Sport Horse Racing

Friday 23 March 2018

Valseur has gears for Lexus glory and Falcon can soar above Mag

Bacardys and Ruby Walsh (No 3) get the better of Kolumbus (Paul Townend) to win yesterday’s maiden hurdle at Leopardstown. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bacardys and Ruby Walsh (No 3) get the better of Kolumbus (Paul Townend) to win yesterday’s maiden hurdle at Leopardstown. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

There has been a special buzz about Leopardstown this week and day three, the feature of which is the Lexus Chase, will do little to drag the mood down.

The crowds have been so encouraging as to give Irish racing even greater confidence approaching 2017.

Though it perhaps lacks a sense of the extraordinary, especially coming two days after Thistlecrack's astonishing display of aerial virtuosity in the King George, today's showcase event contains two leading rivals for that one in the Gold Cup - and no end of dark horses.

Moreover, we have Vroum Vroum Mag step up in distance in the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle, though she is a shockingly bad price based on ratings and may prove vulnerable to a stronger stayer.

This is a battle between bookmakers and handicapper Noel O'Brien - who will emerge on top?

Even the undercard is subtle in its allure, rendering it a sad thing that this Christmas festival has to end some time.

12.15 At The Races Maiden Hurdle 2m5f35yds

Willie Mullins can realise his quest to win this for the fourth time in seven renewals. His string has sparkled this Christmas and Montalbano can likely do the job. By a sprinter in Monsieur Bond, he won over an extended mile and a half on the level, and was second over hurdles at Auteuil under Jacques Ricou in March. He could be a pacey sort now.

Youcannotbeserious, by contrast, is bred to jump, and a little step up on his Navan and Punchestown runs can see him involved.

Verdict: The ground has not been typical of the season and that should suit the ex-Flat horse Montalbano, which seems to have a nice mix of pace and stamina.

12.50 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier) 3m

This is usually a really difficult assignment for punters: not only must they peruse the form, they must also figure out if some horses' connections would be as happy to finish placed as to win, with Cheltenham in mind.

A progressive sort is probably needed here and we will go with Billy's Hope. He really seemed to appreciate stepping up to a staying distance at Thurles and that performance was something of a revelation, especially given how easily he travelled. Leopardstown holds no fears.

Bridgets Pet must be of interest. He has not been seen since a cracking showing at the Festival at Prestbury Park.

Verdict: Billy's Hope has edged up the ratings, yet he remains open to progress at around three miles.

1.20 Ballymaloe Foods Beginners Steeplechase 2m3f

Djakadam won this in 2013 and stablemate Bleu Et Rouge is difficult to get away from now. His main day over hurdles as a novice last term was when beating Tombstone in a Grade One at this venue last February.

He did not quite go on from that but rates a high-class addition to Willie Mullins' novice ranks, with Barry Geraghty picking him over fellow Grade One-winning hurdler Don't Touch It.

Former stablemate Gangster ran into Yorkhill on his chasing bow, his first start for Henry de Bromhead.

That was an excellent effort and he can make the frame, albeit in a red-hot maiden.

Verdict: Bleu Et Rouge is the one to beat, but there are ample dangers here.

1.50 Grade One Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle 3m

Vroum Vroum Mag might have gone to Kempton for the two-mile test won by Yanworth; her versatility is evinced by her taking on this challenge instead - and, if so needed, she could even have gone over fences. She is a special mare but she has to defy the handicapper, who still fails to rate her anywhere near the likes of Faugheen, if she is to win this.

She has not been tested at the top level over a demanding three miles, whereas Snow Falcon stays longer than the mother-in-law and was running a blinder when falling on latest behind Unowhatimeanharry. That he has fallen twice in the last year is a concern, but his engine is not one. There are other dangers to the favourite, including stablemate Shaneshill, while Kotkikova needs market monitoring.

Verdict: The value here could be Snow Falcon, which is put forward each-way against likely favourite Vroum Vroum Mag.

2.25 Irish Daily Star Christmas Novice Handicap Hurdle 2m

Those many people who backed Tudor City at Cheltenham will surely be in again but he is that bit frustrating and preference is for the JP McManus-owned Thirsty Work.

The world and his mother backed the son of Robin Des Champs at Punchestown, when his laboured effort seemed too much so to be realistic. A bumper winner, he surely has more to offer. At bigger prices, Charlie Stout looked an improver at Thurles.

Verdict: Take Thirsty Work to prove his last run all wrong. However, Tudor City has to be feared.

3.00 Grade One Lexus Steeplechase 3m

Plenty of big names are missing here but it is hard not to be excited. That said, we probably need a dramatically good performance from Valseur Lido to give rise to any Irish hopes that we can beat Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup.

Valseur Lido did everything right in the Chase at Down Royal, enjoying coming through horses and jumping like a pro. Over the course and trip last season, he fell when leading in the Irish Gold Cup, though those who back Djakadam will point to his consistency and it should be a cracker of a race.

At a bigger price, Don Poli has to be considered, but his was such a lifeless run at Down Royal, one can only be concerned. Troytown winner Empire Of Dirt deserves a shot at this company too.

A whopping field of 14 is larger than the norm, with Taquin Du Seuil coming over from Britain, as does stablemate More Of That. Neither is a hopeless case; nor is Smashing, a 50/1 chance which has been delighting new trainer Mouse Morris in his work.

Verdict: Valseur Lido is preferred to Djakadam, though there are plenty of each-way options.

3.35 Midland Legal Solicitors Flat Race 2m

Carter McKay joined Willie Mullins from Nick Stokes, based in Fethard, having won a point for him in April. He could take the beating here for the all-conquering champion trainer.

Moyross, by Thistlecrack's stallion, Kayf Tara, is to be feared.

Verdict: A tricky finale but in bumpers, when in doubt, back Willie Mullins so Carter McKay gets the nod.

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