Two winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup take flight across the Irish Sea this Saturday. War Of Attrition, the 2006 victor, ventures from his Co Tipperary base to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall Chase, but it is another former champion, Kauto Star, heading in the other direction for the Champion Chase at Down Royal, that will arouse the senses rather more.
While War Of Attrition has demonstrated his wellbeing in a bloodless victory over yet another Blue Riband winner, Kicking King, at Punchestown a fortnight ago, the last memories racegoers have of Kauto Star are a narrow defeat by Our Vic at Aintree and that laboured and vain pursuit of Denman around Prestbury Park.
The opposition this time appears somewhat less formidable, with The Listener, having his first outing for Nick Mitchell since leaving the care of Robert and Sally Alner, the chief threat. Noel Meade's Afistfullofdollars, well backed for last year's Gold Cup, Willie Mullins's Grand National third, Snowy Morning, and Nicky Richards's Turpin Green are the other notables barring the path to Kauto Star's successful restoration to winning ways.
To accompany the return to action of so many top-flight chasers, the weather is predicted to be suitably wintry, with 10mm of rain and sleet expected to produce proper jumping ground.
War Of Attrition has been installed as 3-1 favourite by the sponsor, Bet365, for the Charlie Hall and his trainer, Mouse Morris, is optimistic. "He's been in great nick since his last run and it's so far, so good with him," the Fethard handler said. "Davy Russell will ride and he'll run as long as the ground is safe." The turf at Wetherby has been hotly debated since part of the bend was realigned to accommodate widening of the A1. However, the track received favourable reviews after the first meeting of the season.
While some will relish the opportunity to don three layers of thermals to follow the winter game, for others the jumps season is just a chance to hibernate under a pile of ante-post vouchers for next season's Classics. Some will have added to that portfolio yesterday after John Oxx's Rayeni put up an impressive performance in extending his unbeaten record to two in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown.
Oxx already has the Derby favourite, Sea The Stars, in his Currabeg stables and now has a live contender for the 2,000 Guineas with the Aga Khan-owned son of Indian Ridge.
The trainer was typically restrained in praise of the winner. "He's a very nice horse, quiet at home and has never put a foot wrong." Oxx said. "We didn't expect him to win first time out at Naas and he's improving all the time." Victor Chandler were impressed, nevertheless, and offer only 20-1 for the Guineas.
At Leicester, a frustrating year for Young Mick was redeemed as George Margarson's stable star won the Sir Gordon Richards Stakes. Trouble in-running has haunted the six-year-old, and he had a losing run stretching to the 2006 Cumberland Lodge Stakes.
"I might run him in the November Handicap now if the ground is OK, and then go out to Dubai for a bit of sun on his back," Margarson said. "There is a stayers' race there in February."
At Lingfield, Ryan Moore's victory aboard Spiritual Treasure will not be a career highlight compared with the Breeders' Cup Turf on Conduit, but he executed quite a gamble for the trainer Mikael Magnusson.
Less than 48 hours after his Californian triumph, via riding in France on Sunday, he rode a treble at the Surrey track, with Magnusson's colt tumbling from 10-1 to 100-30 in the betting. "My mother had 20 quid on it," quipped the Lambourn-based Swede.
Dean McKeown, who has a four-year ban to serve, pending an appeal, rode his second winner since receiving the punishment on Dancing Maite in the claimer. Despite his warning-off for corruption looming large, the stewards still suspended the rider for two days for a whip offence.
Whip abuse of a different kind has landed Frankie Dettori in trouble with the stewards at Santa Anita. He faces a fine, or even a ban, for hurling his whip away in celebration after Saturday's Classic victory on Raven's Pass.