PETER Casey reports Flemenstar “ready to go” as he prepares to clash with Sir Des Champs among others in a vintage renewal of the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
The seven-year-old was one of Ireland’s leading novice chasers last term and has carried on his progress this season, making a winning return over two miles before slamming dual Cheltenham Festival winner Sir Des Champs in the two-and-a-half-mile John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
The pair lock horns again today in the feature event of the Dublin track’s Christmas Festival but this time the distance is three miles, which is further than Flemenstar has gone before under Rules.
Casey, who has always been of the opinion Flemenstar could develop into a realistic Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, said: “He’s all ready to go. Everything is grand. He did a nice bit of work the other day.
“This is his big test and at quarter past three tomorrow we’ll know a lot more about where we’re going.
“I think there is a lot of rain coming in, but I’m not worried about that – the ground makes no difference to him.
“At the moment I’m not worrying about any of the other horses in the race. I’m very happy with our horse and you’ve just got to go and take your chance. We’ll either come home disappointed or delighted.”
Connections of the Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs feel he could be more at home over three miles at Leopardstown.
Eddie O’Leary, manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: “It’s a fantastic race and we are trying to beat a very good horses in Flemenstar.
“It’s a level playing field. Sir Des Champs has had a run now and it’s three miles on a more galloping track, which should suit. Sir Des Champs has to show up well, really.
“If Flemenstar beats us again, he is the better horse and we’ll have to go somewhere else. If he beats us again, Flemenstar will be Ireland’s Gold Cup horse for this season.”
Tidal Bay appears as good as ever this season, despite officially turning 12 next week. After making a winning return to action over hurdles at Wetherby, he ran a superb race to finish second behind Bobs Worth under top weight in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
His trainer Paul Nicholls said: “He’s in the form of his life and Ruby [Walsh] said immediately after he got off [at Newbury] he’d love to ride him round Leopardstown as it will suit him well.
“It’s a race we won before with Denman and the form he’s in at the moment I see him running a big race.”
Tidal Bay is joined on the trip from Britain by Neil Mulholland’s stable star Midnight Chase. Mouse Morris saddles Hennessy First Lieutenant and China Rock, the latter making his first appearance since winning the Punchestown Gold Cup in the spring.
Shark Hanlon’s progressive Hidden Cyclone adds further strength in depth but is stepping up markedly in grade.
Hanlon said: “He’s all ready to go and he’s in great form – I couldn’t have him any better. Hopefully he won’t mind the ground and we’ll just have to see how he gets on.
“It’s as good a Lexus as I’ve seen. Our horse is lowest rated in the race (153) and he has to prove he can do it at this level now. In fairness to the horse, he has never been tested at this level, so we don’t know how good he is.”
Pandorama has his first start since the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Quito De La Roque completes the stellar field.