/ Racing

Hunters Chase big guns clash at Down Royal

Updated: Monday, 23 Dec 2013 17:23 | Comments

Salsify and Colman Sweeney taking the plaudits at Cheltenham earlier this year
Salsify and Colman Sweeney taking the plaudits at Cheltenham earlier this year

Old rivals Salsify and Tammys Hill will do battle again in the Albert Bartlett Hunters Chase at Down Royal on St Stephen’s Day.

Rodger Sweeney's stable star Salsify has won the last two renewals of the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but was beaten by the Liam Lennon-trained Tammys Hill both at Wexford and in this race 12 months ago last season.

Salsify turned the form around at Leopardstown in February before successfully defending his Cheltenham crown and winning at Punchestown, but was no match for Mossey Joe at Stratford in June.

Tammys Hill was even further behind at Stratford, but did recently make a winning return in a point-to-point.

Salsify's jockey, the trainer's son Colman Sweeney, said: "He's in good form but it's a good race.

"He always tends to need him reappearance runs and while he's not 100 per cent, he's not a whole pile off it.

"Joncol and Tammys Hill both have the benefit of comeback runs and they'll be no hiding places in the race.

"What we don't want is a mucky, slow run race but there are a few which should make a good pace.

"A bit of rain might help loosen the ground up a bit which should help him."

Lennon feels Tammys Hill has benefited from a minor breathing operation over the summer.

He said: "He won well on his first run in a point-to-point this season and James (Smyth) was very happy with him.

"He worked on Monday morning and we're very happy with him, he scoped clean and everything is good.

"They are all there with Salsify in it and On The Fringe is also a good horse.

"I would be a bit concerned about the ground as I think he's a better horse on better ground but it's probably the same for Salsify.

"He had a wee wind-op during the summer and James thinks it has helped him."

Paul Nolan's 2010 Irish Hennessy hero Joncol is clearly not the horse he once was, but the trainer hopes he can be competitive at this level, otherwise his racing days will be over.

Nolan said: "It's as good a hunter chase as you will get with Salsify and Liam Lennon's horse in there. They are two top-class hunter chasers.

"Joncol had a nice spin round in a point-to-point the other day on ground that was much too fast for him, but St Stephen's day is D-day.

"If he doesn't perform he'll be retired, but if he does run well, we'll rock on.

"We'll keep going as long as he looks as though he has the appetite for the game and judged on how he's going at home, there's no reason to believe he doesn't."

Enda Bolger has always held On The Fringe in high regard, but various injury setbacks have delayed his progress.

He has not been seen since winning at Punchestown in May of last year and Bolger feels his charge will benefit from the outing.

Bolger said: "He got injured around this time last year but I think he's in good form and I'm looking forward to starting him back.

"The plan is to get him to the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham next March and we have to start him somewhere.

"He's as fit as we can get him at the moment but will undoubtedly come on a lot from the run."

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