What a weekend!
Eight Grade One races and more than €2m in prize-money are up for grabs at the Dublin Racing Festival and, while this fantastic new addition to the jumps calendar is already a destination in its own right, we are set for Cheltenham Festival clues aplenty at Leopardstown.
In its inaugural year, the Dublin Racing Festival yielded no fewer than eight subsequent Cheltenham winners, while two went on to triumph at the Festival last year after preparing on unseasonably quick ground in Ireland.
Leopardstown is free-draining and with last year in mind – as well as fairly quick going for the past few days of the Christmas meeting after deep ground just days before – selective watering has taken place at Foxrock.
Clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer gave an update on Monday and reported predominately soft ground. The intention is for the word "good" not to feature for day one on Saturday.
Whatever the ground, there are eight contests at the highest level to be won. Below, we take a look at what's to come.
NATHANIEL LACY & PARTNERS SOLICITORS NOVICE HURDLE
When: Saturday. Time: 12.50. Distance: 2m6f. Value: €150,000
Fury Road is 10-1 for the Albert Bartlett and is likely to take high rank here, with Elixir D’Ainay and Longhouse Poet – both behind Envoi Allen last time – set to renew rivalry.
This contest has proved a decent guide to Cheltenham in the past few years, with Tower Bridge running respectably at the Festival and Commander Of Fleet runner-up last term.
LADBROKES DUBLIN CHASE
When: Saturday Time: 1.25. Distance: 2m1f. Value: €150,000
The exciting Chacun Pour Soi lost his unbeaten Irish record over Christmas, although plenty have needed their reappearance for Mullins and that was his first start in senior company. I’d take a more positive view but at 5-4 it’s strongly assumed he will take that required step forward.
Min is the highest-rated here and has won this race for the past two years. He landed the John Durkan on his return despite doing plenty wrong and Mullins is also fielding him plus Cilaos Emery and last year's brilliant Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres.
The Champion Chase looks a cracker with Defi Du Seuil the young pretender to two-time winner Altior. Chacun Pour Soi would make it even more interesting and the 4-1 about him before his run this weekend might be the way to play.
ERSG ARKLE NOVICE CHASE
When: Saturday. Time: 2.00. Distance: 2m1f. Value: €150,000
Three of the past five Arkle winners landed this prize en route.
Grade One winner Notebook has jumped beautifully in all three starts and is rightly favourite, while fellow top-flight scorer Fakir D’Oudairies deserves his billing as second-favourite.
Might it pay to look elsewhereh? Cash Back started in the same Navan race as Vautour, Min, Douvan and Al Boum Photo and impressed at Naas last time. The 5-1 shot could harass Fakir D’Oudairies in front.
With that in mind, this could set up for Bapaume, who is 8-1 this weekend and 12-1 for the Arkle. He jumps well and this strongly-run two miles could see him in a new light.
PCI IRISH CHAMPION HURDLE
When: Saturday. Time: 3.10. Distance: 2m. Value: €200,000
Victory for Honeysuckle will surely make the Unibet Champion Hurdle too hard to resist – and she’ll avoid Benie Des Dieux at Cheltenham!
The drop back in trip is a slight concern and she does not jump like a premier two-miler. Sharjah does and, while a shorter price than usual now he’s increasingly getting the credit he deserves, 9-4 looks fair with track and ground (provided it is not too soft) set to suit his potent turn of foot.
He is 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle, with Klassical Dream the same price;. The latter looks in the last-chance saloon as far as this season’s aspirations go at the top level.
Petit Mouchoir is not a Champion Hurdle player, but has run with credit the past twice at the top level and can outrun his 16-1 quotes this weekend.
TATTERSALLS IRELAND SPRING JUVENILE HURDLE
When: Sunday. Time: 1.25. Distance: 2m. Value: €150,000
This race has a real bearing on the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Our Conor doing the double in 2013 and six more winners placed at Cheltenham in the last 10 years.
Aspire Tower is the one here, unbeaten over hurdles and winning both starts by a combined 31 lengths. Currently best-priced at 6-1 for the Triumph, he’s likely to be outright favourite in all books from Goshen and Allmankind by Sunday evening.
Henry de Bromhead’s juvenile looks to have the beating of the other entries, although Echoes In Rain got excellent early reviews this season on her homework and can prove the main danger if she makes her Irish debut.
CHANELLE PHARMA NOVICE HURDLE
When: Sunday. Time: 1.55. Distance: 2m. Value: €150,000
Shishkin is now the Supreme favourite, but Abacadabras will likely take that mantle back with victory this weekend.
He was underwhelming last time in a poor race by Grade One standards, but that does not undermine his excellent previous efforts and he would be a worthy favourite here on form.
Unexcepted looked classy on Irish debut at Fairyhouse and floundered in the mud at Limerick over Christmas behind exciting prospect Easywork.
Unexcepted looked all speed at Fairyhouse and back down to the minimum trip he’s interesting at 8-1. Don’t be surprised if he proves a Cheltenham springer too; 25-1 for the Supreme could be generous given the debut impression and fair excuses last time.
FLOGAS NOVICE CHASE
When: Sunday. Time: 3.00 Distance: 2m 5f. Value: €150,000
Faugheen brought the house down at Limerick this Christmas and he will do the same here if he remains unbeaten over fences.
He’s 8-1 for the Marsh Chase at Cheltenham; he’s 11-4 this weekend and more likely than not to contract on both counts given the Flogas looks like cutting up.
Minella Indo, Allaho and Carefully Selected are unlikely runners with Battleoverdoyen no certainty either.
Champagne Classic has run two blinders this season but this trip is too short with the National Hunt Chase in mind; a good run here could see him assume favouritism for the staying contest given Carefully Selected did not wholly convince at Naas last weekend. He is 6-1 for Cheltenham.
PADDY POWER IRISH GOLD CUP
When: Sunday. Time: 3.30 Distance: 3m. Value: €250,000
We’ve spoken plenty about Willie Mullins here, but the champion trainer is the only place to start in the Dublin Racing Festival feature.
Since 1997, he has saddled 10 winners and his 27 runners have performed 62 per cent above market expectation. Kemboy took a grip for two miles on his return in the Savills Chase and is fancied to take a big step forward here.
Delta Work won that Grade One contest and his ability is clear. If he puts subsequent good jumping efforts together, the 9-1 about the Cheltenham Gold Cup would like generous.
Presenting Percy is 10-1 for the Gold Cup and the trio can serve up a thriller in the weekend’s highlight. If one was to dislodge Al Boum Photo as Gold Cup favourite though, you’d fancy it might be Kemboy given this season’s profile as a lightly-raced senior chaser.
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