Some tremendous jump racing is in store this weekend courtesy of the Dublin Racing Festival which takes place on Saturday and Sunday at Leopardstown. Cheltenham Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winners Minella Indo and Honeysuckle are just a couple of the big names of National Hunt racing who will be taking part, many of which will be attempting to enhance their claims for the Cheltenham Festival in just over five weeks’ time.
The racecourse has suffered criticism in the past for producing unseasonably fast conditions. But on this occasion, following the application of 160mm of water last month, the ground has received the thumbs-up from several leading trainers including Gordon Elliott and is currently officially described as yielding.
Eight Grade 1 Races up for Grabs
Four Grade 1 races head the Leopardstown cards on both Saturday and Sunday. Here we take a look at which horses are expected to come out on top, along with those who will be fighting it out for one of the many valuable handicaps.
1.05pm. 2m 6f
Our Tip: Minella Cocooner (e.w.) – 14/1 with William Hill
Second, third and fifth in a Naas Grade 1 last month, Grand Jury, Hollow Games and Whatdeawant take each other on again in this 2m 6f novice contest.
Willie Mullins is responsible for three of the runners and in what looks an open Grade 1 the each-way value may lie with his outsider of the trio, Minella Cocooner, who steps up in class but possesses huge potential.
Our Tip: Icare Allen – 7/1 with bet365
A race that is likely to shake up the betting for next month’s Triumph Hurdle. The betting would suggest this rests between Vauban and Fil Dor. But the chances of Willie Mullins’ second-string Icare Allen may have been underestimated.
Mark Walsh’s mount created a good impression when winning easily on his debut for the stable and there may be little to choose between him and his more fancied stablemate.
2.10pm. 2m 1f
Our Tip: Riviere D’etel – 11/4 with Betfred
This race is without doubt the most significant trial for Cheltenham’s Arkle Novices’ Chase, also bearing the same name and featuring many of the leading fancies for the second race at next month’s festival.
Blue Lord will attempt to enhance his position at the head of the ante-post market. But in receipt of the mares’ allowance, the Gordon Elliott-trained Riviere D’etel may prove the one to beat with no Ferny Hollow in opposition on this occasion.
Our Tip: Priory Park (e.w.) – 15/2 with bet365
A wide-open staying handicap hurdle. Despite having to race off a mark some 10lb higher than when winning on the course at the Christmas meeting, the unexposed JP McManus-owned six-year-old Priory Park is taken to land a hat-trick of wins with just 10st 5lb to carry.
3.15pm. 3m 1/2f
Our Tip: Janidil (e.w.) – 14/1 with bet365
With Frodon, Kemboy and Asterion Forlonge in the race one thing is for certain, there will be no hanging around in the day’s feature race, a significant trial for next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
With that in mind, the each-way value may lie with another Closutton contender in the way of Janidil. The mount of Mark Walsh beat all bar Allaho in the John Durkan last December and ran well in the Savills Chase on his most recent start. Should the leaders go off too fast, Janidil may be the one to pick up the pieces.
SUNDAY (Probable Runners)
1.20pm. 2m 5 1/2f
Our Tip: Galopin Des Champs – 4/7 with William Hill
Anything other than a comprehensive victory for this odds-on favourite and short priced market leader for Cheltenham’s Brown Advisory Novices Chase will be disappointing for the six-year-old’s growing list of admirers.
A similar performance to when winning impressively over course and distance at the Christmas meeting should be more than good enough for the son of Timos to keep his unbeaten record over fences.
There has been talk of connections possibly considering the shorter Turners Novices’ Chase at Prestbury Park and a possible clash with Bob Olinger. How the gelding performs here is likely to determine the festival target for this exciting prospect. Fury Road is expected to follow the favourite home.
1.50pm. 2m 1f
Our Tip: Greaneteen – 7/2 with bet365
While there is little doubt the Willie Mullins-trained Chacon Pour Soi is a top class performer on his day, the 10-year-old has been under a bit of a cloud this season. And there is no value to be had in taking the odds about a horse who finished last, beaten 34 lengths, on his most recent start.
The winner on that occasion, British challenger Greaneteen, is taken to confirm that Tingle Creek form with the third horse Captain Guinness and the short priced favourite.
2.25pm. 2m 5 1/2f
Our Tip: Blackbow (e.w.) – 7/1 with William Hill
The most competitive race on the card can go the way of Willie Mullins with Blackbow who looks more than capable of bagging a decent handicap chase in the months ahead.
The nine-year-old came up short last season when trying to mix it with the likes of Energumene and Chantry House at Grade 1 level. But there was nothing wrong with the gelding’s first run of the season when, jumping well up front, Paul Townsend’s mount was just outpaced by a fitter Dunvegan on the run for home.
Entered for two handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival, how Blackbow performs here could decide whether he goes for the Grand Annual or the Paddy Power Plate.
Our Tip: Honeysuckle – 4/11 with Unibet
It will be a major shock if the unbeaten mare (winner of this race for the last two years) fails to record a hat-trick of victories in the Grade 1, the eight-year-old’s stepping stone towards another Champion Hurdle attempt at Cheltenham in March. Should Willie Mullins give the go-ahead for Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Appreciate It to make his seasonal reappearance, the exciting gelding’s participation would add a much needed boost to what otherwise is likely to prove a very one-sided contest.
Our Tip: Sir Gerhard – 11/8 with SportNation
Entered for both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival, how last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner performs here will dictate where the Jeremy gelding heads next month. My guess is, this exciting hurdler will join the likes of Constitutional Hill, Jonbon and possibly stablemate Dysart Dynamo in the festival opener on Tuesday 15th March.