Hourigan's star to hit overdrive


Leopardstown Preview: Catching Beef Or Salmon at a peak has proved to be something of a hit-and-miss affair during his illustrious career but for today's Lexus Chase at Leopardstown it could be worth betting he hits home with a vengeance.

The Michael Hourigan-trained star has won this Grade One race twice already (2002-'04) under its various guises and significantly the pattern of his performances around the Foxrock track suggest he is due another.

A victory in the 2003 Hennessy was followed by defeat to Best Mate in this race in the same year. He turned the tables on his ill-fated rival in last season's Lexus but then was put in his place by Rule Supreme in last February's Hennessy.

Reading too much into such statistics is a dangerous game at the best of time but at least it adds to the encouragement that Beef Or Salmon provided on his sole jumps start of the season to date.

The form of last month's Betfair Chase has been turned upside down by Monday's King George but it was hard to argue with the encouragement Hourigan took from his horse's second to Kingscliff at Haydock.

"Paul (Carberry) said he blew up with him three times," reported the Limerick trainer.

"The race has brought him on a good bit."

Certainly a Beef Or Salmon at the peak of his powers presents a formidable challenge to his five opponents this afternoon even if one of them, Hedgehunter, is a Grand National winner, and another, War Of Attrition, is something of a great white hope for Irish chasing's future.

Some of those expectations cooled on the back of a poor display in the John Durkan earlier this month but Mouse Morris reports that War Of Attrition was suffering from a stomach acid problem at the time and has recovered well since.

Of more significance could be the reality that this is War Of Attrition's first start at three miles and Morris acknowledged: "When they have as much boot as this horse does there has to be some worry about them staying."

Naturally stamina will not be an issue for Hedgehunter, the Betfred Cup-winner Jack High or last season's top staying novice Forget The Past.

It will be intriguing to see how Hedgehunter fares since he already figures at general odds of 25 to 1 for the Gold Cup. A 160 rating is very high for a National winner but still officially puts him 10lb behind Beef Or Salmon and that looks a gap too far to bridge.

Solerina will be the star turn in the woodiesdiy.com Christmas Hurdle as she tries to win at three miles for the first time in her career.

The best of three previous efforts at the trip was a fourth in the 2004 Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham and while the best of her 21 career wins have come at two and a half miles it is encouraging that she was a 25-length winner of a Thurles novice in 2002 at just a furlong shorter than today.

The other Grade One pot is the Ascon/Rohcon Novice Chase where the Beef Or Salmon colours will be carried by Church Island who only got as far as the first in the Drinmore earlier in the month.

Along with the old rivals Southern Vic and Slim Pickings he brings the best of the winning form to this three-mile stamina test.

However, the good form shown by the Willie Mullins string so far this week suggests his pair of Homer Wells and Mr Babbage cannot be discounted.

The latter has yet to win but significantly comes here instead of waiting for a Beginners which on the evidence of his two chase starts to date would be easily within his grasp.

A narrow defeat by Kill Devil Hill was followed by a run in the Drinmore where Mr Babbage was only beaten eight lengths despite a mistake at the second last.

What this horse really needs, however, is a trip like today's and at double figure odds he makes plenty of each-way appeal with Southern Vic the most likely danger from the big guns.

Sublimity won a Listed race on the Flat for Michael Stoute and did the same for John Carr at the Curragh last April. He has done well in schooling hurdles in the past and a clear round should see him very hard to beat in the opener.

Bally Scanlon is on a hat-trick in the first handicap hurdle but still looks to have something in hand while Niall Madden is an eye-catching booking for the bottom-weight Lenrey in the second handicap.