By Andy Stephens
The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival takes place at Leopardstown this weekend and organisers can hardly have hoped for better in terms of quality or quantity.
British challengers are admittedly thin on the ground but why take on a strong home team in their own backyard with the Cheltenham Festival little more than five weeks away?
From a fan’s perspective it is a pity that Buveur D’Air has not journeyed over for the Irish Champion Hurdle but who can blame his connections for preferring a much easier prep at Sandown, especially when owner JP McManus has other contenders for the Irish feature?
Last week I needed Lacan (8-1) to get me out of a punting hole with his win at Kempton on Saturday night. Fingers crossed we can get the ball rolling earlier this time.Min can find any chinks in the armour of stablemate Yorkhill (PA)
Double-figure prices about Special Tiara are always going to be interesting because the bold-jumping front-runner has never quite got the credit he deserves. However, more rain is forecast overnight and that will not help him.
Softening ground will not inconvenience Yorkhill but he folded tamely on his belated return at Leopardstown over Christmas (there seemed more to it than just the trip) and, for all his ability, he remains a tricky ride who looks worth taking on at short odds.
Min has never been spoken of in quite such exalted terms at Closutton but the only time he has not been first past the post since joining Willie Mullins is when splitting Altior and Buveur D’Air in the Supreme Novices Hurdle in 2016, when such as Petit Mouchoir and Supasundae were among the also-rans.
He was rightly demoted after his narrow victory over Simply Ned last time but he used up plenty of fuel in the first half of that contest. His performance was also not as bad as some made out - the time was noteworthy - and expect him to be ridden more patiently.
Useful Flat performer Sir Chauvelin impressed when not extended to pick off the hat-trick seeking Silver Concorde (pair 14 lengths clear) over course and distance on New Year’s Day and, still well treated relative to his Flat form, has bright prospects of defying an 8lb rise in the ratings.
He is 3-4 at the track, will again have the ground to his liking and 3lb claimer Callum Bewley retains the ride.
Paul Nicholls landed last year’s running with Diego Du Charmil and fields the principal danger in the shape of Amour De Nuit, freshened up since proving consistent in the first half of the campaign.
There has been an easy formulae for making profit from the Scilly Isles: just back the horse carrying the green colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Gitane Du Berlais, Bristol De Mai and Top Notch have struck for the pair in the past three runnings - all ridden by Daryl Jacob - and the combination look to have another excellent candidate this time in Terrefort.
The five-year-old grey looked a bit special when making a mockery of an initial handicap mark of 137 on his British bow at Huntingdon last month - jumping like an old hand and easing clear without being anything like hard ridden.
He is quickly up in class and there is depth to the opposition but he is a most exciting prospect.
This race is always a severe test and it is surely no coincidence that the only horse to carry 11st or more to victory in it this century was the mighty Baracouda in 2004, when the great stayer’s presence meant his eight opponents were obliged to race from out of the handicap.
In the other 14 renewals, all 72 runners burdened with 11st or more - not including any jockey allowances - have been beaten.
One who looks attractively weighted is King Of Fashion, who has his first start for Kerry Lee and will have only 10st 3lb to shoulder once Richard Patrick’s 5lb claim is taking into account.
Lee excels with her recruits from other yards and King Of Fashion, a strong traveller who has shaped well in the two staying handicaps he has contested, is unlikely to be an exception. He copes with testing ground and is only 1lb higher than when going close in a competitive event at Ayr in the spring.
I will probably also have a small saver on Fourth Act, a general 20-1 chance who showed the benefit of a wind op when winning at Fontwell last time.
The first three home last year are back for another stab with Full Jack, third 12 months ago, perhaps the most interesting of the trip this time.
However, the one they all have to beat this time is Delusionofgrandeur, one of the few in the field to arrive here on the up and open to more improvement now his stamina is more fully explored.
The eight-year-old is only 2lb higher than when beaten a head and a neck in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby last time. That form is strong with the second, Wakanda, since winning the Sky Bet Chase and the fourth, Actinpieces, subsequently scoring in good style at Ludlow.
I also like the fact that he is a fluent jumper who races at or near the front in his races, as front-runners often prosper at the track.Melon makes more appeal than his stablemate Faugheen (PA)
There is no room for sentiment when it comes to punting and you are braver than me if you want to back Faugheen at a best price of 11-8 after his lifeless display last time.
The Mullins camp were confident they would find an explanation but nothing came to light and it could just be that the ten-year-old’s well documented problems have taken their toll physically and mentally. Cue an all-the-way 15-length romp!
Melon is the obvious one to take advantage if the former champion is on the wane.
He has shown high-class form with the promise of still more to come, including last time when a close third behind My Tent Or Yours and The New One in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham after travelling the best and when conceding 6lb to the winner.
This track will play more to his strengths and his form is far superior to that of Defi Du Seuil who, like Faugheen, arrives here with questions to answer.
A massive field in which luck in-running and tactics will play a part, especially with a lack of habitual front-runners in the line-up.
Plenty are exposed but Off You Go and Mind’s Eye are exceptions, with strong preference for the latter.
Mind’s Eye was not extended to win his handicap bow at Leopardstown last month, impressing again with his high cruising speed and nimble jumping.
The drop in trip is not a concern - he seems versatile regards distance and has plenty of toe - and his 8lb rise is offset by promising 5lb conditional Dylan Robinson taking the ride.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday:
1.45 Leopardstown: £2 win on Min at a general 11-4
2.05 Musselburgh: £3 win on Sir Chauvelin at a general 13-8
3.00 Sandown: £3 each-way win on King Of Fashion at a general 12-1
3.15 Musselburgh: £4 Delusionofgrandeur at a general 9-2
Above six horses with 2.25 Sandown: Terrefort in a 15p Win Super Heinz plus a £1 each-way accumulator.
Select any odd to add a bet