THE Breeders’ Cup Carnival might only be a week away, but this weekend our attention focuses on the National Hunt sphere as Down Royal hosts Ireland’s first Grade 1 of the new jumps season.
Down Royal’s October meeting has firmly established itself as the curtain-raiser for top winter horses. Over the years, Florida Pearl, Beef Or Salmon, and even the mighty Kauto Star began their campaigns by winning the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.
More recently, Gigginstown House have farmed the race with top horses such as Don Cossack and Road To Riches. In fact, they have won the last seven renewals and are once again responsible for this year’s hot favourite Delta Work.
Strongly fancied for this race 12 months ago, Delta Work was sent off 2/1 second-favourite behind Clas Des Obeaux when managing only fourth in a falsely run affair.
He bounced back on his next two starts by winning the Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown before finishing fifth in the Cheltenham showpiece.
Now a seven-year-old and rated 170, it’s not difficult to think that Delta Work could be better this season.
His trainer Gordon Elliott has already notched up over 80 winners since the restart and his regular pilot Jack Kennedy has rushed back from a fractured collarbone with this horse in mind.
Noel Meade will have Tout Est Permis all fired up, as will Henry de Bromhead with Balko Des Flos. Throw in the added intrigue of Presenting Percy having his first start for team Elliott and we have the ideal race to whet our appetite for the winter months.
Michael O’Leary also holds the aces in the Lough Construction Chase at 3pm tomorrow as Samcro bids to make a winning reappearance just like he did at this meeting last term. Considering the small field size, this is likely to be a tactical affair that could suit proven front runner Notebook.
Henry de Bromhead’s Irish Arkle winner was a top-class novice before disappointing at Cheltenham and while he is inclined to jump slightly to his right, this track will suit and, to my eye, he will have more gears than last season’s JLT Chase winner.
That’s what awaits us tomorrow but what about today?
Well, the meeting gets underway with a seven-race card including the WKD Hurdle which sees the ever-exciting Abacadabras start his road to the Champion Hurdle.
A good bumper horse and an even better novice hurdler, this speedy son of Davidoff eased through the field under Davy Russell in the Supreme Novices in March.
He was collared close home by Shishkin, but the way Abacadabras travelled suggested he could be top class at two miles. With an official rating of 158, he’ll have to improve to worry Epatante or Buveur d’Air, but they lay in wait further down the line.
In the interim, his rating puts him 11lbs clear of today’s nearest rival Sixshooter. Henry de Bromhead saddles a talented duo with Rachael Blackmore opting to ride the four-year-old Aspire Tower which leaves Paul Townend to take the ride on recent flat winner and previous Grade 2 winning Novice Jason The Militant.
It’s all about the mares at 1.15pm as Cheltenham Bumper third and recent Fairyhouse maiden hurdle winner Queens Brook heads the market for the Grade 3 Mares Novice Hurdle.
This mare appears to have the world at her feet this season and while there are some talented mares in opposition, most notably Politesse for Lorna Fowler and Brave Way for team de Bromhead-Blackmore, Queens Brook could be a level above based on her bumper form.
Aside from the prizemoney and the pattern races, perhaps the beginners chase at 3pm is the most interesting race of all.
Yes, this marks the return of Envoi Allen in the race that Samcro so effortlessly won last season. Envoi Allen will be partnered by Jack Kennedy for the first time in public and considering he won a point-to-point for Colin Bowe as a four-year-old, this should be a straightforward task for arguably the most exciting horse in training.