It’s a wet and windy Leopardstown that’s set to welcome another big crowd for day three of the annual Christmas meeting, one which boasts the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle and Lexus Chase as its chief components, both of which you’ll see live with us on RTE2.
The three mile Christmas Hurdle (1.55pm) in particular looks set to be a thriller, pitting strong stayers Martello Tower and Alpha Des Obeaux against the classy, but stamina unproven, Arctic Fire.
Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower is returning to the track from a 290 day absence since his Cheltenham heroics, but even so is bound to try and make this as searching a test as possible.
The same is true of Alpha Des Obeaux, who was comfortably accounted for by Arctic Fire in Fairyhouse’s Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last month, though that came over half a mile shorter than today’s trip.
Seemingly there aren’t too many chinks in 169-rated Arctic Fire’s armour, a horse available at just 8/1 for the two mile Champion Hurdle in March, though the conundrum for his trainer is the embarrassment of riches which sees him furnished with two seemingly superior options for that contest already, in the shape of the monster Faugheen, as well as Nichols Canyon.
Trying to keep them apart is no easy feat, so it makes sense to try and chisel out a new discipline for Arctic Fire, stepping him up in trip in a fascinating experiment.
Will he stay, or will the petrol light be flickering on empty?
On ratings the last season’s Champion Hurdle runner up ought to be an odds on shot, he’s proven on Soft ground, hails from a stable in red hot form, and has the assistance of Ruby Walsh.
Perhaps more importantly, he’s seen out both of his races this season powerfully, staying on well to score over two and a half miles at both Navan and Fairyhouse, a precedent which bodes well for this afternoon.
There’s no guarantee, but I expect him to win today, and his current odds of 12/1 for the World Hurdle to be adjusted accordingly.
Elsewhere, winner number 167 of the season beckons for champion jockey elect Richard Johnson, as he partners Cotillion in Leicester’s Parsley Selling Hurdle (1.25pm).
Johnson, on target for trainer Ian Williams at Huntingdon on Saturday, gets the leg up on a horse who won on the all-weather 12 days ago, and was last seen hurdling at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.
It’ll be a disappointment if he doesn’t have too many guns for some limited opposition.
Monday’s best bets: