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The Dublin Racing Festival has rapidly developed into the major meeting for Cheltenham preps and this year was no different with the likes of Gaelic Warrior, Ballyburn, Galopin des Champs and El Fabiolo among those in action.
Ballyburn has gained plenty of experience for the Willie Mullins team and while he went unbeaten in his first three starts, including a point-to-point and suffered a defeat on his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse at the start of December he appeared back on track when winning over 2m4f at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The six-year-old confirmed that was the case with an easy seven length success in the two mile Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland 50th Derby Sale Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last weekend.
While the Flemensfirth gelding also holds an entry in the 2m5f race at Cheltenham it seems highly likely he will be racing on the Tuesday of the big meeting with Unibet’s 7/4 the best available price at the time of writing.
There were a number of interesting efforts in behind including from the third home King Of Kingsfield who was ridden from off the pace and shaped as if he would improve for a step up in distance.
Gordon Elliott’s gelding is available to back at 25/1 (General) for the Tuesday feature and connections may have missed a trick by not entering him elsewhere at the meeting.
The fourth home Absurde registered some impressive efforts on the flat last season and while the Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup seventh pulled up on his hurdling return in a Grade 1 held at the Dublin track in December he performed much better when fourth on Sunday.
The Fastnet Rock gelding is almost certain to improve for a switch to a sound surface with the quicker ground likely at Cheltenham expected to see him show improvement should connections head in that direction.
Slade Steel placed second to Ballburn and while he’s engaged in both the 2m and 2m5f novice hurdles at Cheltenham the market suggests he will be heading to the longer contest with the extra distance expected to suit.
Dancing City was available to back at 50/1 for the 3m novice hurdle at the start of the month but his victory on the opening day has seen him shorten significantly to around 9/1 (Bet365)
While that success came over 2m6.5f there didn’t look to be any fluke about it with the gelding taking a step forward stepped up in distance.
Runner-up Predator’s Gold looked a stayer in placing second that day and while he holds an entry in the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle the market suggests he will be heading to one of the two longer contests.
Jetara performed well when placing third to Dancing City and she holds entries in both Mares’ contests with the novice contest on the Thursday of Cheltenham looking the most obvious option.
Sir Gino’s win at Cheltenham last month means that he is currently a red hot favourite for Friday’s Triumph Hurdle.
However Willie Mullins looks to hold plenty of options having saddled the first four home in the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The winner Kargese, second Storm Heart and third home Majborough are available at a best priced 7/1 (Coral), 12/1 (Betfred/Unibet/Coral/Boylesports) and 10/1 (Bet365, William Hill, 888Sport) respectively while fourth-placed Bunting can be backed at 20/1.
Gordon Elliott’s Karaktar filly Kala Conti had looked a useful four-year-old when beating Kargese at Leopardstown in December but her fifth place finish to that rival see’s her backable at 33/1 (Unibet) now.
Already the winner of five bumpers including the Cheltenham contest last year A Dream To Share wouldn’t have been heading for the race this time around.
Sent off at odds-on for the Grade 2 contest at the Dublin Racing Festival he failed to shine in finishing down the field behind Jeroboam Machin with Emmet Mullins gelding delivering a comfortable success.
However the son of Joshua Tree will miss the Cheltenham Champion Bumper having picked up an injury at the weekend.
Runner-up You Oughta Know was making his first appearance since an odds-on victory at Galway when debuting in August and having caught the eye in coming from off the pace he can be backed at 14/1 (Bet365) for Cheltenham.
Arguably the biggest disappointment of the weekend was Gaelic Warrior who was sent off at short odds to win a match race for the 2m5f Ladbrokes Novice Steeplechase.
While there’s always been concerns about the gelding jumping to his right he has so far been able to overcome any issues including when delivering big efforts in twice placing at the Cheltenham Festival.
However the gelding lost his unbeaten record over fences when unseating late on at Leopardstown on Sunday.
The six-year-old was well beaten at the time and while a mistake four out didn’t help matters ultimately the year old Fact To File had far too much for him.
The winner is favourite for both the Brown Advisory Novices Chase on the Wednesday and the Turners Novices Chase on the Thursday while Willie Mullins’ gelding is backable at a best price of 10/1 (Bet365) on a Cheltenham non-runner-no-bet basis for the Brown Adivsory while he can be backed at 10/1 ante-post for the Arkle (Unibet) (as short as 7/2 non-runner-no-bet) and at 8/1 (Coral) ante-post for the Turners..
Last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin des Champs had a relatively simple job on his hands in inflicting a four-and-a-half-length defeat on Fastorslow in the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday
Willie Mullins’ gelding is now firmly odds-on for March’s blue riband with Fastorslow, who has twice beaten Galopin des Champs in the past backable at 5/1 (Coral, Unibet & Betfred)
Gerri Colombe was the major absentee from Sunday’s race and while he suffered a heavy defeat behind Galopin des Champs at Leopardstown over Christmas he shouldn’t be written off having won two of his three starts since placing second to The Real Whacker in last year’s Brown Advisory.
Gerri Colombe is backable at a best priced 10/1 (Unibet) for the Gold Cup with The Real Whacker 40/1 (Unibet & Betfred) having placed second at Cheltenham last month.
El Fabiolo had as imple task on his hands in getting the better of four rivals, including three stablemates in the Ladbrokes Dublin Steeplechase on Sunday.
Ridden by Paul Townend he came home over eight lengths clear of stablemate Dinoblue with Captain Guinness back in third.
The winner is currently backable at a best price of 4/9 (Coral & Ladbrokes) for the Champion Chase while the second, who is likely to head to the mares chase is odds-on in places but available at a best priced 6/5 on a non-runner-no bet basis.
Il Etait Temps came home fifth behind Marine Nationale in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The former delivered his first win at the highest level when taking the Irish Arkle Novice Steeplechase by a neck from Gordon Elliott’s Found A Fifty.
Marine Nationale proved a huge disappointment for the Barry Connell stable with the gelding, who connections had previously said handled any ground putting the below par effort down to underfoot conditions.
Marine Nationale remains favourite for the Arkle as he seeks a second Grade 1 victory at the Festival with Il Etait Temps (5/1 with William Hill, Coral & BetUK) and Found A Fifty (6/1 General) the next two in the betting.
Facile Vega, son of multiple Mares Hurdle winner Quevega placed third last weekend and holds entries in the Arkle, Brown Advisory and the Turners at next month’s big meeting.