PEOPLE often ask, 'what’s your favourite thing about Christmas?'
The answer is simple – when Santa has come and gone, racing takes over!
The four-day festivities at Leopardstown and Limerick are the pinnacle of what our sport has to offer.
Brilliant racetracks staging top-class competition in the height of the jumping season is exactly what’s necessary to prolong the festive season and hopefully steal a few euros from the bookies along the way.
The feature race at Limerick is the Greenmount Park Novice Chase — a race that will be run as a Grade One for the first time this year.
Limerick Racecourse has gone from strength to strength over the past decade and this recent upgrade reflects the graft put in behind the scenes by manager Patrick O’Callaghan and his backroom team.
The race has been won by some super horses in recent years, many of whom have gone on to bigger and better things.
Sir Des Champs, Gilgamboa, Outlander, and Bellshill are just some of the horses to flourish in this race and I suspect it might prove the perfect test for Getabird next week.
Awesome on his chase debut earlier this month, Willie Mullins’ charge wasn’t entirely straightforward to ride last season, proving quite a handful when going left-handed.
However, as he proved at Punchestown, going right-handed is his preferred option which is why I suspect Mullins will send him south rather than heading to Leopardstown.
His rivals are unknown as of yet, but you’ll struggle to name a more impressive novice chasing performance than when Getabird beat Articulum and Moon Over Germany, and while Ruby Walsh might be required in Dublin, Paul Townend has proven himself one of the best pilots on duty this season.
This should be the ideal Christmas cracker to get action underway on St Stephen’s Day.
Unlike Limerick, Leopardstown won’t have heavy ground next week. Such is the drainage at the Dublin track, there could be surface water and the description would still read “good to yielding.”
Conditions such as these are perfect terrain for flat horses, but the top jumping horses won’t appreciate anything quicker than good ground.
We hope to see them out next week, but don’t be surprised if connections have to revert to plan B.
Presenting Percy’s connections have given themselves the option of running in the King George V Chase at Kempton on Stephen’s Day should they decide Leopardstown is too quick.
As it so happens, Kempton might prove an easier option too!
Were Pat Kelly and Philip Reynolds to take their star to Kempton, he would face Thistlecrack, Waiting Patiently and Tea For Two on ground he loves.
If he stays at home, he will most likely face Road To Respect, Disko and Shattered Love among others.
Obviously, there are a few other variables, but I know were I would be going and it’s not to face the Gigginstown battalion!
Willie Mullins has been in flying form all year, but there is one notable omission from his runners' list of late — very few of his proper winter horses have emerged as of yet.
With the exception of Tornado Flyer, Relegate, and Getabird, Mullins is yet to take the wraps off Laurina, Carefully Selected, Al Boum Photo, Benie Des Dieux et al and next week might be where we see them back on track.
However away from the Mullins/Elliott juggernaut, an interesting Henry de Bromhead horse may slip under the radar this day next week.
Twelve months ago, Petit Mouchoir was locked in a losing battle with Footpad over fences and could never really get a handle on that rival all season.
It’s easy to forget that Petit Mouchoir kept very good company over hurdles earlier in his career and it’s interesting to see him entered in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle next week.
Third to Buveur d’Air in the 2017 renewal of the Champion Hurdle, the free going grey actually beat Footpad in the Irish Champion Hurdle two years ago.
That same season he beat the admirable Nichols Canyon in the Ryanair Hurdle and was leading Apple’s Jade in the Fighting Fifth before falling at the third last.
In a year where we are struggling to find a horse to challenge Nicky Henderson’s superstar, this fellow might be the diamond in the rough.
Next week will be informative from every angle. If you’re not at the track then make sure you have full control of the TV – this racing is not to be missed!