A Plus Tard, Irish racing

A preview of the festive Irish racing

The Christmas period is always one of the busiest and best times of the year in the world of horse racing, with top-class action on both sides of the Irish Sea.

With the Irish dominant at the Cheltenham Festival in recent years, we have taken a look at some of the key races from the Emerald Isle over Christmas, where Cheltenham Festival clues are often on show.

Leopardstown is Irish racing’s flagship Christmas meeting with seven Grade One races across their four-day Festival but there are also Graded contests at Limerick, Fairyhouse and Tramore.

December 26

The day one highlight at Leopardstown is the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase (2.20) which has been won by the likes of Moscow Flyer, Sizing Europe and Douvan in the past.

The 2020 Champion Bumper winner FERNY HOLLOW (10/11) could be the one to watch this year as he looks to build on a faultless chasing debut at Punchestown but he faces stern opposition from Gordon Elliott’s impressive Navan winner RIVIERE D’ETEL (6/4).

Elliott also holds a strong hand in the Grade Two juvenile hurdle (1.10) on the card with ante-post Triumph Hurdle favourite FIL DOR engaged while Champion Bumper winner SIR GERHARD could get his hurdling career up and running in the 12.35.

Over at Limerick, the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase has attracted a strong line-up that includes Gavin Cromwell’s Cheltenham Festival scorer VANILLIER and the first three home in last month’s Drinmore Novice Chase.

December 27

The Irish racing ramps up at Leopardstown with Willie Mullins’ two-mile stars CHACUN POUR SOI (9/2) and ENERGUMENE (4/9) on course for a collision with ENVOI ALLEN (6/1), who appears destined to drop back in trip having disappointed in the John Durkan earlier this month.

Mullins is looking for his fifth victory in the race (1.10) while Henry de Bromhead took this two years ago with A Plus Tard.

The master of Closutton also has a strong hand in the other Grade One on the card, the Future Champions Novice Hurdle (1.45), responsible for 11 of the initial 14 entries.

Appreciate It won the race 12 months ago before sauntering to Supreme Novices’ Hurdle success at the Cheltenham Festival.

Minella Times finished second in the Paddy Power Chase (2.55) last Christmas before going on to win the Grand National and Aintree clues could be on offer once more, with Elliott saddling the top two in the market.

The unbeaten GINTO could put his Cheltenham Festival credentials to the test in Limerick‘s Grade Two Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Land Rover Novice Hurdle (2.05), with the five-year-old impressing at Navan earlier this month. 

Energumene, Irish racing

December 28

Undoubtedly the best day of Irish racing over the Christmas period, the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture could become clearer over at Leopardstown.

Rachael Blackmore is set to be in the saddle as A PLUS TARD (8/11) attempts to follow up his Haydock Betfair Chase romp when defending his Savills Chase (2.20) crown.

He will be joined in the line-up by some of the best staying chases in Irish racing, including previous winners DELTA WORK (8/1) and KEMBOY (8/1).

You often have to look among the placed horses to find your Cheltenham Festival winner from the Pertemps qualifier (1.10) on the card.

Mrs Milner and Sire Du Berlais have both finished in the top six in this race before scoring in the  Prestbury Park final later in the season while The Storyteller was a Festival runner-up in 2020 having made the top half-dozen in this contest in 2019.

FLOORING PORTER (2/1) won the Grade One Christmas Hurdle (1.45) here last season before storming to success in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Gavin Cromwell’s six-year-old is back to defend his title but faces quality opposition in the form of  KLASSICAL DREAM (5/2), ABACADABRAS (8/1) and RONALD PUMP (6/1).

To complete a fantastic afternoon of Irish racing, Cheltenham Festival winner GALOPIN DES CHAMPS could make his eagerly-awaited chasing debut in the Ballymaloe Relish Beginners Chase (2.55) and Champion Bumper clues could be on offer in the Midland Legal Solicitors Flat Race (3.30).

December 29

The last day of Leopardstown‘s Christmas Festival sees SHARJAH (evens) attempt to win the feature Matheson Hurdle (2.20) for the fourth successive season.

That would give Mullins his ninth win in the race since 2010 as fringe Champion Hurdle contenders look to throw their hat into the ring while Honeysuckle watches on from her stable.

Ladbrokes Trophy fourth ONTHEROPES could attempt to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Monkfish by taking the Neville Hotels Novice Chase (1.45) for Mullins while there is also a Grade 3 mares’ hurdle (1.10) on the card.

Limerick‘s Christmas action also draws to a close on Wednesday afternoon with the Grade 2 BoyleSports Sporting Limerick Hurdle (1.30) the highlight of a seven-race card.

Triumph Hurdle winner QUILIXIOS looks the star attraction in that contest.

Sharjah, Irish racing

New Year’s Day

2022 gets off to a bang in the Emerald Isle with two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner AL BOUM PHOTO going for four straight wins in Tramore‘s Savills New Year’s Day Chase (2.20).

This has been the nine-year-old’s regular starting point on the path to Prestbury Park and he could provide the perfect tonic to cure the New Year hangover.

Fairyhouse also stages a seven-race card that features the Grade 3 John & Chich Fowler Memorial EBF Mares’ Chase (2.40).

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