Walsh adds Christ­mas twist by head­ing to Lim­er­ick

Up to 60,000 peo­ple ex­pected to at­tend Leop­ard­stown over four days of fes­ti­val

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Brian O’Con­nor

Wed­nes­day will be the busiest day of the rac­ing year and Ruby Walsh pro­vides a Christ­mas twist by rid­ing at Lim­er­ick on St Stephen’s Day for the first time in 22 years.

One of Ir­ish sport’s most recog­nis­able names has three rides for Wil­lie Mullins in­clud­ing Getabird, the hot favourite for Lim­er­ick’s first ever Grade One race, the Match­book Ex­change Novice Chase. Walsh was a 17-year-old am­a­teur the last time he spent St Stephen’s Day at Lim­er­ick.

In the in­terim the le­gendary jockey’s Christ­mas fo­cus has usu­ally been on ei­ther Leop­ard­stown or at Kemp­ton where he fa­mously won the King Ge­orge VI Chase five times on Kauto Star.

Ir­ish rac­ing holds its only triple-fix­ture of the year on St Stephens Day and Leop­ard­stown’s tra­di­tional four-day fes­tive ac­tion starts just af­ter mid­day.

Kemp­ton is one of eight cross-chan­nel fix­tures on a mas­sive holiday rac­ing pro­gramme which means that, de­spite the fes­tive at­mos­phere else­where, there will be an all-hand­son-deck pol­icy for many within the sport.

None more so than top trainer Gor­don El­liott who has 32 de­clared run­ners be­tween the three Ir­ish meet­ings. Fif­teen of them are at Leop­ard­stown alone. They in­clude the likely odds-on favourite for the Grade One Rac­ing Post Novice Chase, Mengli Khan, owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gig­gin­stown Stud team.

Up to 60,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to go rac­ing at Leop­ard­stown over the four day fes­ti­val with about 12,000 ex­pected on St Stephen’s Day.

“Dublin­ers tra­di­tion­ally come on St Stephen’s Day. Peo­ple from around the coun­try tend to come more for the mid­dle two days,” said Leop­ard­stown’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Pat Keogh.

There is a 12 per cent in­crease in Christ­mas prize­money at the Dublin course with ¤1.4 mil­lion up for grabs over 28 races. Seven of them are Grade Ones.

Lim­er­ick’s man­age­ment has said hav­ing Walsh’s “pulling power” for St Stephens Day is in­valu­able al­though Pat Keogh pointed out the rider will be at Leop­ard­stown later in the week.

Dry weather

“It’s great for Lim­er­ick and for rac­ing to see Ruby there,” the Leop­ard­stown boss said. “But don’t worry he will be back up with us the fol­low­ing day – you can’t beat a bit of competition!”

The competition be­tween Wil­lie Mullins and Gor­don El­liott for the bulk of the ma­jor Christ­mas prizes is likely to be as in­tense as ever.

El­liott also has star names such as Ap­ple’s Jade and Sam­cro to run later in the week. Mullins could take them on with the likes of Foot­pad, Lau­rina and Faugh­een.

El­liott outscored his great ri­val last year by 11 win­ners to nine over­all dur­ing the four days of Christ­mas ac­tion.

A largely dry weather out­look is fore­cast for the week ahead and ground con­di­tions at Leop­ard­stown are cur­rently ‘good, yield­ing in places’ on the steeple­chase course.

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