They are off! Cracking racing at Down Royal, Leopardstown and Limerick previewed.

20131224-220040.jpgSo they are finally here, after all that pressure, the fat guy in the red suit has been issued his p45 and we can get down to the serious business of the Christmas Racing Festivals.

Unfortunately that Santa bill still needs to be paid for so we may look somewhere else other than or bank accounts to see if we can create a few pounds.

Racing today at Down Royal, Leopardstown and Limerick maybe provide a chance to make some inroads into that hefty Christmas bill.

The now traditional fixture programme provides every one with a chance of blowing away the cobwebs, kick up their fetlocks and go racing at any one of these three venues. Up till now the weather has been divine with no need to check for reports from the Met Office other than to see how quick the ground might be.

So your checklist for today is. to check if racing is on? Then what is the going like? And thirdly who is running?

Kicking off a preview of todays meeting Down Royal sees a quality entry for the Albert Bartlett Hunters Chase. With 15 declared runners this is the best Hunters Chase this season and sets the mark for the other courses early next year.

Two of last seasons top chasers in this sphere, Salsify and Tammys Hill renew their rivalry here. First and second in this event last year they battled it out for much of the season with a 2-2 scoreline during 2012/13. Salsify is the reigning Foxhunters Champion at Cheltenham and Punchestown with the 8 year old son of Beneficial making his seasonal reappearance under Colman Sweeney. Owned and trained by the family in Castlelyons in Co Cork , he is very much the stable star as they set out on the road to the festivals. Having not raced since a third place in June at Stratford the lack of a race might just tell against him.

Liam Lennons Tammys Hall has no such problem as the 8 year old Tamayaz gelding won at Ballindenisk 25 days ago in the hands of JJ Smyth. From all reports this win in the Open Lightweight was done with consummate ease. So we know that he is fit and well, he wont have to travel very far and that he seems to blossom at this time of year.

What of the rest, I’d list On the Fringe, Joncol and The Last Derby are the ones with the best chances of getting into the mix with the top two.

Joncol is one classy steeplechaser, with the Co Wexford Paul Nolan inmate, a former Grade 1 Hennessy Gold Cup winner in 2010 having now reverted to the point to point sector. The ground is the key to this horse with the softer the ground conditions the better. Former conditional jockey, Michael Doran has been entrusted with the mount here having transferred back to the amateur ranks and he will be keen to make a bold showing over the 2mile 7furlong trip.

David Christie has been campaigning The Last Derby in the point to point fields all autumn, winning 3 times from his Co Fermanagh stables. The 9 year old Anabaa gelding, a former Listed winner for Eoin Griffin can still raise a gallop and with one of the top jockeys in the amateur ranks Barry O’Neill they are no back number.

Enda Bolger and Nina Carberry can be a lethal combination and their On The Fringe, an 8 year old Exit To Nowhere gelding returns here after a 20 month absence. Whether he can beat all four of these remains to be seen but his Co Limerick handler can often surprise.

Leopardstown

Two Graded races highlight the first day of the four day meeting at the Co Dublin track with the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase having a field of 6. All the talk will be of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh scoring with Champagne Fever. This 6 year old son of Stowaway is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner and has already made an impressive debut over the bigger obstacles at Punchestown.

Tony Martin has a nice horse in the shape of Ted Veale with the 6 year old Revoque gelding more than up to mixing it on the flat, over hurdles and now over fences. Robbie Power takes the mount here and the former County Hurdle winner is more than capable of lowering the fever!

Others of interest to me are Paul Nolans Defy Logic, with the 6 year old Flemensfirth horse having the ability to win a top class race such as this one. While Trifolium a son of Goldneyev has to improve to win here for Davy Russell and Charles Byrnes.

The Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle has a look deja vu about it with Willie Mullins saddling both Analifet and Noble Inn to oppose each other again. The 3 year old Califet filly, Analifet has won on both occasions so far, so we might look elsewhere for dangers. Dessie Hughes has been knocking a nice tune out of Guitar Pete so far with the Dark Angel gelding looking a decent sort after his second at Cheltenham in November. While Gordon Elliott has taken charge of the former French hurdler, Arzembuoy Premier and the dual winner might surprise.

The bumper here is packed with stories and it might be difficult to decipher just which one is true. Lets throw a few names into the mix and spin the wheel. Vedettariart for Willie Mullins looks good as does the Dermot Weld horse Windsor Park , both of them have form as do Fort Smith for Gordon Elliot and All Hell Let Loose for Dessie Hughes. In addition Macbride was well spoken of on his debut at Punchestown on the 17th and his run when third didn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

Limerick

Race goers in the mid west can all travel to Limerick where the highlight on the day sees 9 runners set to face the starter in the Grade 2 2m 3f Greenmount Park Novice Chase.

Willie Mullins has the hot favourite here with the Graham Wylie owned Felix Yonger. This Oscar 7 year old gelding looks like having both the form and the class to see off these 8 rivals. Already a Graded winner over fences beating Defy Logic at Punchestown in 2013 and a Graded hurdle winner at Naas in 2012 all he has to do is jump a clear round and act on the softened going under Paul Townend. If he doesnt who else looks a winner? Strangely enough its from the same yard with Mullins also saddling The Paparrazi Kid here. This Milan 6 year old has a nice piece of win and placed form over fences and has the assistance of Emmet Mullins in the saddle.

One for the Day:

@ Down Royal, Tammys Hall.
@ Leopardstown, Macbride.
@ Limerick, Felix Yonger.

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