Road to Cheltenham: Market moves galore as Willie Mullins dominates Dublin Racing Festival
Our man David Stevens takes us through the latest odds ahead of Cheltenham
A weekend featuring a star-studded Dublin Racing Festival, plus a Grade 1 card at Sandown, always promised plenty of Cheltenham Festival clues, and the two days did not disappoint.
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins looked to be the man to follow on Saturday at Leopardstown, and it didn’t take long for him to get on the scoresheet. Gaillard Du Mesnil was a ready winner of the DRF’s opening race, and that Grade 1 victory saw him claim favouritism for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at 3/1, overtaking Bob Olinger at the head of the betting. He does also hold an entry in the Supreme Novices’, and although by no means short of pace, it would be a surprise if he didn’t line up in the longer Ballymore.
One race later Mullins had doubled his tally of top-level wins for the day. There was some disappointment for the Closutton handler when his Min was pulled up in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase, but compensation came in the handsome form of Chacun Pour Soi, who, with or without Min in opposition, could hardly have been more impressive in strolling to an eight length success. As a result, he’s now odds-on, at 4/6, for the Queen Mother Chase, and it looks hard to argue with that assessment.
Third race of the day, third Grade 1 win for Mullins, and if anything, Energumene was the most dominant of the trio. His Irish Arkle winning distance was 10 lengths, his winning time quicker than Chacun Pour Soi’s, and so it wasn’t surprising to see his Sporting Life Arkle odds cut to 2/1. Shishkin remains 10/11 favourite for the Cheltenham contest, but he will face a proper test from Energumene in a race to savour.
And talking of races to savour, the Champion Hurdle could be just that, following Honeysuckle’s runaway victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle. She was winning the race for a second successive year, but this looked a far stronger triumph than 12 months ago, and with connections favouring the Champion Hurdle rather than the Mares’ Hurdle next month, she deserves her position as 5/2 second favourite for the big one, with Epatante just holding on at the head of the betting at 9/4.
Saturday at Leopardstown ended as it began, with another runaway Mullins winner. Kilcruit was the horse, and he’s yet another Cheltenham ante-post favourite for his yard, in this case 6/4 market leader for the Weatherby’s Champion Bumper. He’s relegated Sir Gerhard to 7/2 second favouritism but that one has also looked good this season, meaning another big clash is on the cards next month.
Saturday’s action wasn’t all about Leopardstown however. Sporting John is 14/1 for the Festival Novices’ Chase and two points shorter for the Marsh Novices’ Chase after his Grade 1 win at Sandown, but Native River was the star of the show at the Esher track, the 2018 Gold Cup winner looking as good as ever when seeing off Bristol De Mai and Santini in the Cotswold Chase, and if conditions came up testing on Gold Cup day, his current odds of 16/1 would certainly look appealing.
After a quiet Saturday, Gordon Elliott struck early on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, his Quilixios winning the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle, which saw his Triumph Hurdle odds clipped in to 5/1, leaving him behind only his stablemate, Zanahiyr, the 2/1 market leader.
Normal service was then resumed, with Willie Mullins adding two more Grade 1s to his remarkable tally. The first of them, Appreciate It, is now 7/4 favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while the second, Monkfish, was particularly impressive in the Flogas Novice Chase, and he fully deserved to be cut into odds-on favouritism – 4/5 – for the Festival Novices’ Chase (the race formerly known as the RSA Chase), with meaningful opposition looking in short supply.
The final Grade 1 of a brilliant weekend was the Irish Gold Cup, and Kemboy’s triumph crowned an incredible two days for that man Mullins. Kemboy is now among the 8/1 co-second favourites for the Magners Gold Cup, but with Santini and Minella Indo – who went into the weekend as 7/1 joint favourites for the Gold Cup – both beaten in recent days, the hat-trick seeking Al Boum Photo has shortened into 3/1 (from 7/2) at the head of the Cheltenham betting without even leaving his box. Intriguingly, Mullins suggested Kemboy could even be aimed at the Stayers’ Hurdle next month, and at 12/1 he’d add considerable spice to that race.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.