Presenting Percy now set to return at Leopardstown
Absence of Gold Cup favourite could leave Durkan Chase door open to Min
Nico de Boinville on Altior (left) comes from behind to beat Paul Townsend on Min in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy is set to make his first start of the season in Leopardstown’s €175,000 Savills Chase over Christmas.
Relatively quick going has forced another programme shuffle for one of racing’s top names as Presenting Percy skips his originally intended comeback in Sunday’s John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.
The going is officially good in places at the track and Presenting Percy’s Co Galway based trainer Pat Kelly has opted not to start last season’s RSA Chase hero in the Grade One feature.
“All is good with him. It’s just the ground,” said Kelly who took the decision after being concerned in particular about the likely ground on the take-off and landing side of the fences.
“They couldn’t water it all and it takes rain a long time to get into the ground. It will take another week before it soaks in right. The one entry he has is the race at Leopardstown, the three mile chase, so we’ll look at that,” Kelly added on Friday.
Samcro’s late withdrawal from the Morgiana Hurdle last month was another example of unseasonable dry weather forcing trainers into rejigging plans this season.
Although there is set to be plenty ease in the ground at Cork on Sunday, Punchestown’s feature event has cut up to five runners with another Gold Cup contender, Bellshill, also missing out.
His trainer Willie Mullins still has a prime candidate in Min to win him the race for a fourth time in six years. Before that though the champion trainer will hope all the rain that’s forecast to fall at Sandown on Saturday does come.
His stalwart Un De Sceaux bids for more Betfair Tingle Creek glory under Ruby Walsh who will have his first steeplechase ride in almost three weeks on the 2016 winner. Ranged against them however is the reigning two-mile champion Altior.
Last month’s Naas winner Saint Calvados and Sceau Royal fill out an exclusive four-runner Tingle Creek field that illustrates how one upside of the ground at least is top horses being forced to take each other earlier in the season than normal.
“People don’t want to see 1-5 shot in Grade Ones. Because of the fast ground we seem to have seen the best horses take each other on earlier this season,” said Un De Sceaux’s part-owner, Colm O’Connell.
Un De Sceaux’s outstanding career proves he is no one-dimensional mudlark although beating Altior first time out might still have O’Connell, Walsh and Mullins keeping fingers crossed for a monsoon in south west London.
No such deluge is forecast for either Cork or Punchestown the following day when Mullins is due to run a couple of his other two-mile stars.
Min finished runner-up to Altior in last season’s Champion Chase and should have no trouble stretching out to two and a half miles in the Durkan.
He is faced with a potential Gold Cup contender in Shattered Love while Gigginstown’s other hope, Balko Des Flos, has something to prove after a lacklustre effort at Down Royal over a month ago.
The heartwarming Irish Gold Cup winner Edwulf is racing short of his best too, so on decent ground, over this trip, and with a history of going well fresh, Min should be a major contender.
There will be plenty interest though in the reappearance of another of Mullins’s 16-1 shots for this season’s two-mile crown, Great Field, who lines up in Cork’s Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase a quarter of an hour earlier.
The free-running former Grade One-winning novice looks a minimum trip specialist and has time to make up on his exciting potential having had just a single start last term.
As well as riding Min in the Durkan, Ruby Walsh will be on board Getabird who makes his debut over fences in the Beginners Chase.
The record-breaking jockey will team up too with last season’s top bumper performer Tornado Flyer. Winner of the Champion Bumper at last April’s festival, Tornado Flyer looks a top notch novice prospect this season.
In other news, there will be substantial interest on the other side of the world in the early hours of Sunday morning when three Irish-trained horses line up for the Group One Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin.
The first of four top-flight events at the final major international flat fixture of 2018 includes Dermot Weld’s Eziyra and the 1-2 from last summer’s Irish Derby, Latrobe and Rostropovich.
Latrobe was Joseph O’Brien’s first classic winner as a trainer and will be ridden by top New Zealand jockey James McDonald in a race due off at 6.00am Irish-time.
Wayne Lordan is on Rostropovich for Aidan O’Brien in a 14-runner race which sees the French contender Waldgeist top most ante-post lists. O’Brien Snr has won the Vase twice with Highland Reel in 2015 and last year.