Leopardstown hosts four days of the best jumps racing around over Christmas and Tony Keenan has previewed the main events...
"His win in the John Durkan was a career-best on the clock and as a seven-year-old that is lightly-raced over three miles and further, there could be more to come."
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: there have been 61 bets across my ante-post columns this year with nine winners and a level-stakes loss of 9.4 points. That's disappointing and I hope to do better in 2018 so perhaps the New Year will bring an ability to stop following disappointing horses like Journey, Signs Of Blessing and Bentelimar, all of whom I put up twice over the year.
As for Leopardstown next week, it looks as if the going will be on the decent side; currently described as yielding, the forecast is dry so there is every chance we get some good in it over the four days.
There are a few races with early prices that hold no betting appeal at this stage, the Racing Post Novice Chase and the Ryanair Hurdle. Those events are dominated by Footpad and Faugheen respectively and both seem likely to face thin fields next week. I suspect Footpad may be overrated in light of his trainer's comments about his excellent schooling and he has only beaten Brelade over fences. However, it looks as if his main opposition next Tuesday will be Tombstone and Avenir D'Une Vie so now is not the time to oppose him. Faugheen seems sure to have little more than a schooling gallop with the next highest rated entry some 16 pounds below him.
The plan had been to tip Oscar Knight at double-figure odds for the big handicap chase of the meeting but support has come for him since the weekend and he is now best-priced around [9.0]. Perhaps an anchoring bias is working against me but I don't want to bet him at that price as there is a long-standing concern about his jumping and he is likely to face 27 rivals here.
Still, almost everything else seems in his favour. The form of his win at Navan last December has particularly strong, the two to chase him home now 43lbs higher in the ratings, and he's been lightly-raced over fences since. He was a striking eye-catcher in this race last year, hampered badly early yet still managing third, and gets to race off six pounds higher which seems lenient in light of how the race unfolded. With wellbeing proven over hurdles at Naas last month, he looks set for a big run but alas the price has gone.
Of the rest, Polidam has obvious claims and should be fine at this trip; I don't quite know what he achieved in beating Acapella Bourgeois last time as that one seems best forcing the pace over three miles and may not have been seen to best effect at Navan. That said, it took proper support to back him into a Betfair SP of [3.09] at Punchestown last April and connections clearly think plenty of him.
Forever Gold and Bay Of Freedom are two bigger-priced horses to be interested in on the day when there will likely be five places on offer; like most of those towards the middle of the market, their odds are suppressed at this stage. Forever Gold ran a fine race behind the well-handicapped Presenting Percy at Fairyhouse last time on what was effectively his first run of the season and was in front plenty soon enough; he has a good record at the track. Bay Of Freedom is one that caught the eye with how he travelled in the Kerry National and could be suited by decent ground.
Yorkhill might be the most exciting horse to run anywhere over Christmas, not least because he brings significant chaos potential to a race, but is worth opposing at a relatively short price in the none-too-catchily-named Leopardstown Christmas Chase. I suspect Willie Mullins would prefer to run him in a weaker race than this first time out but his hands are tied with his apparent need to go left-handed; there simply aren't many suitable races available. Furthermore, this is his first try over three miles against proven stayers and his jumping remains patchy.
Perhaps there is still some doubt about Sizing John taking part as I am surprised he is on offer at around [3.25]; that looks a bet to me and he could easily go off around [2.0] on the day. His win in the John Durkan was a career-best on the clock and as a seven-year-old that is lightly-raced over three miles and further, there could be more to come. He has won his last five starts and while backing up quickly is a little concern, he seemed to thrive on racing last season. Perhaps the two quick races will take their toll in March but he is by far the most likely winner here especially with the ground as it is.
I wouldn't be surprised if his old rival Djakadam turned out to be his biggest challenger on the day as Willie Mullins said prior to the John Durkan that he wasn't as sharp as he'd been for that race in the previous two seasons. He should come on for that but the fact remains he has won just once in his last nine starts. He'd be interesting should Sizing John swerve the race.
Supasundae is the horse I wanted to back for this race after his run in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle; he was never comfortable on the ground and seemed short of fitness too, a point belaboured by his trainer Jessica Harrington at a recent preview event for this meeting. With the run under his belt, it looked like he could reverse form with Nichols Canyon who interestingly enough achieved figures broadly similar to Supasundae at the Cheltenham Festival despite winning a Grade 1.
The problem however is that Apple's Jade has been rerouted to the race and it is hard to see either Supasundae or Nichols Canyon reversing Fairyhouse form with her even if they are fitter. I've long had the suspicion she will prove better over three miles so don't want to oppose her so it might prove prudent to wait for the without markets on the day.