The festive period is less than two weeks away and to National Hunt fans that means only one thing, the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
The south Dublin racecourse plays host to no less than seven Grade 1 races over four high quality days racing from the 26th to the 29th of December.
The Leopardstown Christmas Chase (formally known as the Lexus) is the main attraction on the Thursday and has been won in the past by some of the greatest steeplechasers ever to grace these shores.
Originally known as the Ericsson Chase up until 2004 when it was renamed the Lexus, the likes of Imperial Call, Dorans Pride and Rince Ri (twice) all tasted victory, with Beef or Salmon famously winning the race a record breaking three times.
British raiders have had a good record in this event with the Cheltenham Gold Cup winning quartet – Best Mate, Denman, Bob’s Worth and Synchronised all taking the trophy back across the pond.
This years renewal looks to be as competitive and intriguing as ever before. We heard today from Jessie Harrington that all being well, current Gold Cup hero Sizing John will take his place and with that very race being the plan for Yorkhill come March, he seems likely to take his chance here too. One I think that may have gone under the radar however is the Noel Meade trained Disko. Quietly fancied by a few to be a sleeper in the market for the Cheltenham blue ribbon, he could be tailor made for the test that 3 miles around Leopardstown in what will presumably be heavy ground entails.
Second in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown behind the classy Bellshill, he went on to have just the three runs over hurdles but it was apparent from then on that anything he achieved over hurdles was going to be a bonus. In the mould of most of the Gigginstown battalion, he had staying chaser marked all over him.
Disko’s novice career was not one void of promise, finishing a close third to Our Duke in the Grade 1 Novice Chase at last years Leopardstown Christmas Festival and then going two places better when beating the Irish Grand National winner in the Flogas Novice Chase at the same venue.
He finished third to Yorkhill in the JLT Novice Chase at the Cheltenham Festival before rounding off his Novice campaign with a win in the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.
Noel Meade’s grey looks to be improving at a serious rate and made his seasonal debut at Down Royal last month beating Ballyoisin a half a length giving the JP McManus horse 7lbs. Still only a six year old, there should be plenty more to come from him as he embarks on his first season outside of Novice company. He looks a much bigger and stronger horse this term and that could only have brought about some improvement.
Dangers are aplenty however with Sizing John, Yorkhill, Djakadam and last years victor Outlander all still currently in the line-up, it may well take a Gold Cup winning performance for Disko to come out on top.
It will be a monumental task, but I am hopeful he will run well and give Michael O’Leary and Noel Meade plenty of good times in the years to come.
Article by Rory Fitzgerald.