Salmon installed 7/4 favourite for Nicholson

THIRTEEN horses remain in Saturday’s eagerly awaited James Nicholson Wine Merchant Champion Chase at Down Royal, following yesterday’s supplementary and forfeit stage.

It was €1,000 to stay in the €84,000 to the winner Grade One contest, but there were no supplementary entries, which would have cost €14,000.

It has the makings of a cracking race with Beef Or Salmon, Harbour Pilot, who has twice finished third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the up-and-coming and exciting Kicking King looking virtually certain to face the starter.

Beef Or Salmon was mildly disappointing when only fifth behind Colca Canyon on his seasonal debut in the Munster National at Limerick last month. He had a stiff task under top weight, however, and there seems little doubt connections are expecting a much bolder showing from the eight-year-old at the weekend.

Speaking yesterday, trainer, Michael Hourigan, said: “He is in serious form, couldn’t be better and I am very pleased with him.

“He worked on grass last Wednesday and will do another bit in the morning. He will have one more blow-out after that.’’

Noel Meade is anxious to get Harbour Pilot’s campaign up and running at Down Royal.

Said Meade: “There is every chance he will run in the James Nicholson, if the ground is soft. He works in the morning and I will decide after that.

“He schooled at home this morning and that was the first time he has jumped a fence since Punchestown (April). He jumped brilliantly.

“He’s in pretty good order, but a bit heavy still. Having to go right-handed isn’t ideal and I am not expecting to win.

“But I want to get a race into him before Christmas. The only other alternative is the Durkan at Punchestown and the trip is too short.’’

Kicking King, like Beef Or Salmon and Harbour Pilot, is set to work this morning.

Runner-up behind Well Chief in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March and very impressive on his reappearance at Gowran Park, Tom Taaffe’s six-year-old will be tackling three miles for the first time.

“This will be very much part of the learning curve’’, reported Taaffe. “I have always believed three miles was his trip, but just didn’t want to run him over the distance last season because he was too young.’’

Cashmans have opened a book on the race and they bet: 7-4 Beef Or Salmon, 5-2 Kicking King, 3-1 Harbour Pilot, 7-1 Nil Desperandum, 10-1 Colca Canyon, 14-1 Risk Accessor, 16-1 Cloudy Bays, 20-1 Rathgar Beau, Glenelly Gale, 33-1 Arctic Copper, Native Jack, 100-1 Byron Lamb, 200-1 Zurs.

Meanwhile, the next few days will see two possible stars of the future, War Of Attrition and Augherskea, making their seasonal debuts.

Mouse Morris’ War Of Attrition, beaten a neck by Brave Inca in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenahm Festival, will begin his career over fences at Thurles on Thursday.

He’s in two races, the two miles and six furlongs Irish Stallion Farms’ EBF Beginners Chase and the two mile Killinan Beginners Chase.

“More than likely he will run in the two mile and six’’, said Morris. “It is the first race on the card and will have the best of the ground.

“He won’t be fully wound-up and there will be plenty improvement to come. Conor O’Dwyer rides.’’

Noel Meade’s Augherskea may enjoy a first pop over jumps in Saturday’s A A Bartlett and Sons (Airdrie) Ltd Maiden Hurdle at Down Royal, a race which has attracted a whopping 124 entries.

The son of Oscar was last seen when a close third to stable companion, Geili Sli, and Blazing Liss at Punchestown in April.

“It is quite possible he will run at Down Royal, there aren’t that many maiden hurdles around’’, said Meade.

Word on Mark The Man, who made a spectacular start over fences at Naas on Saturday, is that Meade has yet to firm up future plans.

“The horse is good, but I will have to talk to J P (McManus) before deciding where he goes next. J P has so many horses, it is just a case of seeing where he fits in.’’

Leopardstown’s meeting on St Stephen's Day is to be sponsored by the Durkan Group for the next three years. The construction, development and property organisation are taking over as backers of the fixture from the Kerry Group.

The Durkan Group are putting their name to five races on a card that features the €100,000 Durkan New Homes Novice Chase and the €50,000 Durkan New Homes Juvenile Hurdle. Recent winners of the novice chase include Le Coudray and Moscow Flyer, while the juvenile hurdle has been won by Top Strategy and Newhall.

Leopardstown general manager Matthew O’Dywer said: “We are delighted that the Durkan Group have come on board to sponsor one of the most prestigious days in Irish National Hunt racing.”

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