Sport

Big names dominate entries for Grade 1 races and Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown Christmas Festival

The Leopardstown Christmas Festival is exactly four weeks away and the initial entries for the seven Grade 1 races and the valuable Paddy Power Chase at the four-day extravaganza were released this morning at a yard visit to Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra Stables. The festival runs from St Stephen's Day, December 26 to Thursday, December 29 and is certainly not to be missed.DAY ONE: Racing Post Day, Monday, December 26€100,000 Grade 1 Brand New Racing Post App Novice ChaseTop-class performers Danoli (1996), Moscow Flyer (2001), Sizing Europe (2009), Douvan (2015), Min (2016) and the thoroughly exciting Ferny Hollow (2021) have all been successful in the Grade 1 Brand New Racing Post App Novice Chase on the opening day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival and 25 horses are on the early sheet for the upcoming renewal. Gordon Elliott certainly boasts a strong hand with Mighty Potter, Hollow Games and Three Stripe Life, the trio already winners over fences, among his team of five while Willie Mullins, who has won the race for the last two years, has nine entries including Flame Bearer, Sir Gerhard, Appreciate It and El Fabiolo. The Barry Connell-trained Enniskerry, Joseph O'Brien’s Banbridge and the Noel Meade-trained Highland Charge certainly have the form to make their presence felt.DAY TWO: Paddy Power Chase Day, Tuesday, December 27€200,000 Grade B Paddy Power Chase (Handicap)There’s a massive €200,000 pot on offer for the Paddy Power Chase on the second day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival and no surprise to see a bumper entry of 59 horses. Champion trainer Willie Mullins is responsible for 12 of them with Paddy Power Cork Grand National winner Captain Kangaroo, Authorized Art and Bleu Berry chief among them. Gordon Elliott has 11 entries to choose from with Irish Grand National runner-up and recent Galway winner Frontal Assault, Cork Grand National runner-up Defi Bleu and Hurricane Georgie on his team while Noel Meade has Farceur Du Large among his squad while Henry de Bromhead has a strong hand with both Ain’t That A Shame and Gabbys Cross entered. Recent Grade 2 winner Darrens Hope in the mix for County Waterford trainer Bob Murphy with Final Orders perhaps bidding to extend his recent winning run to four race for Gavin Cromwell. Runner-up to Frodon on his most recent outing, Lord Accord has been entered by Neil Mulholland while Ben Case has entered Fern Hill, a winner at Uttoxeter eight days ago, another potential raider from across the Irish Sea.  €125,000 Grade 1 Paddy's Rewards Club SteeplechaseThe first of two Grade 1 races on the second day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival is the Paddy's Rewards Club Chase. The 2020 edition was a race to savour with Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi coming home ahead of Henry de Bromhead’s pair, Notebook and Put The Kettle On. Last year, de Bromhead went a place better with Envoi Allen and he has both Captain Guinness and Coeur Sublime entered this time. Willie Mullins tops the lot with five top-notch entries, Energumene, Ferny Hollow, Blue Lord, Chacun Pour Soi and Gentleman De Mee while Gordon Elliott has three entries, Andy Dufresne, Riviere D’etel and Battleoverdoyen. Joseph O'Brien, Pat Fahy and Gavin Cromwell have entered Darasso, Dunvegan and Jeremys Flame respectively.€100,000 Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice HurdleThe Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle is the first Grade 1 hurdle race of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, one of three over the four days. Willie Mullins won with Hurricane Fly in 2008 and has captured five of the last seven renewals, winning the race for four straight years from 2015 to 2018. Appreciate It was a most impressive winner for the champion trainer in 2020 while Gordon Elliott added to his 2019 success in the race with Abacadabras as Mighty Potter scored a year ago. Both men dominate this time, Elliott’s team of nine includes American Mike, Absolute Notions, Itswhatunitesus and Irish Point while Facile Vega, Champ Kiely, Dark Raven, Ashroe Diamond and Gaelic Warrior are among 19 entries from Closutton. The Barry Connell-trained Marine Nationale, Henry de Bromhead’s Inthepocket and Gavin Cromwell’s pair Path D’oroux and Inothewayurthinkin are four others that have impressed to date.DAY THREE: Savills Day, Wednesday, December 27€175,000 Grade 1 Savills ChaseIn a cracking 2021 renewal, Gordon Elliott’s Galvin just got the better of Henry de Bromhead’s subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard and the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy to land the spoils. The trio are entered for the Grade 1 Savills Chase again this year and certainly adding to the intrigue are Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs, which bounced back from his fall at the Cheltenham Festival to will at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival, and the de Bromhead-trained Envoi Allen, which landed the first Grade 1 of the season when successful at Down Royal at the start of the month. Elliott could also be represented by 2022 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated and Fury Road while Stattler, Royal Rendezvous and Franco De Port make up the Mullins entry. Fakir D'oudairies and Busselton could both run for Joseph O'Brien while French Dynamite is there for Mouse Morris.€100,000 Grade 1 Jack de Bromhead Christmas HurdleThis year’s Christmas Hurdle will be run in the memory of Jack de Bromhead. Jack’s father Henry has earmarked the race for the classy Bob Olinger which is likely to come up against last year’s first and second in the race, the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream and the dual Cheltenham Festival winner, Flooring Porter, trained by Gavin Cromwell. Mullins has seven of the 22 entries, with Saldier and Echoes In Rain also on the team. Gordon Elliott has made five entries with Commander Of Fleet, Sire Du Berlais and Queens Brook among them while the recent Grade 2 winner Proschema has been given an entry by Dan Skelton while Noel Meade’s Cheltenham Festival winner Jeff Kidder is also included.DAY FOUR: Matheson Day, Thursday, December 28€150,000 Grade 1 Matheson HurdleWhile Willie Mullins has by far and away the best recent record in the race, it’s Nicky Henderson who will grab the headlines here as his early Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill tops the 13 entries. Mullins has made five entries and included among them is Sharjah which is likely to chase a remarkable fifth successive win in the race. Mullins might also target State Man, who beat Sharjah to win the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, at the two-mile event while the unbeaten Vauban is another entry for the champion trainer. Gordon Elliott has made four entries with Pied Piper and Fil Dor among them while also in the mix are Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger and the Joseph O'Brien-trained Darasso.€100,000 Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice ChaseGordon Elliott enjoyed a 1-2, with Fury Road beating Run Wild Fred, in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase last year and the Cullentra trainer has made a strong entry as he bids for a sixth win in the race with Mighty Potter, Hollow Games, Gerri Colombe and Three Stripe Life among his half-dozen. Willie Mullins, the 2020 winner with Monkfish, has put nine in the race, including Kilcruit, Bronn and Minella Cocooner. Fresh from her success in the Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Novice Chase at Punchestown, Darrens Hope has been entered by Bob Murphy while Thedevilscoachman and Idas Boy are there for Noel Meade.Tim Husbands Leopardstown CEO, said: “It is an exciting time for everyone at Leopardstown and we could not be happier with the quality of entries for the seven Grade 1 races and the Paddy Power Chase at our Christmas Festival. We are really looking forward to welcoming back racegoers to one of the great Christmas sporting traditions. Once again, we are so grateful to have the support of so many sponsors, owners and trainers and thanks to them, we are set for four days of truly top-class racing beginning on St Stephen’s Day.”The going is currently yielding (hurdle) and good to yielding, yielding in places (chase).Through the spring and autumn growing seasons, the National Hunt track has been subject to scarification, linear aeration, topdressing with organic matter, and overseeding.  In addition, there has been an ongoing programme of regular vertidraining and the use of wetting agents, as well as the continuation of a maintenance level of watering throughout the summer.  These procedures are all aimed at optimising plant health and soil structure, which in turn will aid the track in retaining moisture in an optimal way. Year on year this regime should see a gradual alignment of the conditions on the chase course with those on the hurdle tracks (which are used for flat racing and as such are subject to similar procedures each summer). Watering will continue as necessary through to the Christmas Festival.

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