It’s rare that a listed chase from Thurles would create such a stir, but today’s 12.55 will see the return to action of one of Ireland’s leading staying chasers.
Sir Des Champs has been off the track since running fourth in the Lexus Chase almost two years ago. Beaten by Bobs Worth, First Lieutenant and Rubi Ball on that occasion, nine months earlier he had finished a gallant runner-up in the Gold Cup of 2013, again losing out to Bobs Worth.
There’s little doubt that even at the relatively young age of nine, he will encounter a competition that has moved on somewhat in his absence. Those adversaries of 2013 have all fallen from grace, replaced by younger upwardly-mobile types, including Coneygree, Don Cossack and Djakadam.
Despite all that, if Sir Des Champs does retain his former ability he will still make his presence felt in the top staying chases in Ireland. And with so many resources at their disposal, there’s always the chance of Gigginstown sending him to England in search of a suitable target along with his more favoured ground conditions.
This afternoon’s event at Thurles is also a starting point for Lyreen Legend, trained by Sandra Hughes and ridden by Barry Geraghty. I have a soft spot for this fella, and am of the opinion that he has been tried over unsuitable trips more often than not. He’s another returning from a spell on the side-lines, and at the age of eight could well have plenty more to offer.
However, he’s no staying chaser in my eyes, and today’s trip is as far as I’d be running him. The Ryanair ought to be his end of season target. Those who doubt my words should watch again the Gold Cup of 2014, where he travelled as well as anything turning for home, before fading out of contention.
These two will be the latest to get their campaigns underway, adding further to the excitement and anticipation of a winter of top class chasing action. Cue Card, Coneygree, Don Cossack and Road To Riches have all whetted the appetite, and on Saturday it will be the turn of Silviniaco Conti and Vautour to make their appearances.
Nicholls’ dual King George winner has also won the Betfair Chase on two occasions and is a short priced favourite to do so again. Whilst at Ascot the eagerly awaited return of Vautour is sure to set the pulses racing. He’s due to run in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase, formerly the Amlin, which on the face of it appears a decent prep for the King George at Christmas. And that is where the two are likely to meet, along with Don Cossack, in what may well be the most thrilling encounter of the season.
Added to these, we are yet to sight either Don Poli or Djakadam, a pair that are impossible to dismiss when looking ahead to the major events throughout the winter.
It’s hard to keep pace at this time of the year. This season, arguably more than any before, has the potential to be one of the greatest ever witnessed by jump racing fans; especially those partial to a staying chase or two. It’s a division jam-packed with talent, both young and old, set to thrill in an unrelenting tsunami of outstanding action. Hold on tight.