Flemenstartackles 3m for the first time in Friday's Lexus ChasePICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Fireworks continue as Star and Champs face off
THE festive period has produced some scintillating racing so far and on Friday the feast continues with the hotly anticipated rematch between Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
After Long Run's titanic tussle in the King George, demolition jobs by Dynaste and Darlan and Arvika Ligeonniere's arrival as an Arkle contender on Wednesday, Thursday provided demonstrations of speed from Simonsig, Sanctuaire and Sizing Europe, Menorah produced more magic for the Philip Hobbs yard and Jezki jumped to the head of the Supreme Novices' market with a sumptuous display.
And if that was not enough, racing fans have yet another gripping clash to get stuck into.
The winners of 12 races and three Grade 1s since the pair went novice chasing last season, Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs are regarded as the two most exciting young staying chasers in Ireland and currently sit second and third in the betting for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Peter Casey's seven-year-old, a winner of his last seven starts, came out on top in their only previous meeting in the John Durkan at Punchestown earlier this month. But the step up to 3m takes him half a mile further than he has ever gone before under rules, while the additional distance should prove no problem for his five-length victim, who won a Grade 1 at the Punchestown festival in the spring over 3m1f.
Two-time Cheltenham Festival winner Sir Des Champs, who lost his unbeaten record for Willie Mullins in the John Durkan, should improve for the run and everything suggests the two will be brought closer together in Friday's €150,000 contest.
There are question marks over both runners, with the uncertainty reflected in their prices. Flemenstar heads the market at 11-8, with Sir Des Champs, a year his junior, priced at 11-4. Shortly after 3pm questions will be answered, and several more posed no doubt, as the pair seek to both clear and muddy the Gold Cup picture.
Peter Casey: "he's in rare old form"PICTURE: Patrick McCann
"Flemenstar has had a better lead-up to this race than he had for the John Durkan. He's in rare old form and we couldn't be happier with him," said the colourful Casey. "It's a very good race, but he is a very good horse. We think he will get the distance but we can't be sure until he tries it. He's done everything right so far and we think the world of him."
Davy Russell, who will ride his market rival, is predicting no excuses for his charge on this occasion. He said on Thursday: "Considering it was his first run following his summer break, Sir Des Champs ran a good race at Punchestown, The extra half mile tomorrow is going to suit him and having the Punchestown race behind him should be another plus. It's a very strong field and I'm looking forward to the race. I've always liked Sir Des Champs a lot and the ground and the trip won't be excuses."
While the Lexus is undoubtedly the highlight, once again there are a whole host of superstars on show, with Zaidpour, Monksland, So Young, Voler La Vedette and Weapon's Amnesty in competition to advertise their respective World Hurdle claims in the Grade 2 Christmas Hurdle, while Back In Focus and Dedigout go head-to-head in the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase.