Irish tracks get ready to cash in but some weather worries in Britain
RACING:It sounds like music to the ears for bookmakers but Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day advice to punters is to bring plenty of cash to the start of the track’s famous four-day Christmas festival.
Despite there being three ATM’s at the south Co Dublin venue, long queues for money are almost as regular a St Stephen’s Day feature there as bloated tummies and fuzzy heads – something the near-60,000 race fans expected to travel to Leopardstown this week will want to avoid.
“We would urge people to come early, either taking exit 15 from the M50, or getting the Luas to Sandyford from where there will be a shuttle bus in operation from nine in the morning. Gates open at 10.30,” Leopardstown boss Pat Keogh said yesterday.
“And bring cash. There are always queues for the ATMs and there are more enjoyable ways to spend the festival than queuing!” he added.
A dozen meetings are scheduled in these islands for what is one of the busiest racing days of the year. Limerick begins its four-day Christmas festival on Wednesday too and Down Royal also races, along with nine cross-channel fixtures.
However, the cancellation of Huntingdon’s Christmas card may not be an isolated incident as wet weather continues to threaten the racing calendar in Britain.
Although no problems are predicted for the prestigious King George VI Chase meeting at Kempton, there is already an 11am inspection at Wetherby this morning to assess their chances of racing on Wednesday.
Jockeys Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty will aim for more King George success aboard Kauto Stone and Riverside Theatre respectively. But it is Long Run and his amateur jockey, Sam Waley-Cohen, that top ante-post betting lists.
The home focus on Wednesday will be on Leopardstown’s Racing Post Novice Chase – the first Grade One in a week when €1.2 million in prize money is up for grabs – which will take place in front of a large attendance.
“There were 16,000 here on St Stephen’s Day last year and we’re anticipating a bit more this time,” said Keogh.
“The Christmas festival is very important to us. It brings us over 35 per cent of our attendance figures for the year and means even more in terms of our profitability.
“What we’re hearing about crowds is encouraging. Even in the economic climate if you provide something good and price it competitively, people will pay. And the quality of racing on show will be superb,” added the Leopardstown boss.
Later in the week at the Dublin venue there will be an eagerly-awaited clash of Ireland’s most exciting steeplechase talent, including Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs, in the Lexus Chase.
Moreover top hurdler Hurricane Fly is already a short-odds favourite to win the day four feature, the Istabraq Hurdle.
“It’s all systems go for the Lexus. He’s in great form and if we are able to put him to sleep for the first mile that’ll be grand,” said Flemenstar’s trainer Peter Casey. “He’s won over 2½ miles, but coming up that hill over the last two furlongs and the last two fences will be the test.”
Ground conditions are “soft” at Leopardstown while it is “heavy” at Limerick and Down Royal.
Arvika Ligeonniere is expected to start a warm favourite for the €85,000 feature on St Stephen’s Day after a hugely impressive success at Fairyhouse earlier this month.
“He’s been fine since Fairyhouse and I think coming back to an extended two miles round Leopardstown should be fine for him,” said his trainer Willie Mullins.
“The ground won’t be a problem. He’s a good strong horse who likes to gallop and jump but we’ll let Paul decide how he wants to ride him.”