Ruby Walsh: My Dublin Racing Festival race-by-race guide

By Ruby Walsh
Fri 3 Feb 2023

Ruby Walsh previews the eight Grade One contests on a stellar weekend of racing at Leopardstown, all live on Racing TV.

Dublin Racing Festival: the stars set to be on show this weekend

Eight Grade One contests feature among 15 races on what is set to be a stellar weekend of racing at the Dublin Racing Festival, all live on Racing TV.

A whole host of superstars will be in action at Leopardstown on Saturday and Sunday, including Honeysuckle who will bid for her fourth Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle victory on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s superstar faces a couple of high-profile contenders from Willie Mullins’ yard, though, with the serial Irish champion trainer holding a strong hand in all eight of the Grade One events.

Ruby Walsh spoke to this week about those contests and provided his views and insight on the leading contenders.

Every race from the Dublin Racing Festival will be shown live on Racing TV, with Gary O'Brien, Lydia Hislop Donn McClean, Nick Luck, Fran Berry and Ruby Walsh hosting the action from Leopardstown over the weekend. Click here to join Racing TV now.


1.20pm - Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors "50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff" Nov Hurdle (Grade 1)

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The meeting starts with a bang with the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors “50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff” Novice Hurdle and there is some real depth in here although, unlike a lot of the other races, it isn’t dominated by Willie Mullins!

American Mike for Gordon Elliott is trying to bounce back, but he was a really good bumper horse last year, while Barry Connell’s Good Land probably has the best form on offer.

His win in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas has worked out really well with Embassy Gardens, who finished fourth, winning with ease since.

Weveallbeencaught was a good winner at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and is a rare British raider. I like what I have seen from him and they're right to head over here. You're only a novice for one season, and if you can win one of the bigger novice races, you might as well get paid well for it, too. There's a huge prize fund here for a novice - the winner receives €88,500 - and whatever horses achieve as a novice, it's much harder for them to achieve the same again in open company.

Maximising your novice season is good for horses, I believe, and I was impressed with Weveallbeencaught at Cheltenham, although I wasn't overly impressed with his hurdling debut as he made a few silly mistakes behind Hermes Allen, but he improved a lot for that.

His bumper form is quite strong as well, and if Nigel Twiston-Davies is planning on coming all the way over to Dublin, he must fancy his chances.

Of the Willie Mullins pair, Grangeclare West will have to bounce back from a disappointing run behind Champ Kiely in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle and Quais De Paris won at Tramore recently.

I think it’s a good start to the meeting. Will it give hints towards the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, or will it give hints towards the Albert Bartlett?

Well, if Good Land wins it will be a Ballymore hint as he’s not entered in the Albert Bartlett! The others would have the option of that race, but it is a strong race, and is great to have some strength in depth outside of one yard here.

1.55pm - Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1)

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This race is traditionally a good pointer as to who are the top juveniles and it is completely dominated by Willie Mullins.

You have one horse running from Henry de Bromhead’s yard, and one from Brendan Duke’s, but the rest are trained by Willie!

Lossiemouth has looked the standout juvenile so far and sets the standard, and it’s hard to know if she’ll be better or not when contesting a strongly run race. She does have form over 2m2f in Auteuil, and Auteuil is quite a stiff track, so stamina shouldn’t really be an issue for her, and that should hopefully mean she copes with a race run at a stronger gallop.

I was probably one of the people who said she won a slowly run race at Fairyhouse, although it was probably a quicker race at Leopardstown! Gala Marceau, who was previously a juvenile in France, ran really well behind Lossiemouth on her first run for Willie, while Gust Of Wind won on his only start at Auteuil and is doing a lot of things right at home.

Tekao won a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas and Jourdefete blew out when running poorly behind Lossiemouth on her Irish debut.

2.30pm - Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1)

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I think this will be a cracking race! I thought Dysart Dynamo was very good on his chasing debut over Christmas.

I think El Fabiolo will probably have to jump a lot better than he did at Fairyhouse. Saint Roi came from well off the pace to win at Leopardstown last time out and that was strong form.

Fil Dor made a mistake at the third last when finishing behind Saint Roi but, to be fair to him, that was only his second run over fences plus he’d beaten Saint Roi on his previous outing at Navan, so with a better round of jumping, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished in front on Saint Roi this time.

2m1f around Leopardstown I think really does suit Saint Roi’s style of running, and if you look at the shape up of this race, there’s a lot of pace, so you would think it is a race that will be set up for a closer. That really could be Saint Roi as that’s the way he’s ridden, and that’s the way he won at Christmas. He’s a County Hurdle winner who is a good jumper.

Appreciate It has won both of his starts over fences and has done nothing wrong, so looks rock solid. I think the better ground that we’re going to get at the weekend will suit Banbridge better. I thought he was a good winner at Cheltenham in November on a drier surface.

Expect to see this contest strongly run as with Dysart Dynamo in there, that is always likely to happen, and with so many big names clashing, there are going to be a few bubbles burst on Saturday afternoon!

3.05pm - Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1)

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Galopin Des Champs hasn’t run over three miles since he won a Grade One novice hurdle at Punchestown.

He was very good in the John Durkan where he looked a much more mature horse. His style of racing suggests that it looks as though he has settled down this season and is capable of going over a trip like this again.

If you watch his run at Leopardstown last Christmas, he was quite gassy and he was very gassy here when he won on his card 12 months ago. Willie didn’t step him up in trip last season but when you watched him in the John Durkan at Punchestown, he looked ready to step up.

Watching it live, I was worried at halfway as I thought he should have been racing with more exuberance given it was his first run of the season, but he looked a different horse to the one that ran at Leopardstown last year. He hadn't really been trained any differently but his jumping was much more measured and he was a more relaxed horse. He'd matured himself and we always thought he was a stayer, but he caught us by surprise last year.

He looks a really exciting horse. He’s tall-ish (he’s not a monster) but he’s not a massive horse. He’s deceptive, but he is taller than he looks when you look at him. He’s quite lean, and very athletic, and is a very good jumper.

It’s all about the potential for him, really. What can he achieve? What can he do? He’s such an exciting horse.

Any Second Now has finished placed in two Grand Nationals, Franco De Port was fourth in the Savills Chase over Christmas. Fury Road finished a place in front of Franco De Port in that race, while Kemboy was second.

Stattler was just touched off by Minella Indo at Tramore on his return and The Big Dog finished third in the Welsh National when last seen.

You are thinking if Galopin Des Champs is going to win a Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, if he’s going to be the superstar he could be, then he has to be winning this.

Willie Mullins discusses Galopin Des Champs' victory in the John Durkan last time out

It is hard to believe he was sent off at 100-1 at this meeting two years ago! He hasn’t looked back since, bar a blip at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.

His fall at the Cheltenham Festival can happen to any horse, and Paul Townend was convinced he would learn from that. It’s hard to say he hasn’t and he’s a very exciting horse. His work has been good since Tramore, and we know he handles Leopardstown. The ground being on the slow side of good shouldn’t be a concern for him and I can’t wait to see him.

However, the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip is so taxing and even if Galopin Des Champs wins on Saturday, can you walk out of Leopardstown with your hand on your heart and say he’ll definitely stay the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip? None of us will know until he does go and stay that trip.


1.40pm - Ladbrokes Novice Chase (Grade 1)

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The big guns look to be Gaillard Du Mesnil, James Du Berlais, Gerri Colombe, Journey With Me and Mighty Potter, who I suppose sets the standard following his win in the Drinmore Novice Chase.

He didn’t blow me away with his win at Down Royal, but I was much more impressed with him at Fairyhouse. I thought he was really good there.

Gaillard Du Mesnil won well over Christmas, his first victory over fences, but that was over three miles. Will coming down in trip suit him? I think you’d be brave to suggest it would.

James Du Berlais was good at Fairyhouse, but will he be able to reproduce that on his second outing after a long layoff? I know Carefully Selected did recently, but that doesn’t mean they will all do it. Kilcruit has to overcome his defeat at Limerick over Christmas, too.

So, for me, Mighty Potter looks the one to be on here. His novice hurdle form was rock solid, bar one blip in the Supreme, but I don’t think you can knock any horse for having one below-par run. I think this is his race.

2.10pm - Ladbrokes Dublin Chase (Grade 1)

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Sceau Royal looks set to take on Blue Lord here, along with Gentleman De Mee.

Gentleman De Mee was a Grade One winner at Aintree last year and I'd say the ground is more important to him than the time of year. Some horses do take off in the spring, but is that because the ground has dried out and they're getting the surface they want.

He did beat Edwardstone at Aintree and his form improved throughout the season last year. He looks to be in good form at home and I don't think he sparked at Christmas as he always looked like he was going too fast, so I think you could see a different horse here.

Sceau Royal is an admirable horse, but if Blue Lord is going to back up his win over Christmas and keep himself in the Champion Chase picture, I think he has to win here.

He definitely took a bigger step forward than I was expecting last time out. Probably not a bigger step than Willie was expecting, though! We were both of the opinion that he wanted two and a half miles, so he definitely surprised me. In fact, everything about him surprised me at Leopardstown; the way he travelled, and the way he jumped.

He looked in control of the race so far out and I thought he had the race won a long way from home. He hadn’t always put much daylight between himself and the opposition from the last fence, but he really opened up at Leopardstown and went right away.

He wasn’t able to beat Edwardstone as a novice last year, so I think he will have to produce a good performance here to show that he deserves to take him on again.

He was very good at Christmas, but I thought the Clarence House Chase last weekend looked a stronger contest than this race does. However, I hope Blue Lord bolts in here as you will then have four key contenders for the Champion Chase, which makes it exciting.

3.10pm - Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

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Without being blunt, it is State Man vs Honeysuckle vs Vauban.

I think, following his run at Christmas, Pied Piper has so much to prove now. I think it’s easy to put him as fourth choice, and Zanahiyr as behind him with the way he’s gone lately. Takarengo is miles out of it.

I think this will be the most tactical race this weekend. It will be a great race, despite the small field, but who will make the running? Who is the cat, who is the mouse? What way does this race shape up?

Honeysuckle’s form recently got a boost with Teahupoo winning the Galmoy Hurdle, although Teahupoo was entitled to win that race.

Honeysuckle is the champion. State Man has done nothing wrong this year, while Vauban, last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner, had a brilliant comeback run behind State Man in the Matheson Hurdle. He’s going in the right direction.

I think it’s always hard for Triumph Hurdle winners the year after, though. The norm is, bar exceptions, that they do struggle the following year, but they do improve as they are only four rising five.

When we stepped him up in his work away from the juveniles and mixing with the big boys, you started to realise he wasn’t quite up to them yet, and he did surprise us over Christmas. He’s improved again since then, but I fully expect he will be a better horse by March, and April. I think he will get close to State Man this time, but I don’t think he will get by him yet.

With my Willie Mullins hat on I’d love to see State Man win but with my human hat on I’ll be shouting for Honeysuckle.

Look, this is Ireland. The champion gets knocked down and then when she goes and wins again, we’re all behind her again.

I think she’s been an incredible race mare, and I think she, Henry and Rachael have been incredible for the promotion and popularity of the sport. They are incredible.

Rachael and Honeysuckle put people on the gate. We’ve all seen that. At Punchestown last year and at Fairyhouse, we’ve all seen it. And we’ll see it again at Leopardstown on Sunday. They bring extra people racing, and that’s brilliant.

However, I don’t see Honeysuckle going to Cheltenham if she’s well beaten on Sunday. You’re now at the beginning of February and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was wound down over the next six weeks, and her next visit was to a stallion.

That’s what I think, but it’s hard to predict. I’ll deal with that one at about half three on Sunday as to what the future holds for Honeysuckle! Right now, her future is the Irish Champion Hurdle and I’d love to see her go and win. I’d love to see one of these be authoritative and at least be going to Cheltenham thinking something can take on Constitution Hill.

3.40pm - Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)

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This is all about Facile Vega, although High Definition is a fair horse, too.

Facile Vega was very good in an ordinary race at Fairyhouse, and maybe not as impressive at Leopardstown over Christmas where he got lit up after the first.

I’d imagine he’s improved for that, but you would be a foolish person to think High Definition would not improve for his first run over hurdles as he was quite green there. The second, Jetara, has since finished second in a Grade Three, so the form hasn’t exactly taken a nosedive or anything.

It’s a brilliant Bumper horse taking on a high-class Flat horse. Obviously, I’m a Facile Vega fan, but I don’t remember a horse of High Definition’s quality on the Flat going jumping.

He will have had to improve his jumping, but he’s a good horse, and this will be a good race. I think High Definition’s presence here doesn’t make this a solo for Facile Vega.

I think Il Etait Temps will have improved since Leopardstown, too. I didn’t think he jumped great there, and I know he can jump better.

Facile Vega didn’t blow people away with his performance over Christmas. He was workmanlike rather than spectacular, but he won, and the weekend will tell us a lot. I’m happy with what I’ve seen from him, anyway, and he’ll still be hard to beat here.

Quevega was a better jumper than Facile Vega. She was so small, and he’s so tall. They’re very, very different animals, and Quevega was a stayer, so Facile Vega should have plenty of stamina, too.

Willie has a soft spot for Champion Hurdles, so what Facile Vega does next year will depend on how State Man or Vauban get on against Constitution Hill!

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