Willie Mullins has unveiled a powerful team for the marquee races at this year’s Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
The champion trainer paraded a dazzling array of stars at his Carlow yard yesterday but the headline act was record-breaker Hurricane Fly.
The dual Champion Hurdler is aiming to add another top level triumph to the record 17 he has already accumulated when he contests the Ryanair Hurdle on 29 December, the highlight of the final day of a festive feast of racing at Leopardstown.
Mullins has been pleased with Hurricane Fly’s progress since hisvictory in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month.
“He has to improve on his run at Punchestown because he came in from grass carrying a lot of condition and he was still carrying that at Punchestown. I didn’t realise beforehand just how much he needed the run but he will strip fitter at Christmas.”
Star mare Annie Power is also entered for that race but has the option of the longer Woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle a day earlier, as Mullins is keen to keep the pair apart for now.
Champagne Fever created a huge buzz following his sparkling debut success over fences at Punchestown in November and the two-time Cheltenham winner will take the step up to Grade 1 company in the Racing Post Novice Chase on St Stephen’s Day.
Another novice chaser who impressed Mullins with a first time out win over fences was Ballycasey and he could contest the G1 Topaz Novice Chase on 29 December, while Felix Yonger’s victory in the G2 Craddockstown Novice Chase was an eye opener for his trainer.
Mullins said: “Ballycasey is a two and a half mile plus horse and I was very taken with his jumping when he schooled at Punchestown but from now on we will probably extend his trip. “The manner of Felix Yonger’s win at Punchestown put him into a different league than what I had thought before. He could go for the 2 mile race or step up to 2m 4f but we will try to keep him and Champagne Fever apart.”
Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs is poised to make his reappearance in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown next Sunday, where he could be joined by Arvika Ligeonniere, before stepping up in trip for the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28.
“We have a talented team of novice hurdlers entered in the G1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle on December 27 and are going to have to run a few against each other. Faugheen and Arctic Fire might go for it along with Moyle Park. Champion Bumper winner Briar Hill showed plenty of pace and he could line up also,’’ Mullins added.
Leopardstown’s four-day Christmas festival has attracted a host of top class horses from both sides of the Irish Sea. The entries for the seven Grade 1 races were announced yesterday and 27 British trained runners, representing 11 trainers, have been engaged.
The most eye-catching English raider is the Nicky Henderson trained Bobs Worth.
Last year’s Gold Cup winner has the option of contesting the Lexus Chase, setting up the tantalising prospect of a rematch with Sir Des Champs.
Over the four days, a total of €1.1 million in prize money is on offer and Pat Keogh, CEO of Leopardstown Racecourse, commented: “We are really excited by the strength and depth of the Christmas Festival entries.
“The anticipation of seeing some of the biggest stars go head to head is thrilling.
“All our races are fully sponsored and advance ticket sales are strong.”
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