By Johnny Ward in Dublin
While Punchestown’s Festival has its share of bad races – think in particular the handful of hunter chases – and Leopardstown at Christmas is not all top-notch stuff, this weekend’s two-day Dublin Racing Festival is clearly going to be the most virtuous meeting run all year over jumps in Ireland.
Saturday’s action is ridiculously hot, even the handicaps ultra-competitive, and it is one of those fixtures that does not demand bets – but thankfully there are some.
Samcro is my favourite horse in training and I am satisfied that Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott eschewed what would have been a soft enough Grade One on Saturday to take the tougher option on Sunday in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
He should win, and have learnt a bit more about leaping hurdles at speed – remember he is considered an out-and-out chaser by connections.
Another son of the late Germany, Faugheen, is Saturday’s main draw in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.
Perhaps we will all resemble fools for not backing him at odds-against come tea-time – but it is a chore to argue convincingly what price the ten-year-old ought to be, since nobody seems to have any explanation for his flat Christmas effort.
The most likely winner here looks to be Dortmund Park, on my pretty exhaustive list of Cheltenham bets. His victory on the waterlogged Thurles terrain was distinctly memorable for another reason: owner Eddie O’Leary, trainer Gordon Elliott and rider Davy Russell all commented afterwards that they could not believe the price he was.Dortmund Park splashed through the Thurles mud last time (PA)
He was expected to return to Thurles later this month, but Samcro’s rerouting to Sunday resulted in a similar switch.
At the prices, Dortmund Park is half the price, I prefer Carter Mckay, though Paul Townend seems to have opted for Fabulous Saga, who surely is vulnerable in a test like this.
The 2m6f trip can only suit classy bumper performer Carter Mckay, and I got the distinct impression at Punchestown that trainer Willie Mullins thought he was capable of a good deal better than that honourable third to Getabird, which followed a reported setback.
Handicap chases close to the ceiling bracket are far from a personal punting preference, yet the layers often get it wrong as to the most fancied of the JP McManus runners.
Generally I tend to avoid McManus-owned handicap debutants such as 6-1 favourite That's A Wrap, for all that he is probably going to improve past this mark.
Kilfenora is the pick for the Eddie Harty team. By multiple Gold Cup winner Yeats out of the smart Blazing Liss, he was placed hurdling off 127 and again on his own handicap chase debut off 118 last time.
Being 1lb out of the handicap, he is effectively up 3lb in a better race, but he has just turned six and looks a near-certain improver, especially if Niall Madden can get him into a jumping rhythm.
JP McManus’ Off You Go is an obvious fancy and probably worth a saver but Henry De Bromhead’s Mind’s Eye makes more appeal.
He showed Samcro in a good light by winning his last two races, having finished second to Samcro by 15 lengths in a Punchestown maiden in October, and it is hard to be confident (connections were not and still are not) that the two and a half miles suited him when he won at Christmas.
Those same connections have said they strongly considered running him in Grade One company this weekend, so his revised mark of 133 (up 8lb, which is fair) may not stop him here over two miles – particularly with Dylan Robinson claiming 5lb.
This is a handicap in which you really need to be seeking strong travellers and ideally one unexposed. This lad fits the bill on both counts and he is a really good-looking horse to boot, who could be Grade One-quality chasing.
One thing quite taking about his course win at Christmas was that he boasted the gears to negotiate a fleeting gap as they came into the straight when it looked odds-on he would be squeezed up, suggesting to be he has a bit of class – or at the very least was quite well-in.
Rapid Escape worked with Samcro in a gentle bit of exercise at this track on a promotional day last month. I am confident enough they will prove to be among the best horses Gordon Elliott will have trained by the time they prosper fully – fingers crossed in a game of vicissitudes – and Rapid Escape just keeps delivering in bumpers.
He may be a staying chaser down the line, yet he clearly possesses gears, and it seems next to impossible that this will be anything other than a truly- or strongly-run race.
I would be surprised if anything beat him, for all that Rhinestone is potentially really smart.
Johnny Ward's Saturday tips:
Select any odd to add a bet