21/12/09: As expected, the Paul Nicholls-trained What A Friend is a notable addition to the Grade 1 Lexus Chase, the feature race at Leopardstown on 28 December, the third day of the Christmas Festival at the Foxrock track.

The six-year-old gelding, part-owned by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, was one of the top novice chasers in Britain last season, and was last seen in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of last month, when he ran the race of his life to chase home his stable companion Denman, himself the winner of the Lexus in 2007.

What A Friend’s presence merely adds further intrigue to an already fascinating contest. Notre Pere, the winner of the Grade 1 Knight Frank Novices’ Chase on Lexus day in 2007, and the Paul Nolan-trained Joncol still head the bookmakers’ lists, with the former bidding to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his latest start.

“To say that we were disappointed with his run at Haydock is an understatement,” Notre Pere’s trainer Jim Dreaper told At The Races.  “It was so unbelievably far removed from what we know he can do.  He has been good since, but until we see it in a race, we won’t know if he is really okay.  If he’s in good form and the ground is on the soft side, then he has a great chance.”

Trainer Alan King has intimated that there is a big chance that he will allow Voy Por Ustedes, third in the 2008 King George and winner of the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree last April, take his chance, while Money Trix, Imperial Commander and Cloudy Lane could all make the trip from Britain.  The Willie Mullins-trained Cooldine and the Dessie Hughes-trained Schindlers Hunt add strength to a formidable home defence.

All of the main protagonists stood their ground at today’s forfeit stage for the Grade 1 Leopardstown Golf Centre December Festival Hurdle, the feature race on the final day of the Festival.  The last time that market leaders Solwhit and Hurricane Fly met, in a Grade 1 contest at Punchestown last month, it was the former who came out on top, the Charles Byrnes-trained gelding showing a fine turn of foot to beat Willie Mullins’s horse into third place, with the Noel Meade-trained Muirhead, another possible for Tuesday’s contest, splitting the pair.  Colm Murphy has also left his exciting mare Voler La Vedette in the race, while Starluck and Go Native also still hold entries, although that pair are both also possibles for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.

Leopardstown General Manager Mr. Tom Burke said; – “We are delighted with the addition of What A Friend to the Lexus Chase line-up, where he joins four other English challengers. As always the Lexus remains as one of the chasing highlights on the Irish National Hunt Calendar. Ground conditions at Leopardstown are currently ‘soft’ and Met Éireann tells us that the cold conditions are to continue until Christmas Eve with a rise in temperatures from there on.”