Gowran and Leopardstown optimistic as weather looks like easing its grip


RACING:Yesterday’s Fairyhouse card may have had to be cancelled but the weather looks like easing its grip ahead of this week’s big-race action which is set to wind up with Hurricane Fly’s hat-trick attempt in Sunday’s BHP Irish Champion Hurdle.

Before that Gowran Park hosts its prestigious Goffs Thyestes Chase fixture on Thursday. And course officials aren’t anticipating any problems from the cold snap.

“The course is heavy but daytime temperatures are expected to rise to five or six degrees during daytime hours and I think we’ll be fine,” said Gowran manager Eddie Scally yesterday.

Leopardstown’s team are similarly optimistic about a full weekend programme, which includes the Boylesports Hurdle on Saturday and winds up with the first Grade One card of 2013 the following day.

There is uncertainty about precise weather forecasts in the days ahead. But Leopardstown manager Pat Keogh is confident there will be no repeat of the near 2½ inch deluge of rain that fell on the Dublin course through Thursday night and Friday.

“There’s no doubt 60mms is a lot. But the drainage work we have had done has worked very well and there are only bits and pieces of rain expected now,” he said. “The champion hurdle horses will be running on ground that hasn’t been raced on for a year and the last three furlongs is ground that we have done a big job on in terms of redraining. I certainly don’t anticipate any problems with the weekend at this stage.”

Late editions

Hurricane Fly will be the undoubted star attraction of a weekend that also includes Sunday’s Grade One Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Chase and Keogh hoping the difficulties racing is having in the UK could yet result in some late additions to Sunday’s card.

“It has already been stated Binocular is coming for the champion and if we can facilitate owners and trainers in giving horses the opportunity to run here we will obviously be happy to help,” he said. “And the opportunity is still there to supplement into the race.”

Willie Mullins gave an upbeat report on Hurricane Fly who has won both his starts to date this season and is pursuing a rare hat-trick in Ireland’s premier hurdles prize.

Istabraq remains out on his own in Irish Champion Hurdle history with four-in-a-row between 1998 and 2001. But only four others have landed back-to-back renewals including Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2012.

Bookmakers reckon he is odds-on to achieve a singular position in the roll of honour by becoming a hat-trick hero.

“We’ve been a lot happier with him this season compared with last season,” said Mullins.

Collier Bay in 1996 was the last British trained winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle and the French-based Foreman was the last overseas horse to score. Foreman’s owner JP McManus has already confirmed the former Cheltenham champion Binocular will attempt to bridge both gaps on Sunday.

The picture of the race will become clearer tomorrow at the vital five-day forfeit stage. But Dermot Weld has the option of leaving in Unaccompanied and Hisaabaat who is top weight in the Boylesports.

Willie Mullins has three other entries besides Hurricane Fly, including Hatton’s Grace victor Zaidpour. However, that World Hurdle hope could figure instead in Gowran’s Grade Two John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle on Thursday, a race that might also attract another World Hurdle contender in Bog Warrior.

The next scheduled meeting in Ireland is this Wednesday at Limerick. But the prospects of racing going ahead there were described as no more than “50-50” by course manager Russell Ferris.

“At the moment we are very heavy. We’ve had a lot of rain and it wouldn’t take more than four or five mils more to put us in trouble,” he said. “The forecast is favourable but at this time of year you can’t be sure.”

Red-hot Russell Contender eyes crown

Davy Russell cemented his position as odds-on favourite to retain his champion jockey title in Ireland after Saturday’s four-timer at Naas.

The rider broke his duck in the championship last season after five consecutive runner-up placings and is on the 78-winner mark for the current campaign. Stan James cut Russell to 4 to 7 and Ruby Walsh is now a 5 to 4 shot to regain the championship. Walsh is on 70 winners, 20 clear of another former champion, Paul Townend.

The 2011 Grand National runner-up Oscar Time will take in Fairyhouse’s Bobbyjo Chase en route to a return to Aintree in April. The Martin Lynch-trained star was placed in the Bobbyjo before finishing runner-up to Ballabriggs in Liverpool two years ago and his connections plan on taking the same path.

“We are planning to go to the Bobbyjo Chase. That race has become the established Irish trial for the Grand National,” said Oscar Time’s owner Robert Waley-Cohen yesterday. “It’s perfect timing, the weights are out and people feel whatever the weights are they have to live with them. If they run well, or badly, it doesn’t have any impact so that’s where we go.”

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