Mullins unwilling to risk Laurina on unsuitable ground
Leopardstown's Ryanair Hurdle or Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle among options for return
Willie Mullins: “The ground is paramount and I want to have soft or heavy in the ground for her first run of the season.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Willie Mullins may be dreaming of a wet rather than white Christmas for some of his potential Leopardstown festival team but current indications appear to be the champion trainer might not get his wish.
Despite being on the verge of Christmas, testing winter ground conditions are still at a premium at many tracks in Ireland and Mullins isn’t alone in not wanting to risk some of his star names on going that is still relatively quick for the time of year.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy skipped the John Durkan Chase earlier this month due unsuitably good ground. He could now target Leopardstown’s Savills Chase or Kempton’s King George VI Chase next week instead.
Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle is also set to be an option for Laurina although Mullins has indicated Leopardstown’s Ryanair Hurdle is also on his radar as a possible spot for the eagerly awaited return to action of his star mare.
She has already missed a number of intended engagements this season due to the going being too fast including Saturday’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
An appearance at Leopardstown could mean a mouth-watering clash with another of Ireland’s major Champion Hurdle contenders in Samcro although Mullins is unlikely to compromise on what he is prepared to run Laurina on.
“The ground is paramount and I want to have soft or heavy in the ground for her first run of the season,” he has insisted.
Leopardstown is currently described as ‘yielding’ on the hurdles track and ‘good to yielding’ on the steeplechase course just over a week out from the start of the four-day Christmas festival action.
After a wet weekend, more overnight rain is forecast for the Foxrock course on Monday but Leopardstown’s chief executive has indicated that dry conditions are likely for next week’s action.
“We got an inch of rain at the weekend and today the chase track is yielding with probably still bits of good in it. The hurdles course is yielding all over.
“It has been very, very unusual in that we had such a dry summer that we’re so far behind in terms of water. And Mother Nature is far and away the best way to put it down.
“The water has only got about four inches down but the track is in beautiful condition and we’re very happy with it,” Pat Keogh said on Monday.
Leopardstown’s Christmas action began last year on ground described as ‘yielding, soft in places’ and Keogh anticipates being “in that zone” again next week.
“We’re a good bit out still but it looks like next week will turn fine and colder, maybe eight to ten degrees, and very little rain,” Keogh added.
Similar ground conditions are currently at Limerick which is set to host its first ever Grade One prize, the €100,000 Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase, on St Stephen’s Day.
The steeplechase track there is currently yielding with the hurdles course a little easier in places.
“We walked it this morning and it’s the driest I’ve ever seen at this stage of the year,” said Limerick’s manager, Patrick O’Callaghan.
“There’s quite a lot of rain forecast this week but we’ve been escaping a lot of it so far. Like if we’re forecast 15 to 20mms we’re only getting 7mms, that sort of thing. And they’re telling us next week there’ll be no rain which is good because you don’t want it while you’re running.
“If we get everything that’s forecast that will slow things but if we don’t it might get even quicker. I would imagine it will probably stay something like it is now,” he added.
One horse that could take up the €170,000 Savills Chase option on Day Three of Leopardstown is the Noel Meade-trained Disko who has been absent from action for over a year due to injury.
The Grade One winner enjoyed a racecourse workout at Navan on Sunday and Meade indicated he could join another Gigginstown Stud-owned star, last year’s winner Road To Respect, in the Savills Chase.