the subsequent RSA Chase winner Weapon's Amnesty at this meeting, that he warrants fidelity as he seeks to bridge the gap to open company.
The equivalent Grade One novice chase this time round includes Quito De La Roque, impressive in a beginners' chase at Clonmel earlier in the month. He should present a stiffer test to Thegreatjohnbrowne, which has looked an absolute natural over fences in lesser grade, and Quadrillon, which represents Willie Mullins' powerful stable instead of Mikael d'Haguenet, reckoned to need more time after his promising Fairyhouse comeback.
The other Graded race on the card is a hurdle over three miles, where the most intriguing runner is the unbeaten Mossey Joe. Having previously won two point-to-points and a hunter chase, he was tried in a competitive novice hurdle at Cork a couple of weeks ago and proceeded to win at his leisure. He meets some seasoned hurdlers here and is unlikely to find Mourad at all indulgent, but he plainly has unusual talent.
The arrival of milder weather could yet reprieve a high-class card at Newbury tomorrow, where Big Buck's will be expected to outclass just five rivals in the rescheduled Long Walk Hurdle. The track is raceable under the frost blankets and the arrival of forecast rain overnight should see off the remaining snow. (© Independent News Service)