CHELTENHAM Festival double winner Salsify will have his work cut out in the Albert Bartlett Hunter Chase at Down Royal's big festive meeting today.
The race is sponsored by leading Airdrie-based owner Bartlett whose top hunter chasers Joe Blake and Zemsky have enjoyed plenty of success over the years, the latter the winner of the Foxhunters at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.
Salsify has won the Foxhunters for the past two years although Oscar Delta could have triumphed last March but jinked late in the race, giving the rider no chance of staying aboard.
But Salsify confirmed his superiority when beating Oscar Delta at the Punchestown Festival in the Champion Hunter Chase.
Tammys Hill, trained by Liam Lennon in Newry, again tackles the likely favourite and twice beat Salsify last December, including in this contest.
But Salsify proved best by a neck in the Leopardstown Hunter Chase – seen as a Foxhunters trial – in February and finished third, with Tammys Hill sixth, in the Horse & Hound Cup later in the season.
The race looks a good match with Tammys Hill – with the benefit of a point to point victory to his credit already this season – taken to beat the dual Foxhunters winner.
Conditions at the course could give Leggy Lad place prospects, likewise Carsonstown Boy, winner of the race in 2011.
The beginners chase looks tricky with several holding solid claims but Gordon Elliott could solve the puzzle with Hit The Headlines, beaten a nose at Cheltenham two weeks ago.
Noel Meade will seek to supply a Christmas winner for the Belfast-based Hunt family with Mullaghanoe River, runner-up to the high-class Sizing Gold last time when Wingtips, trained by Tony Martin, finished sixth.
Two local runners can figure in the finish. Mount Collah, trained at Banbridge by Gerry Cosgrave, will relish conditions and is very useful at his best, while Leish Oscar, trained by Neill McKnight at Loughbrickland, has finished a very narrow second in all his last three starts.
Paudi The Punter, Alright Benny, Refused A Name and Lascalahall are a quartet for the short list in the handicap chase.
Paudi The Punter could complete a double for Meath trainer Gordon Elliott while Lascalahall could reward place support at a big price.
Couleur France makes his hurdling debut having failed to win a bumper despite four solid efforts on the level.
Isle View, Man With Van, Quickasyoucan, Rudolf and Sundetstorise all have ability over hurdles while Seancill Oir went down by a head in a battling finish with Maple Valley Gold at Downpatrick – the latter trained by Liam Lennon who has Without Wings entered following sixth in that race.
Rudolf, trained by Dessie Hughes, could offer the best each way value in the extended distance maiden hurdle.
The Larne-based Crawford brothers, trainer Stuart and jockey Ben, can claim the maiden hurdle with Mister Nibbles.
The selection is a well-regarded sort within the team, making a winning debut at the Lisburn course and was a solid second over hurdles at Fairyhouse last month. Shemshal, Sort It Out and People's Park are the dangers.
In the handicap hurdle, the James Lambe-trained Regal Warrior ran well on his return to action at Dundalk earlier this month but is unproven on testing going, the same applying to Echua.
JP McManus, who sponsors the race under his Martinstown Stud banner, has three engaged and the Niall Madden-trained Mad For Road could offer the best each way value.
Irish point to point champion Derek O'Connor is an eye-catching booking for Vision Du Coeur in the concluding bumper while Twentytwo's Taken and Wes Hardin are notable newcomers for Stuart Crawford and Noel Meade who top the table for bumper victories at the track.
TELEGRAPH TOP SELECTIONS: 12.30 Hit The Headlines (nap) 1.00 Paudi The Punter 1.30 Tammys Hill 2.00 Rudolf 2.30 Mister Nibbles 3.00 Mad For Road (each way) 3.30 Vision Du Coeur