Footpad has a lot to do to look a serious threat to Altior’s crown

Triplicate aims to reach top-flight status in Future Champions Novice Hurdle

Footpad: will return to action at Leopardstown following a fall at Naas last time out. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Footpad: will return to action at Leopardstown following a fall at Naas last time out. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

A betting rule of thumb for some is wariness of horses that have fallen in their previous race, a concern with a wider context than punting when it comes to Footpad at Leopardstown on Thursday.

Less than an hour after last season’s star novice lines up at Leopardstown, the outstanding Altior should enjoy little more than a lucrative stroll in Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase.

The reigning two-mile title-holder looked better than ever when maintaining his unbeaten ten out of ten record over fences in Sandown’s Tingle Creek earlier this month.

Altior is already a heavy odds-on favourite to retain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham in March. So 50 minutes on Thursday afternoon could establish him as near unbackable for the festival.

Footpad is currently the only other name in single figures among ante-post Champion Chase betting lists and maintaining that status requires a convincing victory in his not so grandiosely titled target, the Paddy’s Rewards Club ‘Sugar Paddy’ Chase.

It will certainly need a much more convincing performance than his only start of the season to date at Naas last month.

That ended with a final fence fall that chimed with a deeply disjointed performance overall in that he sprawled on landing after the last – giving Ruby Walsh no chance of staying aboard – and yet not quite fully hitting the deck.

For a horse that won five out of five as a novice, and earning in the process Willie Mullins’s praise as one of the most natural jumpers of a fence he’s ever had, it was a huge anticlimax.

There was however a plausible excuse in that Footpad suffered an overreach during the race, presumably when making a bad mistake at the third fence of a race ultimately won by Saint Calvados.

The horse has recovered physically but goes into Thursday’s €125,000 highlight with plenty of question-marks hanging over him, not least of which is whether the supreme confidence he showed in his jumping last season has been dented.

Footpad’s stable companion Great Field also comes here on the back of a fall although he only made it to the second in a Hilly Way Chase won by Castlegrace Paddy at Cork.

Younger rivals

Normally a spectacular jumper, Great Field is 20-1 in Champion Chase betting and his front-running style has encouraged many for some time to view him as a potential champion.

That style should certainly make for no hiding place and with Ballyoisin lining up as well, the potential exists for some spectacular jumping down the Leopardstown back straight.

In such a scenario should comparative veterans like last year’s winner Simply Ned or Doctor Phoenix successfully cope with their younger rivals it will leave Altior looking even more difficult to topple.

But championship events are not supposed to be coronations so a lot of fingers will be kept crossed that Footpad in particular will be a lot more sure-footed this time.

Thursday’s other top-flight prize is the Future Champions Novice Hurdle where Gigginstown Stud run three, JP McManus has two starters, and Willie Mullins also has Aramon.

Mullins is in pursuit of four in a row in this and his best chance looks to be one of the McManus pair, the mare Sancta Simona who won well at Down Royal last time. Her jumping needs to tidy up a little though so the Royal Bond runner-up Triplicate can prove the safest option.

Triplicate’s trainer Joseph O’Brien unveils a fascinating recruit to jumping in Sir Erec in the opening three year old maiden hurdle.

The son of Camelot wasn’t one of the leading Ballydoyle lights during the summer and only won his maiden at the Curragh by half a length in August.

However he followed that up with an impressive four-length success in the Listed Martin Molony Stakes at Limerick and then finished third to the stayers champion Stradivarius in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October.

That’s a far superior level of flat form to the Willie Mullins newcomer Tiger Tap Tap. He landed a ten furlong maiden at Compeigne in June but could prove to be a much more formidable operator over flights.

However if Sir Erec can translate his rate of progress to jumps then he should prove hard to beat.

Paloma Blue broke his duck over flights at last year’s Christmas festival and tries to do the same over fences in the Beginners Chase. Henry De Bromhead’s runner will have to step up significantly though on a relatively lacklustre run at Naas if he’s to win.

On his best hurdles form, Paloma Blue could prove too quick for Real Steel while Moon Over Germany looks another to keep in calculations.

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