Ireland's latest Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere may be returning to action in Punchestown's John Durkan Chase but his latest Grade One assignment appears to be one that can be placed in a much longer-term context.
The ultimate context will be a defence of his 'blue-riband' title in March but trainer Jim Culloty has already outlined two other pre-festival outings in the Lexus and the Hennessy and jockey Davy Russell's immediate concern is being available to ride in the first of those at Christmas.
Suspended for five days at Clonmel on Thursday for borrowing Philip Enright’s whip during a race, Russell stands to miss the first three days of Leopardstown’s Christmas festival, the last of which is Lexus day.
The former champion jockey has lodged an appeal against the ban, as has Enright, describing the blow of missing three of the most high-profile and lucrative days on the National Hunt calendar as “a bit nasty”.
A provisional date for the appeal to be heard is December 16th.
Russell has another more immediate Grade One weekend task at Sandown on board the well-backed Vukovar in the Tingle Creek Chase but teaming up with the horse that gave him the greatest success of his career last March is something he's eagerly anticipating.
“Two and a half miles is not ideal for him, and the ground might not be either, but it looks a good starting point,” Russell said of Lord Windermere’s imminent task.
In contrast, the Durkan is likely to be a crucial immediate examination for Russell’s old partner,
, an always hugely-regarded talent who despite having secured Grade One success last season was dismissed by some as somewhat soft-hearted.
However Don Cossack has won both his starts this term with a swagger which has propelled him back into the Gold Cup ante-posting betting. Meeting the title-holder, and another ‘blue-riband’ contender in Boston Bob, will be a thorough test of the substance behind the younger horse’s style.
Don Cossack, to be ridden for the first time by Brian O’Connell, looks to face a real test against Boston Bob, a horse expected to sharpen up considerably for his seasonal debut at Down Royal, and whose Melling Chase success at Liverpool last season indicates two and a half miles on decent ground holds no fears.
A subsequent win in Punchestown's Gold Cup confirmed Willie Mullins's view that the horse is a valid Gold Cup contender in his own right and on balance Boston Bob looks the safest option on this occasion.
With Bryan Cooper suspended for Sunday, O'Connell's presence on Don Cossack is not the only rejig among jockey plans for Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud team and Ruby Walsh gets a first spin on the Grade One-winning hurdler Un Atout who returns to action over fences in a Beginners Chase at Punchestown.
Beaten just once in his career, Un Atout has been over 18 months off and faces a big task against a race-fit Mala Beach who chased home The Tullow Tank on his chasing debut. Make hay Cooper looks to have the ammunition to make hay before his spell on the sidelines with five rides at a Navan fixture which last year saw Vautour make a spectacular debut over hurdles.
Cooper is on Gigginstown's French recruit Argentino in the same maiden hurdle although The Big Apple's previous spin over flights last March might give the impressive bumper winner an edge.
Clarcam however should be very hard to beat in the novice chase judged by the way he was the only one to put it up to Vautour at the track last month.
Antilope Du Seuil, an easy winner of an amateur race at Fontainebleau in September looks another French recruit to keep an eye on in the mares maiden hurdle.