The big betting race at Leopardstown on Friday is the Paddy Power Chase, a Grade B handicap over 3m (14:55). Last year’s third Fitzhenry appeals to make the frame again.
One of eight engaged for leading owner JP McManus, this seven-year-old is the choice of retained rider Barry Geraghty.
Trained by Paul Nolan, Fitzhenry has been a consistent sort in staying handicaps like this.
After running a string of fine races as a novice in this sphere, the son of Flemensfirth was a fine third over the Irish Grand National trip in the Porterstown Handicap at Fairyhouse last December.
Fitzhenry was giving the winner 16lb and only beaten about nine lengths. He then filled the same spot behind Auvergnat in the Paddy Power Chase 12 months ago.
Although no match for the winner, Fitzhenry stayed on well into third and went down by a similar margin off 133.
While he now races off 4lb higher, the re-opposing runner Vieux Morvan comes into this renewal without a run under his belt.
That rival also has a 7lb claimer on board which suggests connections don’t think he can go one better off his current mark.
Fitzhenry is race-fit following a pipe-opener over hurdles and fine effort when chasing home Chris’s Dream in the Troytown at Navan last time out.
He also meets the re-opposing fourth and fifth from last year’s Paddy Power Chase off better terms.
A case can be made for many of the 28 runners in this ultra-competitive handicap, but Fitzhenry – who was also a good fourth in the Irish Grand National Trial at Punchestown over further last term – appeals more than most.
With trainer and jockey among the winners before Christmas, Fitzhenry is great each-way value at 16/1 with Unibet in a typically fierce renewal.
Side with Chacun Pour Soi on Paddy Power Chase day
The feature Grade 1 contest on another cracking card is the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase over 2m 1f (13:10), and Punchestown Festival winner Chacun Pour Soi makes his hotly anticipated return to action.
Trained by Willie Mullins for Rich and Susannah Ricci, this seven-year-old has taken tender handling but exploded onto the scene last term.
After belying a racecourse absence of 1089 days to win his belated debut for the stable at Naas, Chacun Pour Soi was pitched straight in at the highest level.
This was a big call from Mullins. The Policy Maker gelding was very impressive when bolting up by 31 lengths, but there was always the danger of him bouncing.
Chacun Pour Soi did anything but as, despite the odd mistake, he readily accounted for JLT and subsequent Tingle Creek hero Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown.
The way he asserted on the run-in to score by 4 1/4 lengths showed that his debut victory for Mullins was no fluke.
He had his rivals strung out like washing in-behind. Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres was beaten a further 16 lengths, so naturally Chacun Pour Soi is regarded as a major Queen Mother Champion Chase contender.
If running up to his official rating of 169, then there isn’t anything in this Leopardstown line-up that should trouble him.
Chacun Pour Soi is 7lb and upwards clear of his seven rivals on figures and they all have questions to answer. After just three starts over fences, he’s also open to tons more improvement.
Taking all that into account, odds of 4/9 with William Hill reflect how strong the chances of Chacun Pour Soi are of adding a second Grade 1 success to his CV.
Blue Sari the Future Champions bet
The other top class race at Leopardstown on day two of the Christmas Festival is the 2m Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (13:45).
On Champion Bumper form, Blue Sari looks a value bet to beat Abacadabras.
Trained by Mullins for McManus, this four-year-old finished in front of that Gigginstown owned rival at the Cheltenham Festival.
Although now 5lb worse off at the weights from the Champion Bumper, Blue Sari is a more lightly-raced sort.
He’s had just three career starts, bolting up on debut at Gowran Park before being pitched straight in at Grade 1 level.
Only Envoi Allen, who has since confirmed Champion Bumper form with Abacadabras in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, bested Blue Sari at Cheltenham.
Connections started him off at a longer trip over hurdles. Blue Sari did precious little wrong in scoring by half-a-length in a 2m 4f Punchestown maiden.
He is sure to have learned plenty for that experience and still gets 3lb weight-for-age from Abacadabras. Now down in trip, that could prove invaluable against his old rival.
On these revised terms there isn’t much between them, so it doesn’t make sense that Abacadabras is odds-on favourite for this.
Blue Sari really does look a value bet at 15/8 with BetVictor on Paddy Power Chase day if making the expected further progress from his hurdles bow.
This is because Mullins came into the Christmas period operating at 36 per cent strike rate in the previous fortnight before Boxing Day. Blue Sari and Abacadabras are clearly the class acts in a small but select field, so side with the former to confirm Champion Bumper form.