There’s a great card at Leopardstown on Friday and Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will be looking to get off to a flyer in the opener to set the tone for the final two days of the Christmas Festival after the shock of Footpad getting beaten in the shadow of the post on Thursday.
They saddle Elite Charboniere at Leopardsown 12.10 in the maiden hurdle and this horse won at a French provincial track for Patrice Quinton and has a similar profile to so many of the good horses Willie introduces to Irish racing.
The second race on the card is the Pertemps Qualifier at 12.45. Joseph O’Brien’s Thermistocles was an easy winner at Clonmel and makes some appeal in his first handicap.
However, I’m drawn to Russian Bill after an eye-catching run at Navan last time. He only has 10st 1lb on his back and will handle conditions.
At 20/1 in early trading he looks an big each-way play.
The 2m 5f Beginners Chase at 1.20pm has a small but select field and I am going to go for Tower Bridge. He disappointed behind Ben Dundee last time out but he is better than that as he showed when placed in the Grade One hurdle last season at Aintree, behind leading RSA candidate now, Santini.
The Grade One 3m hurdle at 1.50pm looks a cracking race and if Apples Jade is in the same form as she was when winning at Fairyhouse, she should win again.
My only worry is I think she is much better going right-handed, even though she did win here last year. Mullins’ Faugheen is her biggest danger and if he can progress from his first run over this longer trip – he could upset the favourite.
And we’ve seen plenty of surprises over the last few days!
In the 2m 4f handicap hurdle at 2.25pm, it would be great to see Wee Small Hours reward his connections as he’s been so consistent. He is the each-way selection. However, the likely market leader Mighty Stowaway is back over hurdles after two wins over fences and looks well treated on his hurdles mark compared to his chase rating. He sets a good standard.
The Grade One Savills Chase at 3pm is a great race and we could see the winner enter the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture after Wednesday’s King George burst a few bubbles.
Bellshill was so impressive first time out last season in beating Balko des Flos, that it is hard to ignore him.
I know connections feel he is a very capable performer. Noel Meade’s Road to Respect won this last year and he has everything in his favour. The decent ground is right up his street and he comes here off the back of an impressive Grade One win at Down Royal a few weeks back.
Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love is starting to find her mojo and ran a great race against Min at Punchestown.
But it’s Bellshill to win and announce himself as a Gold cup contender.
The Irish bumpers are hard to assess but the market is always the best guide. While the Mullins’ bumper team haven’t been firing on all cylinders this season, they usually keep their best ones for this meeting. Strong market support for General Counsel could speak volumes in the finale at 3.35pm.