Unioniste still in the Lexus picture

A tilt at the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28 is “looking likely” for Unioniste.

Unioniste still in the Lexus picture

The Paul Nicholls-trained grey outstayed Wishfull Thinking to win a decent race at Aintree last time out, having finished third on his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

Still only five, last year’s December Gold Cup winner is one of four Ditcheat entries in the Christmas feature, but Silviniaco Conti is heading for the King George at Kempton, last year’s winner Tidal Bay may run in the Welsh National and Rocky Creek is unlikey to be ready in time after meeting with a setback after the Hennessy.

Unioniste’s owner John Hales said: “It’s looking likely that we’ll take him over to Ireland, but no firm decision has yet been made.

“We’ll have to consider the ground, likely opponents, weather – Paul will weigh it all up and then decide.”

* Solwhit is on target to return to action in the woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28.

Winner of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the Charles Byrnes-trained nine-year-old followed up in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree a month later before finishing second to Gemix at Auteuil in June.

“He’s good and on target for Leopardstown,” said Byrnes.

“He had a break after Auteuil so he was late coming back in. That’s why he’s just ready to start off now.”

Another Byrnes star seeking Grade One glory at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is Trifolium.

He is on course for the Racing Post Novice Chase on St Stephen’s Day, with his trainer hoping he can settle better than he did on his latest start at Navan earlier this month when he was beaten 15 lengths by Felix Yonger.

“He’ll probably run at Leopardstown in the Racing Post,” said the County Limerick handler.

“He’s in good form. If he could settle better, he’d have a better chance. He ran a bit too free the last day, but he’s a very good horse and he’ll take his chance.”

* Rock On Ruby survived a minor scare to make a winning debut over fences in the Winter Gala Novices’ Chase at Plumpton.

Harry Fry’s 2012 Champion Hurdle winner and 2013 runner-up only faced two rivals, with one of those departing at the third fence.

Coming to four out, Noel Fehily’s mount did not really attack the fence and sent the birch flying, but after that his jumping was safe and he had far too much class on the short run-in for his remaining rival, Lindsay’s Dream.

In the end he won going away, coming home comfortably clear at odds of 1-10.

* Champion staying hurdler Big Buck’s is to take a crucial step ahead of his eagerly-anticipated return from injury with a racecourse gallop before racing at Exeter on Thursday.

The Paul Nicholls-trained 10-year-old has been sidelined since taking his winning streak over the small obstacles to 18 with a runaway victory in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury nearly 13 months ago.

Owner Andy Stewart’s four-time Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero is likely to make his return to competitive action in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, but will give racegoers a chance to assess his well being with a gallop at 12.15pm on Thursday.

The ultimate aim for the brilliant gelding is to try to win back his World Hurdle crown at the Festival in March, for which he is ante-post favourite at around 3-1.

* Our Conor will have a racecourse gallop before taking on Hurricane Fly et al in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.

Last season’s incredibly impressive Triumph Hurdle winner has only been seen once since he left seasoned observers agog with his 15-length win at Cheltenham.

Trainer Dessie Hughes gave him a spin on the level at Naas where he ran a nice race to finish fourth, but he picked up a knock which ruled him out of his first intended jumping target of the season, the Morgiana Hurdle.

In his absence Hurricane Fly landed yet another Grade One and although it was a rather laboured display from the dual champion hurdler, Hughes expects Willie Mullins’ superstar to strip much fitter at Leopardstown.

“Our Conor is in very good shape now, we’ll take him to a racecourse between now and Christmas and do his last bit of work there,” Hughes told Leopardstown racecourse.

“I’ve been very happy with him, he’s a stronger horse, he’s moving terrific and I’m looking forward to the 29th.

“I suppose you could say Hurricane Fly in the Morgiana was adequate, they can only win. I thought it was a good, fast-run race, they went a real proper gallop and he won and he’ll improve on it so you’d have to be very much afraid of him.”

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