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Don Cossack tops bill in sparkling clash at Down Royal Festival

By Ron McKnight

Don Cossack - the highest rated chaser in Ireland and Britain - heads a stellar line-up of 10 horses after yesterday's forfeit stage for the Down Royal Festival feature, the Champion Chase on Saturday.

The Gordon Elliott-trained star - rated 175 - is already a winner at the local venue having taken the Grade Two Novice Chase last season at a canter.

Don Cossack was ultra-impressive when winning on his seasonal debut at Punchestown.

The likely favourite is one of four owned by Ryanair supremo Michael O'Leary under his Gigginstown House Stud banner along with Roi Du Mee - also representing Elliott having won the 2013 running of the feature - and the Noel Meade-trained pair Wounded Warrior and Road To Riches, the winner last year.

O'Leary has won the big race three times in the last four years.

Navan trainer Meade has a third string to his assault on the major prize with Texas Jack, owned by Dungannon-based Robert Watson.

Down Royal General Manager Mike Todd said: "I'm thrilled and excited about Saturday's race.

"The top rated chaser, last year's winner and half the field from Britain - it doesn't get any better and it will definitely be a Super Saturday!"

The fab five cross channel contenders are The Young Master - trained by Wiltshire-based Ulsterman Neil Mullholland - Dynaste (David Pipe), the Rebecca Curtis pair O'Faolins Boy and Irish Cavalier along with Rocky Creek, runner-up in the £140,00 feature last year and trained by Paul Nicholls.

Nicholls has been champion trainer 10 times in the past 11 years, having won the Down Royal Grade One Chase four times, including twice with the great Kauto Star.

Saturday's renewal is undoubtedly set to be the best steeplechase run at the Maze since the inception of the Champion Chase in 1999 when Florida Pearl landed the prize for Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins.

Mullins has opted to enter Alelchi Inois - an original entry in the Nicholson Chase - along with Devils Bride in the Grade Two supporting feature, the Powers Irish Whiskey Novice Chase which has a total of 12 engaged.

Nicholls had Saphir Du Rheu engaged in the feature but has now entered his Aintree and Cheltenham winner along with Ptit Zig.

Gordon Elliott, while having the exciting Clarcam engaged, has also entered the locally-owned Shadow Catcher which is also engaged in the feature hurdle race.

Shanahan's Turn - winner of this year's Galway Plate - has been entered by trainer Henry De Bromhead and the owners Ann and Alan Potts, with Johnny Burke due to partner their young star.

Burke said: "I'm really looking forward to riding him. The race looks made for him. Down Royal is a great festival - it's the start of the proper jump season."

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