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Superstar Silviniaco is set for Titanic showdown at Festival

By Ron McKnight

Ireland rugby captain Rory Best and Grand National winning jockey Mick Fitzgerald were among the special guests at the launch of the Down Royal Festival yesterday in the Bridge Suite of the Titanic Centre.

The award-winning Belfast venue will be the new sponsor of the Grade Two Novice Chase on Super Saturday on November 5, the second day of the two-day extravaganza.

A panel comprising Best, Fitzgerald - now a leading broadcaster - teenage jockey sensation Jack Kennedy and Down Royal General Manager Mike Todd was compered by Pamela Ballantine.

Fitzgerald told the large gathering: "It's great credit to Down Royal they attract the quality of horses for the festival that they do."

British champion trainer Paul Nicholls has confirmed that his stable star Silviniaco Conti will contest the Festival feature, the £140,000 Champion Chase which is backed by Down Royal chairman Jim Nicholson with previous winners including legends Kauto Star and Beef Or Salmon.

Nicholls said: "The plan is to take Silviniaco Conti to Down Royal - it is a Grade One with good prize money and it is right-handed track, which he likes. For the first time for a long time he has been easy to train. I would say he is close to being back to his best fitness-wise."

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud dominates the big race entries on Super Saturday with 10 of the 24 engaged including Don Poli, now trained by Gordon Elliott who claimed the prize last season with Don Cossack, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner last March.

Rising star Kennedy, who is currently injured, said: "I regret missing Down Royal as it's a great track and is lucky for me - I rode my first winner over hurdles there."

Ulster rugby ace Best said: "There are a lot of similarities between rugby and horse racing. It takes a team effort to get them ready and I have the utmost respect for the jump jockeys and how they handle the falls."

Templepatrick-based Joe Sloan attended the launch having sponsored the first-day feature under his WKD brand since its inception. Sloan - a leading local owner - said: "Down Royal is very important to us as a family - it's our local track and an ideal venue to entertain guests."

The Grade Two WKD Hurdle - on November 4 - has received a prize money boost taking it up to a tasty £50,000.

Down Royal GM Todd added: "We're looking forward to the best ever Festival. A Morning Line programme will be held at the course and displayed on the big screen to encourage racegoers to attend early while a trip to Cape Town is the prize for the best dressed lady."

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