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Racing: ST STEPHEN'S DAY BANKERS; Don't miss star novices Le Coudray & Barrow Drive.

Byline: Peter O'HEHIR Racing Correspondent

STAR novice chasers Le Coudray and Barrow Drive will provide favourite backers with a feastive feast on Thursday.

LE COUDRAY, victorious when this pair clashed in the Pierse Group Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, will start a short-priced favourite to record his third success over fences in the EUR100,000 Denny Gold Medal Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

And, down at Limerick, BARROW DRIVE, unbeaten in his previous five chase outings before being turned over by Le Coudray at Fairyhouse, should return to winning form in the featured Guinness Greenmount Park Novice Chase.

Christy Roche and JP McManus have enjoyed tremendous success at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival in recent years and both should be followed again this week.

Formerly a top-class staying hurdler, Le Coudray returned to a ction after an absence of almost two years at Cork last month but fell at the second last when apparently having the race, won by Just In Debt, at his mercy.

The eight-year-old made amends next time at Naas, coping well with the drop to two miles.

And, stepped-up in both trip and class in the Drinmore, he recorded his first Grade 1 success over fences, powering clear to beat Barrow Drive by six lengths.

Trainer Roche believes that Le Coudray possesses plenty of speed and that two miles and a furlong here should not trouble him unduly.

A fluent jumper, Roche's charge is a confident choice to triumph for Barry Geraghty at the expense of BUST OUT and THE GATHERER.

Narrowly beaten by Istabraq in the 2000 AIG Europe Champion Hurdle, Bust Out, like Le Coudray, has overcome a long-term injury and triumphed on his comeback at Fairyhouse recently.

But Jessica Harrington's gelding was a little lucky on that occasion as a number of rivals fell in the closing stages.

Bust Out may well have won, but would have faced a serious battle and, although he should improve, I don't think he'll cope with Le Coudray.

The Gatherer crashed at the third last fence in a Fairyhouse novice on his chasing debut.

Trained by Arthur Moore, this exciting prospect had jumped impeccably and looked set for an easy win when over-jumping and paying the price. I expect him to figure prominently, although taking a significant leap into this Grade 1 company.

In the chief supporting race, the Denny Juvenile Hurdle, the Michael Halford-trained GOLDEN CROSS will be fancied to build on his recent victory at Fairyhouse.

Successful three times on the flat, this fellow was nursed along by Charlie Swan before beating Mirpour (subsequently beaten at Clonmel) in good style.

Despite a penalty, he should beat Noel Meade's HARCHIBALD and the Dermot Weld-trained dual-winner PART AIRS.

KICKHAM, winner of the Champion Bumper at Aintree last spring, overcame a dismal hurdling debut run at Clonmel when second to Plenty Of Ice at Navan and should get Williamson off to a flyer in the opening Denny Waifos Maiden Hurdle.

GREEN FINGER, winner of a point-to-point, is reportedly one to watch in the Kerry Spring 4-Y-0 Maiden Hurdle.

Christy Roche's WHICH HALF, an eye-catching third to the smart Turtleback on his debut at Fairyhouse, is napped to open his account in the bumper.

Meanwhile, amateur Jamie Codd, who performed heroics to triumph on Nearly a Moose at Punchestown recently, will be given a golden opportunity of big-race success when he partners BARROW DRIVE in the Guinness Greenmount Park Novice Chase at Limerick.

Trained by Tony Mullins, this gelding has been beaten only once in his last six starts. He must concede weight to his five rivals and, although Codd will be unable to claim his allowance, the favourite should regain the winning thread, at the expense of BE MY BELLE and INTELLIGENT.

Elsewhere on the Limerick card, local trainer Michael Hourigan should be followed.

OLIVERJOHN has shown enough ability, including a recent third to Stashedaway at Gowran, to suggest he should land the Pricewaterhouse Coopers Maiden Hurdle, while stable mate GARSINGTON should also be noted in the opener.

KING CAREW, an eye-catcher on a few occasions, should prove a tough nut to crack in the Tom Cross Drilling Hurdle.

Meanwhile up north at Down Royal, NUMBERSIXVALVERDE, runner-up to Woody's Deep Ocean at Fairyhouse, should win in the INH Stallion Owners Maiden Hurdle. He has BACKITBOB to beat.

One to follow

DANTE'S Reef, third in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse, sets the standard in the bumper at Down Royal, while in the novice chase, Secret Progress might bounce back from his last-fence fall at Downpatrick.

CAPTION(S):

BARROW DRIVE: Should be backed to make up for Fairyhouse defeat in Limerick on Boxing Day; VICTORIOUS RETURN: Le Coudray won on comeback
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 24, 2002
Words:779
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