The Dublin Racing Festival has been a fantastic initiative so far, with two fantastic days of National Hunt Racing at Leopardstown, featuring 8 Grade 1 events. The first of those two days is all about speed, with six races ran over two-miles including the Grade 1 Dublin Chase and Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle. Below are my selections for an extremely competitive card. Best of luck!
12:50 – Nathaniel Lacy & Ptnrs Solicitors Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m6f
Willie Mullins used to dominate this 2m6f Novice Hurdle, winning six successive renewals from 2012-2017. Two of those runners carried the famous Gigginstown House Stud colours, which were also carried to victory twelve months ago by Commander Of Fleet. Gordon Elliot looks to have a great chance of winning this race again on Saturday, with Fury Road his sole representative.
Fury Road was purchased for €205,000 at the 2017 Derby Sale, and subsequently ran in the colours of Gigginstown for Pat Doyle’s point-to-point operation. His first start in that sphere was in one of the hottest points at Stowlin in recent times, finishing fourth in a field which included Monkfish, Opposites Attract, Fiddlerontheroof and Chantry House. This experience clearly did him good however, subsequently bolting up at Dromahane ahead of El Barra and Olly Murphy’s Dundrum Wood. Having joined Gordon Elliot ready for his career under National Hunt rules, Fury Road was sent off a short-price at Leopardstown on Bumper debut. Although only fifth, it was a decent field that included the likes of Allaho, Sempo and winner Exit Poll. Despite this defeat, Fury Road proved to come on for the run when winning easily by seven-lengths at Fairyhouse in February last year. His last start in Bumpers came at the Punchestown Festival in May, where this Son of Stowaway finished a very close third to Sixshooter and The Big Getaway.
It was always going to be over obstacles and up in trip which would see Fury Road to the best of his ability however, and that proved the case at Down Royal in November when he bolted up by eighteen-lengths in a Maiden Hurdle over 2m6f. He jumped well for his Hurdles debut that day, and followed up at Navan in a Grade 3 later that month with another facile success, this time scoring by ten-lengths without being asked a question by Davy Russell. In fairness it was an extremely weak race due to Abacadabras and Sixshooter being declared non-runners, but Fury Road went about his business in a very classy way. This six-year-old was last seen at Limerick when contesting their 2m7f Grade 2 Novice Hurdle over Christmas, which was clearly his toughest assignment to date. Travelling well behind the leader, Fury Road cruised into the lead heading down to the second last and looked set to record another impressive victory. Despite easily getting to the front however, Fury Road virtually walked through the last Hurdle, and had to be driven out by Davy Russell to ensure victory. He ultimately won quite comfortably despite the final flight scare, and had Mark Fahey’s extremely strong stayer Well Set Up back in second place – so it was clearly a good performance from Fury Road to give away the 7lbs Mares allowance.
Back down to 2m6f on Saturday shouldn’t be a problem for Fury Road considering he’s already won over that trip this season, and I think he will be tough to beat before heading to the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Fury Road @ 3/1 4th
13:25 – Ladbrokes Dublin Chase (Grade 1) 2m1f
The most exciting race of a card which contains unbelievable quality is the Dublin Chase. Willie Mullins has served us up an absolute treat in his attempt to make it three victories from three renewals of the race, by declaring Chacun Pour Soi, Cilaos Emery, Min and Duc Des Genievres. When you then throw Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard into the mix, this Grade 1 contest really does have all the ingredients to become a contest to remember. A Plus Tard of course beat hype horse Chacun Pour Soi in the 2m1f Grade 1 over Christmas, but many are expecting the Rich Ricci runner to come on drastically for the run, and improve past that rival. Whilst it wouldn’t surprise me to see that form reversed, it’s the other Rich Ricci runner who interests me here.
Min has indeed won both renewals of the Dublin Chase to date, bolting up by twelve-lengths in 2018, before again winning easily last year by six-lengths. Although this is clearly a much tougher assignment than in the previous two contests, Min still has some of the best form on offer. Last season Min returned to action with a satisfactory effort in the 2m4f Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, before of course winning this race. Although disappointing in the Champion Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when connections decided to change tactics in a bid to beat Altior, Min absolutely hacked up at Aintree in April when beating Politologue twenty-lengths in the 2m4f Grade 1 Melling Chase. His last start of the season came at the Punchestown Festival in April, where he finished second to stablemate Un De Sceaux.
Min once more returned to action this season when winning the Grade 1 John Durkan at Punchestown in satisfactory style, and once more heads straight to the Dublin Chase for his next start in an attempt at the hat-trick. It’s been well documented that Willie Mullins’ runners are needing their first runs of the season a lot more than usual, so considering that Min managed to win a Grade 1 on his seasonal reappearance bodes extremely well for his chances here. Chacun Pour Soi is clearly a talented animal and the choice of stable Jockey Paul Townend, but Min is 2lbs clear on official ratings and should have further improvement to come if the theory is correct. Jockey bookings are certainly not everything with Willie Mullins runners at the big Festivals, and Min will benefit from one of the best around – Robbie Power – taking over the reins on Saturday.
Min @ 3/1 2nd
14:00 – Irish Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m1f
The Irish Arkle is always an intriguing race with plenty of Cheltenham clues, won in the past by the likes of Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Footpad. The second winning-most trainer across the past ten renewals (behind Willie Mullins) is Henry de Bromhead, who looks to have a fantastic chance this season with Notebook. Although only achieving a modest mark of 135 over Hurdles, Notebook has been a revelation switched to fences this year. His biggest asset has been his bold – and largely faultless – Jumping, which has been able to put his rivals under pressure. Notebook started his Chase campaign at Punchestown in October when beating Eclair De Beaufeu by two-and-three-quarter lengths. He then followed that effort up at the same track in November when winning the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase, putting in an electric round of Jumping to comfortably beat more experienced stablemate Moon Over Germany by five-lengths. Notebook was last seen on the track when stepped up into Grade 1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas, running in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. Tracking the leader in second under Rachael Blackmore, Notebook once again put in an exemplary Jumping performance and travelled powerfully to take a lead at the second last. Extending his advantage after the last, Notebook stayed on strongly to beat Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’Oudairies – who was receiving a 7lbs four-year-old allowance. The pair re-oppose on Saturday with Notebook 2lbs better off, and I see no reason why the form should be reversed.
One Horse who could be a potential fly in the ointment is Willie Mullins’ Melon, the choice of Paul Townend from a foursome of runners. This Horse featured on my Horses to Follow guide with an Arkle campaign in mind, and he started his Chase career when beaten three-lengths by Fakir D’Oudairies – who was receiving an 8lbs four-year-old allowance at that day at Navan. Melon jumped and travelled well considering it was only his first start over the larger obstacles, and he made the most of his Maiden status at Leopardstown over Christmas when winning a Beginners Chase over course and distance, beating Gallant John Joe by two-and-a-quarter lengths. This pair also re-oppose on the weekend with Melon 5lbs better off (as Barry Browne in unable to claim), and I would fully expect this Willie Mullins Horse to continue his progression over fences.
Notebook @ 15/8 1st & Melon EW @ 6/1 4th
14:35 – Matheson Handicap Chase (Grade B) 2m1f
Handicaps at Leopardstown are always competitive affairs, proven by the fact that only Paul Nolan has won this 2m1f Handicap Chase on more than one occasion in eight renewals to date. In this time the highest weight carried to victory has only been 11-5, so clearly the trends point toward Horses away from the top of the Handicap (it’s worth noting the race was upgraded to Grade B status in 2018, with Horses winning from 9-12 and 11-1 since). One Horse who looks to have a fantastic chance this year is Gordon Elliot’s Eclair De Beaufeu. This six-year-old achieved a decent level of form last season over Hurdles, winning twice before finishing fourth in the 2m Grade B Handicap Hurdle on this card twelve months ago. Eclair De Beaufeu then went to Cheltenham in March when running a massive race in the Grade 3 County Hurdle, leading turning for home but unseating Jack Kennedy at the final flight when holding every chance.
Eclair De Beaufeu started his career over fences at Punchestown in October when bumping into subsequent Grade 1 winner Notebook (158) – who as mentioned above looks a top-class Chaser. This Gordon Elliot charge clearly put in a good performance to finish within two-and-three-quarter lengths of that rival, and proved that he is also a talented animal when bolting up by nineteen-lengths at Wexford just 13 days later under Keith Donoghue. Eclair De Beaufeu’s next start came when once again opposing Notebook in the Grade 2 Craddockstown Novice Chase at Punchestown, where he was sent off a 5/2 favourite to reverse form. Eclair De Beaufeu clearly faced a tough task to turn the tides, but it was made even more challenging when he pecked badly at the first flight. Despite setting off on the back foot, this Gigginstown runner did make smooth progress through the field to lead briefly from the fourth last, but was headed by the penultimate flight, and a slow jump at the last confined him to a fourth-place finish.
Eclair De Beaufeu was last seen at Navan in a 2m Grade 2 Novice Chase, when allowed to stride on out in-front by Mark Walsh. At one point the pair probably held a lead of around five-lengths, but this was much reduced rounding the home bend, with both Tornado Flyer and I’m A Game Changer near enough upsides at the third last. Despite his rivals getting a lot closer, Eclair De Beaufeu still stuck to his task in the lead until the penultimate flight, where he met the fence all wrong and forced Mark Walsh to produce a good sit to retain the partnership. This mistake ended any chance Eclair De Beaufeu might have had, and he eventually came home in third having been looked after by his Jockey. Handicaps were where Eclair De Beaufeu was seen to best effect over Hurdles however, and the same could happen over fences, as a stronger pace and more cover is likely to suit his running style. Although handed a mark of 140 by the Irish Handicapper, Eclair De Beaufeu will benefit from the 5lbs claim of top conditional Sean O’Keeffe, meaning he has a nice racing weight of 10-12.
Eclair De Beaufeu EW @ 8/1 1st
15:10 – Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m
The Irish Champion Hurdle is another race which has been dominated by Willie Mullins in recent years, who won five successive renewals with Hurricane Fly (2011-15) before Faugheen landed this prize in 2016. Since then however the Closutton Handler has been fruitless in the race – and that could be set to continue.
It’s been well documented that the Champion Hurdle division is once lacking quality this season, but one Mare who could throw her hat into the ring is Henry de Bromhead’s talented Honeysuckle. This six-year-old has an unblemished record to date, bolting up in her point-to-point at Dromahane (beating Annie Mc no less!) before winning in impressive style on Irish debut at Fairyhouse – beating Moskovite by twelve-lengths. Honeysuckle followed that victory up with another easy victory in a Listed Mares Hurdle at Thurles in December 2018, before landing Grade 3 honours at Fairyhouse just over twelve months ago. Although missing the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, Honeysuckle picked up her first Grade 1 back at Fairyhouse in April, when winning the Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final by an impressive five-and-a-half lengths.
Returning to the track at Fairyhouse in November, Honeysuckle won a conditions Hurdle by eleven-lengths back to Willie Mullins’ useful Easy Game, setting up a tilt at the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at the same track in December. In by far her toughest assignment to date, Honeysuckle put in a fantastic display to lead before the second last and win by an easy nine-lengths, with Bacardys and Apple’s Jade (who won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown subsequently) having no answer for her speed. Although clearly Honeysuckle is suited to the Fairyhouse track having won there five-times in her career, the speed she showed to come away from her rivals in the Hatton’s Grace was extremely impressive. This suggests that stepping back in trip to two-miles shouldn’t cause any issues, and Honeysuckle will of course receive the 7lbs Mares allowance. In a division that needs a Horse to take it by the scruff of the neck, a strong performance from Honeysuckle in this race would really cause a welcomed shake up to the Champion Hurdle market.
Honeysuckle @ 6/4 1st
15:45 – Ladbrokes Hurdle (Grade B) 2m
Owner JP McManus loves to have a Handicap winner at any Festival, and He has done particularly well in this 2m Grade B Handicap Hurdle in recent times, landing four of the last six renewals. The Martinstown owner is mob-handed in the race again this year, but the Horse who could potentially be thrown in is Willie Mullins’ Unexcepted. This half-brother to Great Field finished third in an Auteuil three-year-old Maiden when with Emmanuel Clayeux in France, and was subsequently sold for £200,000 at the 2017 Cheltenham November Sales. Off the track for 753 days, Unexcepted finally made his debut for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse in November, winning a 2m Maiden Hurdle in very easy style under Mark Walsh. His rivals that day were no mugs, with four-and-a-half length second Jason The Militant winning since, and looking likely to take his chance in the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle on Sunday. Unexcepted was last seen on the track when stepped up in trip to 2m4f at Limerick over Christmas, well beaten by Gordon Elliot’s Easywork. Although this performance doesn’t sound promising, Unexcepted clearly didn’t stay the extended trip on very heavy ground, and is much better suited going back to two-miles. The winner that day is now favourite for that aforementioned Grade 1 Novice Hurdle on Sunday, and he could yet prove to be a very good Horse. The Handicapper has given Unexcepted a mark of 137 for his Handicap debut, resulting in a racing weight of 10-12. No Horse had won this race in the past ten renewals from a weight above 11-0 until last year’s second victory for Off You Go, and six-year-old’s have the best record in the race with five victories. With the trends and a fairly lenient Handicap market on his side, Unexcepted looks to have a massive chance.
Unexcepted @ 4/1 PU
16:20 – Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race (Grade 2) 2m
This Grade 2 Bumper was won by the high-class Envoi Allen en route to victory in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last year, and it is clearly a good pointer for that race with 2018 winner Blackbow finishing fifth at The Festival. As ever there are some extremely talented young Horses lining up in the race, including the undefeated Eric Bloodaxe, who’s so far beaten two of my Horses to Follow for the season in Ferny Hollow and Wide Receiver. The Horse who I will side with here however is Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It, who’s shown fantastic improvement. Third on point-to-point debut behind Envoi Allen no less, Appreciate it got off the mark in that sphere at Dromahane in March 2018. Moving to Closutton after this victory, Appreciate It wasn’t seen for 622 days until making his first start for Willie Mullins at Fairyhouse in November, when a decent third behind Joseph O’Brien’s Assemble, and Gordon Elliot’s Eskylane. Appreciate it was likely to need the run that day after such a long absence, but positively both of those Horses have won pretty impressively since. Appreciate It stepped forward drastically at Leopardstown over Christmas when winning a Bumper by a very easy six-lengths, in trend with Willie Mullins runners so far this season. Although this Bumper was over 2m4f, the improvement he showed from his first run indicates a step back in trip to 2m should be fine, as you have to stay to win these Graded Bumpers. Patrick Mullins takes the ride as usual, and the pair will receive 2lbs from favourite Eric Bloodaxe.
Appreciate It @ 9/4 1st
Good luck! – Jake Price