Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs set for mouth-watering clash


RACING:The most eagerly-anticipated clash of the National Hunt season so far looks to be on for Punchestown this Sunday as both Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar are being targeted at the John Durkan Memorial Chase.

Ireland’s two principal Cheltenham Gold Cup hopes according to ante-post betting lists were among just nine left in the Grade One €80,000 feature at yesterday’s forfeit stage.

Even though last year’s impressive winner Rubi Light is back again, the focus will invariably be on Sir De Champs, who was only moved from the top of the Gold Cup betting at the weekend by Bob’s Worth, and a rival who is among the most high-profile horses in the country.

Flemenstar owes his celebrity status as much to trainer Peter Casey as his own scintillating record over fences to date and the Co Dublin handler is relishing the weekend challenge ahead after his stable star’s Fortria success last month.

Casey’s son and assistant Francis said yesterday: “Flemenstar is in good order. By the looks of things the ground will be heavy on Sunday but he has won on heavy before. We couldn’t have been happier with him at Navan so it’s all systems go for Sunday as the Durkan Chase has always been the plan”.

In contrast Sir Des Champs has yet to appear this term and faces a major task in defending his unbeaten record against top-flight rivals first time up. Ladbrokes yesterday produced match betting between the two star chasers and make Flemenstar 4 to 5 with Sir Des Champs at evens.

Champion jockey Davy Russell will again team up with Sir Des Champs who is among a team of four Gigginstown Stud entries left in the Durkan. Quito De La Roque, though, has an alternative option at Aintree this weekend while both Bog Warrior and Magnanimity appeared last Saturday. “He doesn’t show much at home but he does feel bigger and stronger,” Russell reported.

Highest rated

Flemenstar will go into Sunday the highest rated in the Durkan on an official handicap mark of 168. That compares to 162 for Sir Des Champs who scored in the Jewson at Cheltenham last year before winning over three miles at the Punchestown Festival.

Rubi Light will also be having his first start of the campaign and with Andrew Lynch opting to ride Flemenstar, Barry Geraghty has come in for the ride on Rob Hennessy’s star.

“Rubi Light appears to be in great form. We schooled him last week and couldn’t have been happier,” Hennessy said yesterday. “This will be his first run of the season but from what he has shown us he is ready.”

Noel Meade has left his Grade One winner Realt Dubh in the Durkan but the horse also figures among a dozen entries left in the Grade Two Hilly Way Chase at Cork on the same day. Another holding the two options is Willie Mullins’s good mare Blazing Tempo.

Mullins is also set to give exciting mare Tarla another spin over fences at Cork in the Grade Three Chase on Sunday’s card while Busty Brown, winner of the Monksfield Hurdle at Navan recently, is a possible for the three-mile Cork Novice Hurdle.

Paddy Power bet: 11-10 Flemenstar, 13-8 Sir Des Champs, 6 Rubi Light, Bog Warrior, 8 Quito De La Roque, 12 Realt Dubh, 16 Blackstairmountain, 20 Blazing Tempo, 33 Magnanimity.

Decision day Dettori expects to learn his fate today

Frankie Dettori expects to learn today what his punishment will be for failing a drugs test in France in September.

France Galop concluded their inquiry into Dettori’s case yesterday morning, with the rider’s legal team saying he had received “a sympathetic hearing”.

The 41-year-old jockey could be handed a six-month ban after testing positive for a banned substance at Longchamp on September 16th.

The French racing authority’s medical commission held an initial inquiry last month before passing their findings on to the stewards for their consideration.

France Galop announced on November 21st that Dettori would be temporarily suspended from riding in France with immediate effect on medical grounds, although he has not actually ridden in public since taking part in the Melbourne Cup in Australia on November 6th.

Dettori’s solicitor, Christopher Stewart-Moore, was in Paris for the hearing but will not comment on the case until France Galop have published their decision. He said: “We have had a very sympathetic hearing.”

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