Flemenstar remains on course for his first test over three miles after featuring among 12 confirmations for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.
So impressive on his seasonal reappearance at Navan over two miles, Peter Casey’s hugely exciting seven-year-old stepped back up to two and a half miles to annihilate Willie Mullins’ previously unbeaten chaser Sir Des Champs with an awesome display in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
“Since the John Durkan Memorial, there has been no bother and no problem, but he’s been more than ticking over - he cantered three miles today. He’ll do the last of his work on Sunday at the Curragh,” said Casey.
The trainer is keen to see how Flemenstar fares over the longer trip of the Lexus before making plans for the rest of the season, saying: “We’ll have to see - I don’t know if he’ll run again or go straight to Cheltenham. The Gold Cup is the main objective and we’ll know on the 28th if he is a Gold Cup horse.”
Flemenstar is once again likely to cross paths with the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Sir Des Champs, as well as a host of other top-class chasers. Gigginstown also have Bog Warrior, First Lieutenant and Quito De La Roque engaged. As well as First Lieutenant, Mouse Morris could saddle China Rock, Shark Hanlon is set to run stable star Hidden Cyclone and Noel Meade’s Pandorama could appear for the first time since the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sizing Europe remains in the mix, as does Rubi Light, while Paul Nicholls’ Tidal Bay and Neil Mulholland’s Midnight Chase could both travel from Britain. Among those taken out were Weapon’s Amnesty and Weird Al.
Nicholls dealt double injury blow
Trainer Paul Nicholls says it is “unlikely” Big Buck’s and Al Ferof will run again this season. The former was due to run in Saturday’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, while Al Ferof was being prepared for an assault at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicholls told Betfair: “At evening stables, we discovered a problem with both Big Buck’s and Al Ferof.”
He added: “I am not in a position to go into great detail at this point, but I can confirm that Big Buck’s will not be taking up his engagement at Ascot on Saturday and Al Ferof will not be running in the King George. “And both are unlikely to run again this season.”
Dial-A-Bet the like aim for Europe
Henry de Bromhead has confirmed Sizing Europe will not run in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, with Leopardstown now his likely port of call over the Christmas period.
The 10-year-old has looked as good as ever in winning his two starts this season and connections remain keen to test the multiple Grade One winner over three miles on a sound surface, but with conditions likely to be testing at Kempton next week, Sizing Europe is set to instead head to Leopardstown for either the two-mile-one-furlong Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase or the Lexus Chase over three miles.
De Bromhead said: “We said at the start of the season we’d love to try him over three miles on better ground, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get that at the moment. Sometimes you do at Kempton on Boxing Day, but unfortunately we won’t this year.
“He has the two options at Leopardstown and we’ll leave him in both races, but the way the weather is going at the moment, I would imagine he’ll probably run in the two-mile race.”
Edgardo Sol, trained by British champion Paul Nicholls, is the sole overseas contender.
Down Royal winner in Kempton mix
Daryl Jacob’s replacement on Kauto Stone in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day has still to be decided. Jacob won the JNWine.comChampion Chase at Down Royal on Kauto Star’s half-brother, but a suspension picked up at Wincanton for mistaking the winning line has ruled him out of the potentially lucrative festive period and Charlie Liverton, racing manager to owner Robin Geffen, stated that as yet things are still up in the air.
He said: “Nothing has been finalised yet. Mr (Robin) Geffen (owner) and Paul Nicholls still need to sit down and come to a decision. We are just keeping our cards dry at present.”
He added: “He’s very much on target for the race, though, and has been doing everything nicely since Down Royal, touch wood.
“Being there will just be a dream, but at this stage that’s all it is as this game has a habit of bringing you back down to earth, as we found out on Saturday with Cristal Bonus when he had to be put down. “He was just beginning to realise his potential and it’s such a shame.”
David Pipe is still aiming Grands Crus at the race. The grey was a red-hot favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his seasonal reappearance but disappointed in heavy ground and has since had a wind operation.
Following a piece of work this morning, Pipe tweeted: “Grands Crus galloped this morning and I am pleased with his progress. Still hoping to make the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.”
Infection linked to Rubi reverse
Rubi Light was suffering from a lung infection when he trailed home a well-beaten third behind Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
Trainer Robbie Hennessy is pleased an explanation has been found for that display and is also thrilled his charge does not require a breathing operation, and he will now drop in trip for the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown on December 27, rather than run in the Lexus Chase a day later.
“We put an on-board scope on him on Friday and galloped him hard,” said County Meath-based Hennessy.
“It showed up that he had mucus on his lungs and, in a way, it was a bit of a relief. Barry Geraghty said when he got to the third-last he stopped very quickly and his breathing didn’t sound right.
“We were fearing that he might need a breathing op so I’m delighted that we’ve found the infection as it’s easily treated.
“He’s on something now until Christmas Day and hopefully he’ll be fine to run in the Dial-A-Bet on the 27th - I think that looks the best option. I know it’s two miles, but the Lexus looks very hot this year.”
Hotel waits for Thurles
Days Hotel is unlikely to run in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown. The seven-year-old showed smart form as a novice last season but had his campaign cut short through injury, though on his return from over 12 months off he beat a good field to win the Hilly Way Chase at Cork. Trainer Henry de Bromhead will resist the lure of the Grade One in favour of the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on January 17.
“I think we’re going to give it (Leopardstown) a miss with him,” said De Bromhead.
“At this stage we’re working towards the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles. He’d been off for a year so I just thought it might be a bit quick for him to run again at Leopardstown.
“He jumps for fun and appreciates the really deep ground. I was absolutely delighted with him in the Hilly Way, having been off for so long to win as he did was a tremendous performance.”
Bookies expect epic jockey battle
Bookmakers are anticipating an epic duel for the National Hunt riders’ championship this season. Red-hot Ruby Walsh, who rode seven winners over the weekend at Cheltenham and Navan, has battled to within striking distance of reigning champion Russell.
Fresh from a treble at Cheltenham on Saturday, Walsh rode a brilliant four-timer at Navan, including an all-the-way success in the Grade One Navan Hurdle on Pont Alexandre. In contrast, Russell endured wretched luck, hitting the ground in three successive races on Sunday. Walsh is 11-10 from 5-4 to win the title for the seventh time, with Russell easing to 4-6 favourite from 4-7.
Joseph Burke of Stan James said: “Following Ruby’s magnificent four-timer at Navan, he has cut the gap between himself and Davy Russell to just five winners.
“He is riding like a man determined to wrest his title back, having not won it now for a couple of seasons. “After a fantastic battle for the Flat jockeys’ title this season, it appears we can now look forward to a tremendous battle for the N.H. championship well.”