The Dublin Racing Festival goes from strength to strength and this weekend’s extravaganza at Leopardstown is set to feature a plethora of the sport’s top performers.
That’s as it should be, with more than €1.8 million in prize money up for grabs and eight of the 15 races being Grade One contests.
Clues for the Cheltenham Festival will come thick and fast, with a string of ante-post favourites in action. And in addition to a glut of great racing, racegoers will be able to watch the Six Nations Rugby matches via big screens plus enjoy post-racing music acts.
Those unable to attend will be able to watch all the action live on Racing TV, plus interviews with the victors and vanquished. Here’s a closer look at the biggest races and those who could light up the show.
1.20: Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle
British raiders will again be thin on the ground this weekend but Weveallbeencaught, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, is an exception.
A fine stamp of a horse, he ran well when third Hermes Allen on his hurdling bow at Cheltenham and his subsequent defeat of Rock My Way at the same track on New Year’s Day was given a timely boost last weekend.
Willie Mullins has landed eight of the past 11 renewals, including the last two, and he relies on Quais De Paris, not extended to win a maiden hurdle at Tramore on New Year's Day, but the home team is headed by Good Land (Barry Connell) and Sandor Clegane (Paul Noland).
The pair were both taking winners last time, especially Good Land, who shone at Leopardstown on over Christmas on what was effectively his hurdling bow. The fourth home that day, Embassy Gardens, has since franked the form.
American Mike, runner-up in last season's Champion Bumper, is on a retrieval mission after his below-par run at Navan.
1.55: Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle
The past two winners of this contest, Quilixios and Vauban, have gone on to land the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and few will be surprised if Lossiemouth also achieves the double. She’s already no bigger than 11/8 to land the latter.
Unbeaten in three starts, she impressed when winning on her first start for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse in early December and followed up in commanding style, from Gala Marceau, at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The grey filly, owned by Rich Ricci, has already beaten several of the potential rivals who may take her on and is going to be a short price to stay on a roll.
Mullins has six of the eight runners, with Gala Marceau clear second favourite.
2.30: Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase
It goes without saying that Mullins will hold the key to plenty of this weekend’s action, with the Irish Arkle being an obvious example.
Mullins has five aces up his sleeve, all in different ownership, in the shape of Dysart Dynamo, Appreciate It, El Fabiolo, Saint Roi and Flame Bearer. Saint Roi already has a Grade One victory over fences under his belt, achieved at Leopardstown over Christmas.
You’d love to own any of them, with Appreciate It heading the betting.
Injury prevented the runaway 2021 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle from switching to chasing last season but his flawless wins over fences at Punchestown and Naas this campaign suggest he could still go to the top.
Every inch a chaser on looks, his jumping has been most assured, even though Paul Townend, his jockey, has bemoaned not having a lead. He is 4/4 in his races at Leopardstown and, for all he looks like he will stay well, has yet to race beyond 2m over either hurdles or fences.
If there’s one in the race who could spoil the Mullins party, it’s the Joseph O’Brien-trained Banbridge, who got stuck in the mud when winning over further at Fairyhouse last time.
3.05: Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup
It’s strange to think that Galopin Des Champs went off at 100/1 at this meeting two years ago, when finishing sixth behind Appreciate It in a Grade One novice hurdle.
He's since flourished, especially since switching to chasing, and is now firmly established established as one of the sport’s A-Listers. He impressed at this meeting 12 months ago and but for his unfortunate exit at the final fence in the last season’s Turners Novices’ Chase, would have an unblemished record over the larger obstacles.
The now seven-year-old, one of seven to stand their ground, looked even more the finished article when beating Fakir D’oudairies 13 lengths in the John Durkan Memorial Chase on his return at Punchestown.
It’s been a decade since a favourite has obliged in the Irish Gold Cup, with Mullins responsible for three of the beaten market leaders. However, none of the past ten beaten favourites have lined up with credentials as strong as Galopin Des Champs and it will be a shock if he does not cement his place at the top of the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup betting. He’s a top-priced 13/8 for jumping’s blue riband.
1.40: Ladbrokes Novice Chase
Mighty Potter always looked like he was marking time over hurdles and he came of age when winning the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in early December. The form makes sense, with Gaillard Du Mesnil and Banbridge chasing him home, and plenty will fancy him to provide Gordon Elliott with a belated first win in this event.
Gaillard Du Mesnil had solid form heading into the Drinmore and has himself since won in Grade One company. He might not be another Faugheen, Monkfish or Galopin Des Champs – Mullins’ last three winners of this – but can be relied upon to give his running.
Mullins also runs James Du Berlais, a 156-rated hurdler who won by 15 lengths on his chasing bow at Fairyhouse on New Year's Day.
2.10 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase
The first five runnings of this have all been won by a Mullins-trained favourite and it will be a surprise if Blue Lord does not extend his sequence.
His only defeat in seven starts over fences came when third to Edwardstone in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March, having previously won the Irish equivalent at this meeting.
The eight-year-old has continued to climb this season, doing well to land the Clonmel Oil Chase on his return before powering home here during the Christmas programme.
Sceau Royal isn’t the force he was, but has obvious place claims. Dunvegan was a distant runner-up last year but his connections won’t grumble if he can repeat the feat.
3.10: Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle
Constitution Hill will be standing idle in his box at Lambourn, which is a pity, but this still promises to be a humdinger with Honeysuckle, State Man and Vauban crossing swords.
Honeysuckle’s initial sequence of 16 successive victories included scooping the past three runnings of this race, and those who believe her powers are on the wane after her comeback defeat behind Teahupoo in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle may be in for a surprise. Perhaps she needed that race more than was expected and, in any case the form is working out well with the winner since following up in great fashion and Echoes In Rain, beaten when falling two out, subsequently winning easily.
State Man enhanced his reputation when proving too strong for Vauban and Pied Piper in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, although he almost certainly had a fitness edge over Vauban, who was having his first start for eight months, and it could be a different story this time.
3.40: Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle
Six races have yielded six wins for the exciting Facile Vega, half of them achieved at this track.
He was imperious when winning the Saturday bumper at this meeting last year and then achieved a notable treble by also winning at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
Facile Vega has wasted little time making an impact over hurdles this term, winning in facile fashion at Fairyhouse before winning in Grade One company here over the festive period. He didn’t impress everyone last time, but I was taken by the way he pulled clear in the closing stages after a stop-start race.
I won’t be in a hurry to oppose him, even with Irish Point, who already has two Grade One near-misses to his name, and High Definition, a 112-rated Flat performer who won on his hurdling bow at Leopardstown last month, among his possible opponents.
Select any odd to add a bet