Jezki ready for big test
Donn McClean picks out his best bets for Lexus Chase Day at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
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A few miles from the racecourse, and you have to hope that the wings and the rails at Leopardstown are nailed down more securely than the neighbours' bins. At least the radio still works. (Racing goes ahead.) It will take more than a gale that Beaufort hadn't thought of and a Code Red from Met Eireann to stop these NH boys.
Lexus Chase day on Saturday, it probably won't produce the finish that we had last year, the most thrilling climax that we had to a chase all season, but it is still shaping up to be a cracker again this year, with Cheltenham Gold Cup first and second set to go head-to-head again.
Both Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs have something to prove now, mind you, after respective less than auspicious starts to the season. Of the pair, Sir Des Champs probably has less to prove. He had a mis-hap on his debut, whereas Bobs Worth's run was just a little disappointing. Nicky Henderson's horse will be much better-suited by Leopardstown than he was by Haydock, and the form of the Haydock race received a significant boost when the first and third fought out the finish of the King George yesterday, clear of their rivals, but Bobs Worth still has to bounce back now, and he has to travel.
The drop down from three miles and two and a half furlongs from Cheltenham is more in Sir Des Champs' favour than in Bobs Worth's, as is the fact that the race is set to be run at Leopardstown, where Sir Des Champs has won twice. Bobs Worth shades favouritism at present, but you could easily argue that the betting should be the other way around.
Also, do not rule out a bold show from Sir Des Champs' stable companion Rubi Ball. He didn't appear to be happy at Thurles on his debut for Willie Mullins last month, jumping hurdles, racing right-handed and racing on goodish ground. A top class French recruit, he should be much happier going left-handed, racing on easier ground and jumping fences.
Then it's the Ryanair Hurdle on Sunday, the old December Festival Hurdle, featuring, as it will, the clash between Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Our Conor. All three still on track.
This race will provide the latest piece in the Champion Hurdle picture, which will fit nicely into place beside yesterday's Christmas Hurdle. Not that the Christmas Hurdle was a definitive piece. You can't now say that My Tent Or Yours will beat The New One in the Champion Hurdle, no more than you can say that The New One will beat My Tent Or Yours. But that just makes it all the more intriguing.
It is unlikely that the Ryanair Hurdle will provide a definitive piece either. We know that Hurricane Fly is building up to the defence of his crown in March, so this run is probably going to have to bring him forward again. Although you also know that he will have to be sharper than he was for the Morgiana Hurdle.
You know that Our Conor is probably going to come on for this, his seasonal debut, his first run over hurdles since his Triumph Hurdle demolition in March. You know that, as a four-going-five-year-old, history tells us that he might struggle against his elders this season. But you also know that the four-year-old form from last year is working out really well. And you know that Dessie Hughes is really happy with where he has Barry Connell's horse at present.
You know that Jezki's Supreme Novices' Hurdle form got a nice boost yesterday via My Tent Or Yours, and that he hasn't been beaten since, his latest win coming in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle in Grade 1 open competition. The Jessica Harrington-trained gelding is three for three at Leopardstown, he loves the place, and he could be the under-rated horse of the piece.
It is a significant piece though. We could be in for a whirlwind. Batten down the hatches.