The final day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival takes place on Thursday, with two more Grade 1 contests.

First up is the three mile Neville Hotels Novice Chase, often an important pointer to the RSA Chase.

A Toi Phil Image supplied by Horse Racing Ireland

A Toi Phil
Image supplied by Horse Racing Ireland

A Toi Phil made a name for himself after a dramatic incident on his Irish debut. Having shown promise in his only run in France, the 6 year old joined Willie Mullins and was sent off an odds-on favourite for his first start for the yard at Clonmel in December, but sensationally ran-out. Four days later he returned to action at Leopardstown and landed a maiden hurdle by 2 lengths from Don’t Touch It. He confirmed his burgeoning talent when landing a Leopardstown Grade 2 by 7 lengths from subsequent Grade 2 winner Acapella Bourgeois in late January. He then headed to Cheltenham for the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but was a well beaten 20 lengths 7th of 11 to Yorkhill. He pulled up at the Punchestown Festival and after Gigginstown House Stud split from Mullins, he joined Gordon Elliott and made a winning start over fences when landing a Down Royal beginners chase by 4 ½ lengths from Art Of Payroll in early November. He then impressed in the Grade 3 Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown in late November, beating Jetstream Jack by 7 lengths. However, he ran a most disappointing race in the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in early December, coming home 13 lengths 6th of 7 to Coney Island.

Alpha Des Obeaux was a top class hurdler, winning two Grade 2 contests last winter and finishing second only to Thistlecrack in the Grade 1 World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The Mouse Morris trained 6 year old has made good progression over fences after a disappointing debut, when he finished last of 5 behind Westerner Lady in a Tipperary Grade 3 contest in early October. He got off the mark when beating Round Tower by 1 ½ lengths in a Thurles beginners chase later that month and made it back to back victories when he defeated Westerner Lady by 3 ¼ lengths (after she had made a dreadful blunder early on) in a Cork Grade 3 novice chase in early November. He ran well in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in early December, coming home 4 ½ lengths third of 7 to Coney Island.

Bellow Mome took time to find his way but won two novice hurdle contests last winter, before finishing a well beaten 8th to Mckinley in a valuable handicap hurdle at Sandown Park in late April. The Willie Mullins trained 5 year old made a winning debut over fences when landing a Thurles beginners chase by 4 ½ lengths from General Principle in late November.

Briar Hill won the 2013 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and won his first hurdles contests before a fall in the 2014 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle left him with a fractured eye socket. His career has been somewhat stop-start since then and maybe has not lived up to the heights it’s once promised. The Willie Mullins trained 8 year old made his chasing debut at Galway in July and was a shock second, beaten a head by Talk The Lingo. He got off the mark a month later at Killarney, beating Marinero by 2 ¾ lengths. After a break, he was again beaten in a Navan Grade 3 in December, finishing ½ a length second of 4 to Attribution.

Coney Island lands clear at the last in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

Coney Island lands clear at the last in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase
Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

Coney Island was a useful novice hurdler last season, winning a valuable novices’ handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse over Easter and then running ½ a length second of 11 to Bellshill in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in late April. The Ed Harty trained 5 year old ran with promise on his chasing debut when 3 ½ lengths second of 14 to Haymount in a Punchestown beginners chase in late November. He got off the mark in some style on his next start, winning the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in early December by 2 ¼ lengths from Anibale Fly.

Disko is a fascinating runner who landed a bumper by 15 lengths on debut before finishing 3 ¼ lengths second to Bellshill in a Grade 1 contest at the Punchestown Festival of 2015. The Noel Meade trained 5 year old grey ran ½ a length second of 12 to Archive on his hurdles debut at Galway in late October 2015 and the following month got off the mark over timber when beating Dundrum Lad by 29 lengths at Naas in a maiden hurdle. He was not seen out again until running in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in late April, coming home 31 lengths 6th of 9 to Jer’s Girl. Disko made a most impressive chasing debut when beating Last Goodbye by 8 lengths in a Punchestown beginners chase in October. However, he was no match for A Toi Phil in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown last month, finishing 12 lengths third of 6.

Jetstream Jack was a pretty useful novice hurdler last season, perhaps putting up his best performance when finishing 13 lengths second of 6 to Up For Review in a Punchestown Grade 2 contest on New Year’s Eve. The Gordon Elliott trained 6 year old made a winning start over fences at Tipperary in early October, beating Inis Meain by 3 ½ lengths. In November he ran well in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novice Chase when finishing 7 lengths second of 6 to A Toi Phil.

Martello Tower the 2015 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle winner with Adrian Heskin Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Martello Tower the 2015 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner 
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Martello Tower was a leading staying novice hurdler two seasons ago, winning the 2015 Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle by ½ a length from Milsean at the Cheltenham Festival. The Mags Mullins trained 8 year old failed to build on that season in the staying hurdle ranks last term but made a promising start over fences when ¾ of a length second of 16 to the smart Anibale Fly in a Navan beginners chase in mid-November. In early December he landed a Fairyhouse beginners chase by a neck from A Genie In Abottle.

Our Duke was a useful novice hurdler and made a bold impression on his chasing debut. The Jessica Harrington trained 6 year old won on his hurdles debut last winter and after pulling up in a Grade 2 contest at Thurles in February, finished 2 ¼ lengths third of 12 behind Acapella Bourgeois in a Fairyhouse Grade 2 in late March. He got off the mark with a sparkling performance in a Navan beginners chase in early December, beating Gwencily Berbas by 11 lengths.

Prince Of Scars proved a smart hurdler last season, recording a hat-trick of victories, culminating in his 4 lengths defeat of Alpha Des Obeaux in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. The Gordon Elliott trained 6 year old also ran well in the Grade 1 Liverpool Stayer’s Hurdle at Aintree in April, coming home 12 lengths third of 6 to Thistlecrack. He was a little disappointing on his chasing debut in a beginners chase at Naas in early November, finishing 2 ½ lengths second of 17 to Road To Respect. He was well held on his next start in a Navan beginners chase a month later, coming home 13 ½ lengths third of 14 behind the impressive Our Duke.

 

The final Grade 1 of a memorable meeting is the Ryanair Hurdle over two miles, which should provide clues for next month’s Irish Champion Hurdle.

Nichols Canyon wins the 2016 Morgiana Hurdle Image by www.healyracing.ie

Nichols Canyon wins the 2016 Morgiana Hurdle
Image by www.healyracing.ie

Nichols Canyon caused a huge sensation when beating Faugheen in this race a year ago and seeks a repeat here. The Willie Mullins trained 6 year old had been a smart Grade 1 winner as a novice the season before. Over Christmas he landed his sixth Grade 1 victory when having to work hard to get the better of Identity Thief by 2 lengths in the Ryanair Hurdle. He looked set to make a race of it with Faugheen in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in late January, but was arguably coming off second best when he blundered two flights from home before tamely dropping away to finish  remote third. Nichols Canyon then contested the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and finished 4 ¾ lengths third of 12 to Annie Power. At Aintree the following month the gap increased to 27 lengths as he finished third of 6 to the mare in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle. Nichols Canyon travelled to America in mid-May for the Grade 1 Iroquois Hurdle, finishing 3 ¼ lengths third of 8 to Rawnaq. He returned to action as good as ever in the Punchestown fog in late November, landing his second Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle by 12 lengths from Jer’s Girl.

Petit Mouchoir proved a very useful novice hurdler last term and shaped well on debut for Henry de Bromhead, having been previously trained by Willie Mullins. The 5 year old won a point to point and added a bumper victory in April by 6 ½ lengths from Policy Breach at the Punchestown Festival. He made a winning start over hurdles, completing his hat-trick with a 3 lengths defeat of Lofgren in a Thurles maiden hurdle in late November. That saw him step up significantly and he ran a belter to finish 1 ½ lengths third of 9 to Long Dog and Tombstone in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. He returned to that venue in early February for the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle but was a somewhat disappointing 24 lengths fourth of 5 to Bleu Et Rouge. He finished a bitterly disappointing 15 lengths 8th of 14 to Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but bounced back to form when just denied by ¼ of a length by Buveur D’Air in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in early April. Later that month he finished ½ a length second of 6 to Don’t Touch It in the Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. He returned to action in a Down Royal Grade 2 contest, finishing 3 ¼ lengths third of 4 behind Rashaan, having been a little short of room. He was running a big race in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in late November, when falling in the home straight and now takes a big step up in trip, having won a point to point over three miles as a youngster.

Footpad clears the last ahead of Let's Dance (right) and Allblack Des Places Image by www.healyracing.ie

Footpad clears the last ahead of Let’s Dance (right) and Allblack Des Places
Image by www.healyracing.ie

Footpad was a leading juvenile hurdler last season, winning three times, including his 2 ¾ lengths defeat of Allblak Des Places in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February. The Willie Mulling trained four year old ran 7 ¼ lengths third of 15 to Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but fell at Aintree the following month. In May he landed a valuable Grade 3 prize at Auteuil and he returned there a month later to beat King’s Socks by 2 ½ lengths in the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breuil. Footpad ran a cracker on his return to action at Auteuil in mid-November, finishing a head second of 9 to Capivari in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier. He now steps up in distance.

Ivanovich Gorbatov beats the mare Apple's Jade in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Ivanovich Gorbatov beats Apple’s Jade in the JCB Triumph Hurdle
Image reproduced with the kind permission of Cheltenham Racecourse

Ivanovich Gorbatov proved himself one of the leading horses of his generation when winning the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle last March. The Joseph O’Brien gelding made a winning hurdling debut at Leopardstown last Christmas when beating Let’s Dance by 2 ¼ lengths in a maiden hurdle and the manner of his victory caught the attention of plenty of people. The bubble was well and truly burst back at Leopardstown in February however, as he could only manage 9 ¾ lengths fourth of 8 to Footpad in the Grade 1 GAIN Spring Juvenile Hurdle, although connections immediately pointed to the ground. He looked a vastly different horse in the Triumph Hurdle, getting the better of a protracted battle up the hill with Apple’s Jade and beating the filly by 1 ¼ lengths. However, he seemed a little below par and Cheltenham form was comprehensively reversed as he ran 41 lengths second to the mare at Aintree in early April. In late April Apple’s Jade again confirmed her apparent superiority over the gelding in a Punchestown Festival Grade 1, as Ivanovich Gorbatov finished 9 ¼ lengths third of 5 to her. He made a disappointing return at Naas in early November when finishing a lack lustre 25 lengths third of 4 to De Plotting Shed. He was similarly well and truly beaten by Nichols Canyon in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in late November, finishing 17 lengths third of 5. In early December he stepped up in trip for the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, finishing 8 ¾ lengths fourth of 7, with an improved performance.

Jer's Girl (right) heads Thomas Hobson at Punchestown Image by www.healyracing.ie

Jer’s Girl (right) heads Thomas Hobson at Punchestown
Image by www.healyracing.ie

Jer’s Girl ran a promising second on her flat introduction back in the spring but disappointed in one more start on the level. However, the Gavin Cromwell trained filly has shown herself adept at hurdling with two victories in as many starts. After beating Tamisa by 6 ½ lengths at Limerick in early November she headed to Aintree a month later and landed a Listed juvenile contest by 10 lengths from Forgiving Glance. She lost her unbeaten record, but little else in defeat, as she was beaten just a head by Apple’s Jade in the Grade 2 Frank Knight Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. She returned to that venue for the Grade 1 GAIN Spring Juvenile Hurdle in early February, but disappointed, finishing 10 lengths fifth of 8 to Footpad. She bounced back to her very best form at Fairyhouse over Easter, as she slammed Jessber’s Dream by 13 lengths in a Grade 1 mares’ contest. She made it back to back Grade 1 successes with an impressive 10 lengths defeat of O O Seven in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle, against older horses, at the Punchestown Festival in late April. She returned to action at Punchestown in the Morgiana Hurdle in November, finishing 12 lengths second of 5 to Nicholls Canyon.