Youthful Kennedy has eye on the main prize at Leopardstown
Big race success with Desoto County would be high profile boost for 16-year-old jockey
Jack Kennedy, seen winning the Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle on Copy That, improves the chances of Desoto County on Sunday with his 5lb claim. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Jack Kennedy’s rapid rise through the jockey ranks can get another high-profile boost at Leopardstown tomorrow if the teenager partners Desoto County to big-race success.
Known for the first time as the Coral.ie Hurdle, the €100,000 prize may not have the prestige of the old Irish Sweeps Hurdle days when champions such as Night Nurse and Captain Christy were winning, but it would still be another major feather in Kennedy’s cap.
The 16-year-old Kerry rider memorably secured a Troytown success over fences last November and that momentum has continued through the winter, with Kennedy on 29 jumps winners for the season, putting him comfortably among the top 10 in the jockeys’ table.
Kennedy is on Fever Pitch in tomorrow’s other €100,000 highlight, the Leopardstown Chase, but Desoto County is notable in the big hurdle for being Gordon Elliott’s sole runner in a race that sees other big guns campaign in force.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins has four of the 25-strong field and Ruby Walsh has thrown something of a curve-ball by opting for Buiseness Sivola rather than the gambled-on ante-post favourite Kalkir, who will be ridden by former French champion, Jacques Ricou.
Tony Martin is another with four hopefuls and they are all trumped by JP McManus, who will have nine of the field carrying his colours. This is one more than lined up for the owner in the Paddy Power over Christmas, where strength in depth paid off with Minella Foru’s victory.
Desoto County was transferred to the Meath trainer from Donald McCain by owners Paul and Clare Rooney and when he pitched up at Thurles before Christmas his smooth defeat of another of tomorrow’s rivals, Cliff House, was no surprise, judged by market support that day.
He was hiked 10lbs in the ratings for that which helped get Desoto County into this race and if his new trainer has wrung another bit of improvement out of the horse in the interim, his chance will only be helped by Kennedy’s valuable 5lb claim.
Fever Pitch is one of four McManus hopes in the big chase, yet it is hard not to believe Fine Rightly holds good claims for Co Antrim trainer Stuart Crawford and jockey Andrew Lynch.
The latter secured Grade 1 success over Christmas on Flemenstar but Lynch’s season is notable for how he has had more than 500 rides, yielding 43 winners, which puts him joint-third in the table behind Ruby Walsh and Bryan Cooper.
The most notable statistic however are those 506 rides, with Jonathan Burke the nearest to Lynch in terms of industry with 335 rides.
Fine Rightly was one of the more comfortable of that 43-winner tally at Navan a month ago and this combination of an extended two and a half miles on soft ground looks ideal for this former good bumper performer.
Willie Mullins has won the Grade 2 novice chase with the top class trio of Sir Des Champs, Djakadam and Vautour in recent years and Killultagh Vic looks up to joining such illustrious company.
Tough to beat
Our Duke is an intriguing newcomer to jumping in the maiden hurdle, but can hardly look forward to a gentle introduction to the game with Pylonthepressure in the race. The Mullins runner chased home Tombstone on his own debut and should benefit considerably from that experience.
Leopardstown officials report no concerns about tomorrow’s programme despite the current cold snap.
“Even if temperatures go a few degrees below what’s forecast, we wouldn’t be worried. Sunday is supposed to be quite warm and we’ve had a lot of grass growth – even into December – so there is a lot of grass cover,” said Leopardstown’s manager, Pat Keogh.