The excitement at the Dublin Racing Festival didn’t disappoint. The Willie Mullins juggernaut rocked up and mopped up 7 of the 15 races over the weekend and there were some class displays on show.
Minella Cocooner, in a first time hood, kicked things off on Saturday by landing the 2m6f Grade 1 Novice Hurdle under an enterprising ride from Danny Mullins.
He can be backed as big as 10/1 to land the Albert Bartlett next month, a target which Willie Mullins seemed to indicate would be the plan: “I would be keen to go out in trip rather than come back in trip with him.”
Minella Crooner was staying on strongly in the closing stages, beaten just under three lengths. He looks as though a return to 3m will really suit. I think connections will fancy their chances of turning the form around should they meet in the Albert Bartlett and can be backed at 7/1 accordingly to land the spoils.
Vauban produced an electric turn of foot to beat Fil Dor in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle by three lengths. The Triumph Hurdle is hotting up beautifully, with Vauban and Pied Piper as the 5/2 joint favourites, and Fil Dor pushed out to 8/1. I can’t decide which of the big two I would side with at present, but I wouldn’t rule out Fil Dor having a big say on the day – I just think he could do with the race turning into a proper war of attrition.
Testing ground would really help him in a race with two ex-flat horses dominating the market. They clearly have superior speed.
Facile Vega put in an astonishing performance to win the Grade 2 bumper, and is now a general 11/10 poke to see off his rivals in 5 weeks time. Blue Lord won the Irish Arkle, but perhaps was fortunate to do so.
Riviere D’Etel made an absolute mess of her last jump, and in my view gifted the race to Blue Lord. She was battling back at the end, and I am astonished that she is 9/2 to win the Arkle Chase. I think she will take a lot of beating at the Festival.
One horse not trained by Willie Mullins, was the Gordon Elliott trained Conflated who caused an upset to land the Irish Gold Cup. Given a confident ride by Davy Russell, he bolted up by over six lengths to add in an unpredictable cat amongst the pigeons as far as the staying chase scene is concerned. He can be backed at 12/1 to win again in the Cheltenham edition, and although consistency may not be his strong point, he is clearly in fine fettle and is entitled to roll the dice once more amongst the big guns. Whether or not he can get the Gold Cup trip is also something else that needs to be factored in and connections may opt for the Ryan Air Chase instead.
There were many disappointments in the race, but Minella Indo was’t one of them; he shaped with much more of his old zest under Robbie Power, and the Henry De Bromhead team will be confident that he is coming back to his best form in time to defend his crown. We know how much the horse loves Cheltenham and has to be taken seriously.
On Sunday, Honeysuckle got the business done as expected, and is now a best-priced 8/13f to win the Champion Hurdle once again. The truth is, there doesn’t seem to be anything capable of giving her a race, and it is a case of who can fill the minor places.
Chacun Pour Soi bounced back in no uncertain terms to land the Dublin Chase by 12 lengths. It was a sparkling performance and of course the question naturally is can he bring his A-game across the Irish Sea.
He was deplorable at Sandown, and failed to get the job done in last season’s Champion Chase despite looking as though he would win easily as they turned into the home straight but seemed to wince coming up the Cheltenham Hill. Priced at 13/2 for the Champion Chase, with Shiskin and Energumene in the contest, it will be even tougher than 12 months ago, so questions remain.
Galopoin Des Champs ran riot to win the Ladbrokes Novice Chase over an extended 2m5f, and poses connections with the question of whether he goes for the Turners or the Festival Novices Chase. He was a bit keen and took a chance at a couple of fences, but cruised to victory in the end. Willie Mullins seemed non-committal in the aftermath and I am sure there will be a lot of deliberation.
I actually think two and a half miles on the new course might suit him nicely, where he can bowl along in front, but the prospect of facing Bob Olinger and L’Homme Presse may well persuade them to go the longer distance.
Similar conversations will be taking place regarding Sir Gerhard, who won the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle by six lengths. His jumping was far from perfect, but clearly has a terrific engine and one would think there is only improvement to come in the jumping department. He is generally a 4/1 shot to win the Supreme and the same price for the Ballymore. Personally, I think he looks to have plenty of gears and think the Supreme would be where I go out of the choice of those assignments.
L’Homme Presse Reigns Supreme In Scilly Isles
The most noticeable performance in England over the weekend came by L’Homme Presse in the Scilly Isles at Sandown, giving jockey Charlie Deutsch his first Grade 1 winner as a jockey. L’Homme Presse is an excellent jumper and a strong traveller and he looks sure to play a major part at the Cheltenham Festival next month, where the Turners Chase looks the sensible target for him.
Venetia Williams is having a cracking season and this horse who has won four from four over fences looks the real deal.
Ahoy Senor won with the minimum of fuss at Wetherby to set himself for his spring targets, where the Festival Novices’ Chase looks the most likely option. He does hold a Gold Cup entry though, so will connections dare to dream?