Irish Boxing Day Preview: Elliott And Mullins To Fight It Out

Boxing Day, or as it is known in Ireland, St Stephen’s Day, is one of racing’s biggest days of the year, with top-class action on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Irish Boxing Day Preview: Elliott And Mullins To Fight It Out

Boxing Day, or as it is known in Ireland, St Stephen’s Day, is one of racing’s biggest days of the year, with top-class action on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Indeed, whilst all eyes will undoubtedly be on Kempton Park come 15:05, there are two Grade 1 races due to take place over in Ireland in the hour preceding, including the Racing Post Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown, won in recent years by the likes of Douvan, Min and Footpad.

The one who is a short-priced favourite for this is the Gordon Elliott-trained Mengli Khan Horseform, who also holds an entry in Limerick’s Grade 1 novice, which is discussed below, but he is likely to head here instead. A Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last term, Mengli Khan is built for chasing, and he made a very encouraging start when bolting up a novice event at Punchestown last month; winning hard held, for all that he wasn’t put under any kind of pressure with his jumping. He may not have learned too much from that opening outing, but he looks highly likely to progress and win plenty of races as a chaser.

As is usually the case in Grade 1 contests in Ireland, two particular trainers seemingly have the best hands, and the biggest threat to the Elliott-trained runner is likely to come from the Willie Mullins team, in the form of Voix du Reve Horseform. A smart handicap hurdler, he has taken really well to chasing, extending his perfect start over fences to 2-2 when winning the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novices’ Chase at Punchestown last month under an attacking ride from Paul Townend. With Ruby Walsh reportedly considering a trip to Limerick, Townend is likely to be on board once again, and whilst this race is undoubtedly tougher for Voix du Reve, he isn’t one to dismiss lightly.

More experienced than both is Le Richebourg Horseform, who has three chase starts under his belt to date, winning two. He lost his unbeaten record when finishing second in the Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse at the beginning of the month, but he lost nothing in defeat that day, having every chance turning for home and only headed close home. With more progression on the cards, he is a leading candidate. Like Le Richebourg, another in the McManus colours who is worthy of a mention is Winter Escape, whohas been rejuvenated by the switch to the Aidan Anthony Howard yard over the summer, winning a Grade 3 contest at Cork last time, and whilst he would need to pull out more to be competitive here, he is another open to improvement in this sphere.

Of the rest, the Joseph O’Brien-trained Us And Them has made a solid start to his chasing career, winning one of his three starts so far, and he ran well when second in a Grade 3 contest at Navan last time; giving the impression that he is very much the type who could win a valuable handicap or two. This may prove to be too much of a step up in grade, however, and the same can be said for Duca de Thaix, who improved to win a handicap at Fairyhouse last time, but may be biting off more than he can chew at this level.

Like Leopardstown, Limerick also hosts top-level action on St Stephen’s Day with the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novices’ Chase, won in recent years by the likes of Sir des Champs, Bellshill and Outlander, which has been upgraded to Grade 1 status this season.

Plenty of improving types are due to take their chance, but strictly on Timeform ratings, the one who sets the standard so far is the Gigginstown-owned Delta Work, trained by Gordon Elliott and one of 11 entries for the operation at the time of writing. A smart hurdler last season, winning the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival, Delta Work is 2-2 over fences so far, winning the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse at the beginning of the month; headed when making a mistake at the last, before battling well to lead again on the run-in. He’s likely to suited by the step up to three miles, a distance at which he showed his best hurdling form, but he holds strong form claims in this, as does fellow Gigginstown runner Hardline, another with Elliott, who picked up a Grade 3 contest at Navan this month. He had his colours lowered in a Grade 2 contest at Punchestown last month, beaten by one with superior hurdling form, but there could be more to come yet and he isn’t discounted. With Mengli Khanlikely to head to Leopardstown, the other Gigginstown runner worthy of a mention is Mind’s Eye, who found life tough when finishing ninth behind Delta Work in the Drinmore, but he had looked a useful recruit to chasing when winning a novice event at Wexford in October and may be worth another chance.

Another who was behind Delta Work at Fairyhouse was Jetz, who ran to a similar level as when winning a novice event at Navan a week earlier. He’s getting the hang of chasing now, with three starts under his belt so far, and he could yet show more, as could Camelia de Cotte, who is thriving at present, winning her fourth race over fences when taking a mares’ Grade 3 event at Cork last time out.

However, the one who makes the most appeal is her stablemate, Getabird , who was one of the best novice hurdlers around last season and is likely to be a short price for this. As mentioned above, he could find himself partnered by Ruby Walsh, and whilst he was ultimately beaten at short odds at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals, he looks a natural in this discipline, something that he demonstrated when winning on chasing debut at Punchestown 11 days ago; jumping soundly and drawing clear on the run-in with a fair bit in hand. He should take high rank amongst this season’s novice chasers, and is taken to win this.

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