Donn McClean previews today's card at Leopardstown

Donn McClean had plenty of winners at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival - now check out his best bet for this afternoon.

Donn's best bet:

14
710-5OR: 130
7/1
Last RunWatch last race

It is rarely a bad thing when any one of several races could be the feature race of a racing day. The BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle is today’s feature at Leopardstown, and any race in which Faugheen takes part is an automatic feature. But Footpad versus Petit Mouchoir could be the feature of any day. Yorkhill versus Min and Special Tiara and Simply Ned could be a feature. Okay, so that’s only a Grade 2 contest in name, but it’s a Grade 1 in stature.

It’s some day ahead.

There may not be many betting angles to the graded races, mind you. If the Faugheen of today is equal to the Faugheen of old, or even if he is close to the Faugheen of old, he will win the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle. But there is no way of knowing that he is, and it is difficult to put a figure on that from a betting perspective.

Likewise Yorkhill. He is fascinating, dropping down to two miles, but it is difficult to argue with odds of around even money. You can argue both sides of that coin.

There may be an angle, however, to the Footpad/Petit Mouchoir clash. It may be that the disparity in their respective odds is greater than it should be.

Footpad has been dynamite in his two runs over fences thus far. Willie Mullins’ horse has jumped 23 fences in public, and he hasn’t made a mistake at any of them. He flows over his obstacles, he is efficient and effortless, and he is already rated higher over fences than over hurdles.

He was a high-class hurdler too, he won the Spring Hurdle and the Prix Alain du Breil as a juvenile two years ago, and he finished second in the Irish Champion Hurdle last year.

But Petit Mouchoir was a better hurdler. He beat Footpad in that Irish Champion Hurdle last year and, on the two other occasions on which the pair of them met over hurdles, it was the Gigginstown House horse who came on top.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained gelding was impressive too on his chasing bow at Punchestown in October. His jumping was very good, and he beat Brelade and Burgas easily.

It is a pity that he had a setback after that, and that, consequently, we haven’t seen him race since. That is obviously not a positive in the context of today’s race. He has only had one run over fences, he lacks chasing experience, and he hasn’t raced at all for over 100 days.

It may be that Footpad will have a race-fitness edge today, and it may be that he will prove to be the better chaser anyway, but we know that Petit Mouchoir is a top class performer, and it is significant that connections are happy to allow him take his chance today, in a Grade 1 race, taking on Footpad. He could get closer to the favourite than the betting suggests.

The race run over the course and distance on St Stephen’s Day could hold a key to the two-mile-one-furlong handicap chase, a race in which Bel Ami De Sivola and Blast Of Koeman finished second and third respectively, with Dysios and Presenting Mahler well behind.

There may not be much between Bel Ami De Sivola and Blast Of Koeman again today, and Robert Tyner’s horse is 2lb better off now, but that may not be sufficient to enable him overturn a four-length deficit. Bel Ami De Sivola is a bigger price, and he could represent the value of the race.

The Network gelding may do better over further in time, he won over two and a half miles over hurdles, but he travelled well into that race at Christmas, and he looked a likely winner when he moved up on the outside of Tisamystery after they had jumped the second last fence. It was a fair tussle between the pair of them from that point, the two of them had it between them over the last and up the hill, with Noel Meade’s horse going down by just a head.

The handicapper raised him 4lb for that, which was fair. He is only seven and he is nicely progressive now over fences. Third behind Footpad and Brelade in a beginners’ chase at Navan in November, he progressed from that to finish fourth behind Nearly Nama’d in a handicap chase at Fairyhouse on Hatton’s Grace Hurdle weekend that is working out well.

Nearly Nama’d hasn’t run since, and he could be a factor in today’s race, but Bel Ami De Sivola is 5lb better off with Austin Leahy’s horse for six and a half lengths, and that, combined with the younger horse’s potential for progression, could enable him gain his revenge.

A bumper winner and a dual winner over hurdles, Bel Ami De Sivola has not won a chase yet, but he has raced just five times over fences, and he has the potential to continue to improve. He could run a big race.

www.donnmcclean.com

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