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While Cheltenham Trials Day may have played host a recognised Gold Cup trial, a trial for the Stayers Hurdle and in 2022 a race that saw a fairly major shakeup in the Champion Chase betting it’s at Leopardstown this weekend where the protagonists for most of the Championship races will be on display.
While looking at what is an exceptional two days of racing purely in the context of next month’s Festival meeting at Cheltenham no doubt does the Dublin Racing Festival a disservice that is undoubtedly the way it is viewed by the racing public currently.
There’s scheduled to be four Grade 1’s on each of the two days while there is a Grade 2 bumper to wrap up the card on each day plus highly competitive handicap action over both hurdles and fences.
With the exception of Newbury next week, the odd race at Warwick in a few weeks time and the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton this is arguably the weekend that will provide the last major shakeup in the Cheltenham markets.
Unsurprisingly entries from Ireland’s biggest stables, those of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott dominate the two day fixture with the former saddling no fewer than seven of the nine runners in the second Grade 1 of the weekend, the Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
Lossiemouth has impressed in her races so far and is likely to start at short odds for the four-year-old contest.
Currently ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle she already has a verdict over second favourite and stablemate Gala Marceau to her name and short of a shock defeat it’s hard to see many Cheltenham betting changes following this contest.
A field of eight are set to go to post in the Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase with the race likely to go a long way to deciding Cheltenham targets for a number of the runners, including current Leopardstown favourite Appreciate It who holds entries over 2m and 2m4f next month.
Similar comments entries wise apply to Dysart Dynamo who hasn’t raced over further than 2m1f since debuting with a victory in a 2m2.5f bumper at Clonmel in March 2021.
El Fabiolo impressed on chase debut at Fairyhouse in December and is likely the key horse here with regards Cheltenham targets. Like his stablemates he hold entries over both 2m and 2m4f and the way he finished his chase debut effort connections must be tempted to step the gelding up to 2m4f for Cheltenham.
The opening Nathaniel Lacy over 2m6f looks to be the most competitive of the Grade 1 races on the Saturday of the meeting.
Messrs Elliott and Mullins supply five of the nine runner field between them with course maiden hurdle winner Deep Cave set to go for Henry De Bromhead.
Good Land was the subject of support for Cheltenham last week and a win here would surely see the 12/1 currently available for the Ballymore evaporate fairly quickly.
Arguably the most interesting runner in the field is the twice-raced Quais De Paris for Willie Mullins. Placed on his sole start in France he won a maiden hurdle at Tramore on his Irish debut and holds entries in both of the staying novice hurdles at the Festival and has been shortened across the board for the Albert Barlett (best price now 18/1) in recent days.
Sandor Clegane is a tough sort for Paul Nolan and while he has proven no match for top novice hurdle Facile Vega in two starts in bumpers he impressed over an extended 2m5f at Punchestown in a maiden hurdle in November.
Entries wise connections have left the public in no doubt about where they see his future with just the one Festival entry, in the Albert Bartlett.
The Irish Gold Cup is a great race in its own right with Galopin des Champs expected to start odds-on ahead of last years National Hunt Chase winner Stattler and the winner of this race two years ago Kemboy so it’s probably unfair to talk about it as a trial for Cheltenham.
While impressive so far Galopin des Champs’ only previous start over 3m or more came in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown in April 2021. An impressive winner that day he should have no issues with the distance here though connections have left their options open given he holds entries in both the Ryanair and the Cheltenham Gold Cup for which WhichBookie’s Will Smith and Steve Mullington have ante-post racing tips available for.
Stattler suffered a defeat at the hands of form Cheltenham winner Minella Indo first time out at Tramore and is expected to have improved for that effort while outside of Kemboy the rest look more like Grand National types, particularly Any Second Now who is a standing dish in the Aintree feature.
Previously mentioned in the look at novice chase entries a few weeks ago it’s interesting that Gerri Colombe heads to Sandown for the Scilly Isles rather than contest the 2m5f Grade 1 Ladbrokes Novice Chase.
Gerri Colombe’s trainer Gordon Elliott still looks to hold strong claims with Mighty Potter expected to start favourite.
While Mighty Potter holds entries over 2m, 2m4f and 3m at Cheltenham the market suggests the 2m4f Turners Novices’ Chase is his most likely destination and while the others remain possibilities it would seem an odd move to step him up in trip or drop back in distance assuming he goes well in this contest.
James Du Berlais has been mentioned in the past and how he performs in the race is likely to heavily influence where he heads next month. Given his best Irish form over hurdles came at 3m he would be an obvious contender for the Brown Advisory Novices Chase and it’s not hard to see him being outpaced prior to staying on.
Blue Lord features towards the head of the betting for the Champion Chase next month, in no small part due to events at Cheltenham last weekend involving stablemate Energumene.
On ratings he has plenty in hand over his possible rivals in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase over 2m1f with veteran Sceau Royal, who is also owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede on a recovery mission on his first start over fences since finishing runner-up at Sandown last April.
A big run from Sceau Royal here may see him shorten considerably from the currently available 66/1 for the Champion Chase and 50/1 for the Ryanair Chase.
There’s been plenty of talk of retirement for Honeysuckle with that seemingly being the non-Cheltenham option for Henry De Bromhead’s star mare.
What Willie Mullins runs in the Irish Champion Hurdle appears to be key with his two entries, State Man and Vauban both looking strong contenders having filled the first two places in a Grade 1 over course and distance in December.
A Honeysuckle win would surely see her shorten for the Champion Hurdle next month, particularly in light of the recent win of Teahupoo, winner of the Grade 1 she finished third in at Fairyhouse when making her seasonal debut.
The Grade 1 2m novice hurdle on Sunday’s card is likely to see Facile Vega start at prohibitively short odds.
Anything but a fairly comfortable win for the Willie Mullins-trained gelding would be a surprise based on the markets and while connections are understandably keen to keep their options open expect an easy win to result in them confirming that the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the main target.
Stablemate Gaelic Warrior suffered a narrow defeat in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham 12 months ago and having won both starts so far this campaign he holds an entry in both the Grade 1 novice hurdle and the Grade B 2m handicap hurdle on Sunday.
Gaelic Warrior has won easily in both starts this time around and is likely to prove hard to beat off his current mark of 143 should connections head to the handicap hurdle.
Dark Raven, another Mullins performer is unbeaten in three starts but is stepping up markedly if lining up here following a win in a 2m maiden hurdle here in December.
Arguably the most interesting runner in the race is the Joseph O’Brien-trained High Definition who achieved a top rating of 119 on the flat and came within a neck of winning at the highest level when runner-up in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh in May.
The Galileo entire made all the running when debuting over hurdles in a 2m maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in December and while 27 ran that day it’s of note that jockey JJ Slevin kept him out of trouble at the head of the field.
The five-year-old holds two entries at Cheltenham with the market suggesting the Supreme Novices’ is the preferred option for Joseph O’Brien’s charge.