Stars of steeplechasing go head to head


RACING:A glimpse of the future shape of Irish steeplechasing could be in store at Punchestown tomorrow when two embryonic champions, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs, face off in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.

Just four line up for the €80,000 Grade One feature and while it would be a brave person who would completely dismiss the chances of defending champion Rubi Light, or indeed a back to form Bog Warrior, this still looks like shaping up into a classic showdown.

Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs, star novices from last season, are the two Irish horses rated by bookmakers as most likely to fill the Cheltenham Gold Cup void left following the retirements of Kauto Star, Denman and company.

In the last 25 years there have been only three Irish-trained winners of jump racing’s most coveted prize. The hopes invested in the rising stars are considerable and they represent a fascinating contrast on a number of levels.

Unbeaten in seven starts since joining Willie Mullins, the French-bred Sir Des Champs carries the colours of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud powerhouse and has a proven Cheltenham festival pedigree having won there for the last two years.


If that represents Goliath-like credentials, then Flemenstar is very much the David. He is a product of the point-to-point fields and represents the colourful Co Dublin trainer Peter Casey, but has not travelled further than Kildare up to now.

He also is unproven beyond 2½ miles.

However, Flemenstar has shown a marked aptitude for jumping and this is the substance behind Casey’s confidence.  The question of whether he has the stamina for a Gold Cup will not be answered tomorrow, but it will be fascinating to see how he shapes up against an opponent whose considerable achievements still don’t match the regard in which he is held by his trainer.

Since Willie Mullins’s judgement has been proven time and again to be the most accurate in the country, the fact he already publicly rates Sir Des Champs in the Florida Pearl class is hugely significant.

Only Bob’s Worth’s Hennessy victory pushed Sir Des Champs off the top of the Gold Cup betting and there will be huge interest in how he shapes up in his first start of the season.

In contrast, Flemenstar was impressive in the Fortria at Navan last month and the 2½-mile Durkan’s trip is familiar territory. He also has 6lbs in hand on ratings and that looks enough for him to win – this time.

Sir Des Champs’ jockey Davy Russell faced a tough choice in the Listed novice hurdle and has opted for Balnaslow over the rejuvenated Shrapnel.

Waaheb will be the focus of attention in this but Dermot Weld’s runner will surely be more effective on better ground than the forecast heavy.

Lord Windermere won the novice hurdle last season and is back again for the Beginners Chase this time.

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