Monday 21 January 2019

Today's meeting at Leopardstown gets the green light after early morning inspection

A general view of the field of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival
A general view of the field of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival

This afternoon's big National Hunt meeting at Leopardstown has passed a precautionary inspection and goes ahead as planned.

Clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer had been concerned about the possibility of frost and fog, but the track was found to be fit for purpose at 7.30am.

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Sizing John is the star name on a superb card when he lines up in a strong renewal of the Grade One Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

A statement issued by the Turf Club read: "The ground is currently soft, yielding in places on the hurdle track and yielding, soft in places on the steeplechase course."

The news was also positive at Limerick as its jumps programme goes ahead after an early-morning precautionary inspection.

Leicester was not so fortunate, though, as today's card has been abandoned due to snow and ice.

Clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson accepted on Wednesday that it would be a "tough battle" to get the meeting on after nearly two inches of snow fell on the track.

The situation was not helped, either, by overnight temperatures having dropped to as low as minus 3C.

And with the position untenable, Stevenson announced Leicester's abandonment well in advance of an intended 8am inspection.

Kelso's National Hunt card on Friday has already been called off due to "frozen ground", with another hard frost and snow forecast on raceday.

Doncaster is on weather watch, too, ahead of its meeting on the same afternoon.

Clerk of the course Roderick Duncan and his team will stage a 7am precautionary inspection "due to possible frost, snow and changing forecasts".


12.15 Maiden Hurdle

Willie Mullins has another French import for the opener, and although the summer of 2016 was the last time Francin saw a racecourse, he won his last two races for Philipe Decouz. Owned by Rich Ricci, these imports have become a big part of the team and he may well be another special purchase - but there's a lot of guesswork involved, and bookmakers are taking no chances.

Instead, I'm backing Gordon Elliott's Flawless Escape, a big imposing sort which caught the eye when making all to win a bumper at Roscommon. He was later a very close second to Mullins's Burrows Saint in a Punchestown Maiden Hurdle, despite making a blunder two out.

Verdict: Francin could be something special, but don't expect the bookmakers to do you a good deal on the price. Flawless Escape is a progressive sort that Elliott can get the best out of.

12.50 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle Qualifier

Mullins's top-weight Voix du Reve traded as low as 1/5 in-running before falling at the last in the 2016 Fred Winter at Cheltenham. He clearly has talent, but it's 614 days since he's raced, and it's a big ask to come back with 11st 9lbs for a three-mile race.

This is a wide-open contest so a tentative each-way vote goes to one of the outsiders Shannak, for Anthony Mullins. He stays the distance, will have no problem with softer ground, and 9st 13lbs is not too big a burden.

Verdict: It will be interesting to see how well or otherwise Voix du Reve performs after a long lay-off, but Shannak has a chance to place off this weight at a big price. Others to consider are Red Devil Lads and Glenloe.

1.20 Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle

It was nice to see Jezki get back to winning ways at Tipperary recently, but he was out of his depth in Grade One company last time, albeit against the supremely talented Faugheen - so this could be a match between Apple's Jade and Nichols Canyon.

Apple's Jade is seeking a fifth win in-a-row for Elliott and she has the form in the book to win a race like this, but her price is quite restrictive. She beat Nichols Canyon at Punchestown, but Nichols Canyon looked a little rusty following a break since April, and can reverse the placings today.

Verdict: Nichols Canyon wasn't at his best last time against Apple's Jade, but with a run now under the belt, he can put up a real challenge. Jezki is not the force of old and may struggle in younger company.

1.50 Irish Daily Star Novice Handicap Hurdle

Rated 99 which gets her in at the bottom of the weights, Tony Martin's Creeping Ivy catches the eye and was trading around 10/1 in the betting yesterday evening.

She was disappointing over hurdles in a Fairyhouse handicap in October, but shaped well when placed on the all-weather last week, which should have warmed her up nicely.

Verdict: Mouse Morris's Wigs On The Green has shown some fair form in maiden company and could go close here rated 114, but Creeping Ivy looks laid out for this race and market support will be a good sign.

2.25 Ballymaloe Foods INH Flat Race

There is very little to go on here but Willie Mullins has a good record in this race and Voix Des Tiep is tipped to land the prize once again under son Patrick for the Closutton handler, having placed in a bumper here before.

Whisperinthebreeze won a point-to-point in October and is related to some smart sorts so should be thereabouts.

Verdict: Active Force won a point-to-point and will be popular with Nina Carberry on board. Whisperinthebreeze also looks interesting too, but Voix Des Tiep gets the nod for the Mullins team. The one concern is that he hasn't been seen since February.

3.0 Leopardstown Christmas Chase

Jessica Harrington's Sizing John swerved the King George in favour of this race, and I'm surprised to see the Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cup winner priced as high as 6/4 in the early markets yesterday.

He looked as good as ever when winning the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown, seven lengths ahead of Djakadam, and he's now 9/2 in the ante-post markets for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Verdict: Mullins's Yorkhill is a high-class entry but he's a quirky character and is tackling this distance for the first time. Sizing John has the form in the book and should take all the beating. Djakadam has finished behind the selection a number of times now, and there's no reason to believe that will change here.

3.35 Midland Legal Solicitors Beginners Chase

Sutton Place had won five in-a-row including Graded races over hurdles, but was pulled up lame on his latest start in the Champion Stayers' Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. He should go close if transferring some of his form to fences.

Bacardys was very smart over hurdles, winning a couple of Grade Ones - but preference is for Noel Meade's Snow Falcon, which has shown some promise in chase races to date, including third place in a Grade One.

Verdict: Willie Mullins's Bacardys finished behind Snow Falcon on his chasing debut at Naas, and may struggle once again against that rival which still has scope for improvement. Sutton Place is the main danger horse.

More to follow...

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