Jumping for fun: Footpad made a hugely impressive start to life over fences at Navan last month
Caroline Norris (racingpost.com/photos)
Racing Post Novice Chase (Grade 1) | 4yo+ | 2m1f | RTE2/ATR
Willie Mullins is going for a third consecutive win in the highlight on the opening day of Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, which he landed with Douvan in 2015 and Min a year ago.
Judged on his spectacular performance on chasing debut at Navan last month, Footpad has excellent prospects of making it three in a row for Ireland’s champion trainer.
A dual Grade 1-winner over hurdles, who competed creditably in both the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown last season, the five-year-old never put a foot wrong at Navan when storming to an 11-length win.
Footpad is a best-priced 5-1 favourite for the Racing Post Arkle Chase at Cheltenham, and his display at Navan excited Mullins, who said: “It was as good a performance first time over fences that I’ve seen by a novice. He’s in good form and we’re all set for the next step.
“Death Duty is a very good horse and has more experience than our horse, but the trip might favour our fellow more than him. We’ll see.”
Paul Townend rides Footpad for the first time since winning a juvenile hurdle on Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horse at Gowran Park over two years ago.
Pros Very smart hurdler who jumped superbly when trouncing his rivals on chasing debut at Navan last month
Cons Although his Navan win was visually impressive, the form has not been advertised
Duty calls for highly touted novice chaser
Death Duty carries an unbeaten chasing record into the race having won his three starts and will be dropping down in trip when he takes on Footpad.
His trainer Gordon Elliott, who will be bidding to win the contest for the second time, said: “Death Duty isn’t a slow horse but it would probably suit him better if it was a two-and-a-half-mile race.
“We were going to send him to Limerick for the two-and-a-half-mile Grade 2 but we decided to give him a shot at this Grade 1 instead.”
He continued: “Footpad looked very good at Navan and will be hard to beat, but you should never be afraid of one horse. We’re going to give it a go.”
Davy Russell, who has ridden the six-year-old to his three chase victories, will be seeking a first win in the race and might have been at Kempton to ride Whisper in the King George but fulfils commitments at Leopardstown, where he is in action not just for Death Duty’s owner Gigginstown House Stud but another regular supporter in Chris Jones.
Pros Unbeaten in three starts over fences and interesting that connections swerve an easier assignment at Limerick
Cons The drop in trip is unlikely to play to his strengths
Time for Any Second Now to step up
Any Second Now, a Grade 2 winner over hurdles last season and runner-up on his first two starts over fences, represents JP McManus and Ted Walsh, who said: “Our horse has it all to do taking on Footpad and Death Duty.
“The experience will do him good, though, so we decided to let him take his chance.”
Avenir D’Une Vie, who came good over fences at the third attempt when scoring at Punchestown 16 days ago, will be saddled by Henry de Bromhead, who said: “He won nicely at Punchestown and came out of the race well. He’s stepping up in class but we’re hoping for a good run.”
The Jessica Harrington-trained Jett, runner-up to Tombstone in a Grade 2 event over the distance at Navan on his most recent start, completes the line-up.
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