Ruby Walsh: Top picks for Leopardstown, Kempton & Limerick on St Stephens’ Day

You need big calls on a big day.

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Leopardstown 14.20 2m 1f Novices Steeplechase

This looks a great match between Laurina and Fakir D’oudairies. The latter’s been very good over fences so far, beating Melon comprehensively at Navan and winning at Fairyhouse. Some questioned whether he would have beaten Samcro if Gordon Elliott’s runner hadn’t fallen at the second last.

There’s no doubt that Fakir D’oudairies’s jumping had been outstanding until Samcro exited and the fences down the back stretch at Leopardstown will suit him on Thursday.

However, there’s a long five-furlong run from the third last to the winning post at the Foxrock venue, with just two fences to jump. That could play into the hands of a strong stayer like Laurina.

She’s a wonderful jumper too and looked a different mare in soft ground at 2m 4f at Gowran Park on her chasing debut. Dropping back in trip at Leopardstown on Thursday to 2m 1f will be tough, though.

Notebook could be a bit of value, but he’s a keen horse who likes to race close to the pace, as does Fakir D’oudairies, and with the way he jumps, that’s probably more likely to put Notebook under pressure.

I hope Laurina wins – but Fakir D’oudairies looks hard to beat.

Faugheen-wins-debut-over-fences-at-Punchestown-2019

Limerick 14.40 2m3f Grade One Novice Chase

This is another one of the clashes of the day. A year ago, Getabird was a short-priced favourite here for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott’s Hardline turned him over. This year, Samcro is likely to be the favourite, but I’m hoping Faugheen can turn him over in a role-reversal from 12 months ago.

Samcro comes in off the back of a slip at Fairyhouse at the second last behind Fakir D’oudairies while Faugheen comes off an okay round of jumping – at best – in Punchestown.

They’re two great horses and Limerick race-goers are in for a treat. In business your head should always rule your heart, but this isn’t business for me anymore.

I’ll go with my heart and Faugheen.

Kempton 14.30 2m Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle  

This is always a thriller. Nicky Henderson’s has three in the race in Verdana Blue, Epatante and Fusil Raffles. Just based on the way the trainer’s been talking about Fusil suggests to me he thinks he’s a bit better than average.

If that is right, it should be Fusil Raffles all the way.

Cyrname-wins-at-Ascot-Feb-19

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Kempton 15.05 Grade 1 King George VI Chase

What do you need to win the King George? Pace and jumping ability more than speed or stamina.

You have to have pace. People get mixed up about that. Pace means you have the ability to go fast and stay going. Despite just six runners being declared for Thursday’s contest – it should be end-to-end stuff and a cracking renewal.

Cyrname has loads of pace, is a great jumper, loves going right-handed, beat Altior at Ascot. I think he’ll stay the 3m trip.

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Stepping up from 2m 4f to 3m this year has suited Lostintranslation. They’ve changed tactics with him a bit too, he’s a great jumper and he was very good in Haydock. Clan des Obeaux got a great ride to claim victory in the King George 12 months ago, but just ran okay at Down Royal behind Road To Respect on his reappearance. This is a much better race than last year though.

Willie Mullins sends Footpad over from Ireland and he was very good when winning at Thurles over 2m 6f. He had a poor season last year after a brilliant year as a novice. He jumps well, we think he’ll stay and he’s in really good form at home

If you offered me a ride in the race though, I’d go for Cyrname.

*Prices and entries correct at time of publication

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