Dublin Racing Festival Preview: Expect top-class action & ante-post clues galore
Our man David Stevens looks ahead to Leopardstown this weekend
Since its inception just four years ago, the Dublin Racing Festival has rapidly established itself as one of the highlights of the jumps season.
Its position in the early February slot has helped cement its standing, as does the current strength in depth of Irish-trained jumps horses, with the likes of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead responsible for a plethora of stars of the winter game, many of whom will be in action at Leopardstown this weekend.
It would be wrong, not to say downright disrespectful, to call this meeting a trial for next month’s Cheltenham Festival, as Grade 1 races featuring runners such as Chacun Pour Soi, Honeysuckle, Min, and Sharjah are classy enough to take centre stage on their own. That’s before we consider the host of novice chasers and hurdlers who will be looking to enhance their already burgeoning reputations.
However, it’s also fair to assume that we can expect to see plenty of clues for the four big days at Prestbury Park. So, in advance of this weekend’s action, here are some of the runners whose Cheltenham odds could well have shortened by Sunday evening.
We’ve already mentioned that Willie Mullins brings his A-Team to the DRF, and that is highlighted by the line-up for Saturday’s first Grade 1, the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase. Chacun Pour Soi will be a short-priced favourite for this two-mile contest, but his closest rival, certainly according to the market, will be his stablemate Min.
The pair filled the first two spots in this race twelve months ago, in the order the odds say they will this time around, but defeat for Min last year was merely the precursor for victory in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, while his conqueror was a late absentee from the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Chacun Pour Soi is currently 11/10 favourite for the Champion Chase this time around, with Min 4/1 market leader for a repeat success in the Ryanair, should the former gain another verdict over his stablemate he could well be trading at odds-on for his Festival target, but as we saw last year, even defeat for Min here shouldn’t be seen as a negative pointer for Cheltenham.
Mullins is also responsible for the hot favourite in the day’s second top level race, Energumene in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase. Shishkin fans won’t hear of defeat for their star in next month’s Sporting Life Arkle, but the odds-on favourite may not have things all his own way if Energumene can build on his two impressive – albeit at a lower level – chase wins so far.
Already the subject of some ante-post support for Cheltenham this week, expect his current odds of 5/1 to disappear if he sees off Unexcepted, yes, you’ve guessed it, trained by WP Mullins, and co in the 14:10.
That man Mullins is responsible for half the field in the six-runner Irish Champion Hurdle, although this time he can’t call on the market leader, as that position is held by the mare Honeysuckle, winner of this race in 2020. She followed up by winning the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and while she is currently 3/1 to double up in that race next month, excitingly connections seem to be favouring a tilt at the Champion Hurdle instead.
Henry De Bromhead’s charge is 7/1 second favourite for the Champion right now, with only Epatante ahead of her in the market, but with the latter well beaten at Kempton at Christmas, a convincing victory over the boys at Leopardstown would see Honeysuckle close in on her fellow mare at the head of the betting.
Irish racing’s other super-power in the training ranks is Gordon Elliott, and he’s responsible for Sunday’s first odds-on favourite. Quilixios is the horse, in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, and while victory here would see his JCB Triumph Hurdle odds of 8/1 shorten, it’s hard to see how he can do enough to replace, or even get close to, his stablemate, Zanahiyr, the current 2/1 Triumph favourite.
In the following race, the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, it’s Willie Mullins who once again appears to hold the aces, in the form of Appreciate It, another odds-on market leader. Perhaps surprisingly however, his presence hasn’t frightened off the opposition, with 15 lining up against him. What quality they possess remains to be seen, but if he does see them all off, expect his odds of 5/2 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to disappear, although he is also just 5/1 for the longer Ballymore, so caution is advised, with Mullins unlikely to play his Cheltenham hand until nearer the time.
There’s no escaping Mullins in the next feature either, the Flogas Novice Chase, as he’s responsible for, yes you’ve guessed it, the odds-on jolly Monkfish. Winner of his last five, including the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Monkfish has looked thoroughly professional in his two starts over fences, and another win here could even see him join Shishkin (Arkle) and Envoi Allen (Marsh Novices’ Chase) as an odds-on favourite for a Grade 1 novice chase at Cheltenham, in his case the Festival Novices’ Chase, for which he is currently 7/4 market leader.
Finally, that brings us on to the Irish Gold Cup. Just three trainers are represented, Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead, naturally, with the last-named responsible for the favourite, Minella Indo.
Currently 7/1 second favourite for next month’s Blue Riband, the eight-year-old will have to do considerably better than his early exit in the Savills Chase over Christmas to enhance his Cheltenham claims, but with Kemboy 14/1 for the Gold Cup, and the other trio 25/1 or bigger, it does look as if only victory for the favourite here will have any great impact on the market for the big one.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.