Tuesday February 6th 6.30pm
Fabulous weekend of NH horse racing. Real quality. That is of course at Leopardstown and the inaugural Dublin of Festival. “The Dublin Racing Festival has been a massive success. I’m already looking forward to next year.” Ben Linfoot sportinglife.com
ATR’s Kevin Blake nailed it “…….passionate racing fans not just from Ireland, but from all over Great Britain and even further afield came to Leopardstown in their droves to support the meeting. It is those racegoers that create the atmosphere, flooding to the parade ring and responding in a knowledgeable and passionate manner to the action on the track. It was their presence that ensured a vibe and energy at the Dublin Racing Festival that would be the envy of all but a couple of couple of top-class race meetings under either code in Europe. Those that attended were treated to a special two days of National Hunt racing. With the vast majority of Irish-trained stars in each division turning up to stake their claims for glory, what the meeting produced was an array of informative, dramatic and classy action that proved to be the perfect antidote to the series of phony wars we have become so accustomed to in the months leading up to the Cheltenham Festival in recent years.” Here’s my take on two excellent days and the UK fare relevant to Cheltenham.
1.10 2m 6f Novice Hurdle G1 Clock suggests they didn’t go fast enough up front and the heavily punted Fabulous Saga was over the top/ground too quick/had an off day because he went out like a light from the final bend and it was a three furlong burn up. Probably a sub-standard Grade 1 with the flat-bred Tower Bridge coming out on top. Probably go for the Ballymore and take on Samcro! Jetz could be interesting in a Cheltenham handicap 2m 4f+ as he didn’t get the clearest run here. Most of the others want a fence and deeper ground.
1.45 2m Dublin Chase G2 Yorkhill has an issue whether it’s physical and or mental and Closutton knows he has. As soon as he reached the parade ring he drifted like a barge! His Cheltenham record is impeccable but I’m not sure even Willie Mullins can get him there this year! In Irish racing this division is probably the most shallow in quality as Gigginstown have no interest over two miles, however in Min Ireland have a serious player and he will try to put the record straight with Altior in the QMCC having followed Altior up the hill in that ridiculously strong Supreme Hurdle of 2016.
Two points to note. This division needs Special Tiara to act as the hare and the vibes suggest that Douvan will be back this season, Cheltenham or Punchestown?
2.20 2m 1f Arkle Novice Chase Grade 1 Footpad and Petit Mouchoir were excellent and it looks like the four leading protagonists in Cheltenham’s 2018 Arkle will have all taken part in last year’s Champion Hurdle, Petit Mouchoir (3rd 6/1), Footpad (4th 14/1), Sceau Royal (6th 25/1) and Brain Power (9th 13/2). The Souede and Munir pair of Footpad and Sceau Royal are the best jumpers of the quartet whereas the other two have the better flat speed. Footpad has done nothing wrong this season but Petit Mouchoir produced enough on Saturday to suggest it could be a lot closer come March 13th at Cheltenham. Of the other three in the Leopardstown race, Any Second Now did enough to suggest he was worth a speculative NRNB punt in the Grand Annual, McManus owned with Grade 1 novice form and likewise Tycoon Prince, who took a tired fall at the last, is very much on my 2m 4f handicap chase radar.
2.55 2m 1f 0-150 Grade B Handicap Chase Patricks Park was a comfortable winner for Willie Mullins and Racheal Blackmore off OR123 and the handicapper will probably have to put him up at least 10lbs to get a run at Cheltenham. (Stop Press-Which is exactly what has happened!) Three Stars ran in the Arkle at Cheltenham last year, is a G3 winner and ran here off OR137. Grand Annual or Brown Advisory Plate? Tully East OR144, already a Cheltenham Festival winner, has to go high on the Brown Advisory Plate short list after this run. Townshend OR145 was outpaced but stayed on and Some Plan OR143 was going well when coming down two out.
3.30 2m Irish Champion Hurdle G1 I can’t wait to see what the handicapper makes of this race! If Faugheen was mine I’m not sure I would be too disappointed. He’s a 10yo, it’s a step in the right direction, he’s been outstayed by younger legs, a positively ridden Supasundae is at the top of his game. Faugheens hurdling was spot on and he’s comfortably seen the rest off, I wouldn’t hesitate going for the Champion hurdle. The course, the crowd, the weather, Ruby Walsh could all bring about further improvement! I would be more concerned if I owned Melon or especially Defi du Seuil! Surely both will now be aimed at a novice chasing campaign next season.
4.05 2m Coral handicap hurdle 0-150 Grade B The first four carried 10st 2lbs or less, two for JP McManus and two for Willie Mullins! The third, Grand Partner, and the fifth, Tudor City, love the C&D but the 1st, Off You Go OR123, the second Deal D’Estruval OR127, and the fourth Makitorix OR128 were certainly “unexposed”! The new marks are eagerly awaited.
Deal D’Estruval could be a Coral Cup horse at Cheltenham? Likewise there is a big pot in Makitorix who came the longest way round into the straight and stayed on strongly. Bleu Berry didn’t try a yard. First run for 181 days off OR142!
Agent Boru ran an odd race. In the van early, dropped back, nothing finished as strongly. May need to keep onside OR122.
4.40 2m Goffs Future Stars Bumper G2 This is as good as it gets for me. The winner, Blackbow, hugely impressive as was the flat-bred runner up Rhinestone and I would expect both to line up at Cheltenham on the Wednesday.
Rapid Escape was disappointing, Dunvegan was immature and too keen but I will stand by what I wrote in the preview for this race, “Make sure all the horses above are in your tracker and probably keep them there for the next five years! These are Championship, Festival winning types.”
12.40 2m 2f Mares Handicap Hurdle Grade B Won comfortably by Alletrix who made every yard just eight days after chasing home Laurina in the G3 Solerina at Fairyhouse. Strongly fancied by the yard, trainer Jessica Harrington said before the race “I’m going to run her after a great effort in Fairyhouse last week and Robbie is going to put up 2lbs over weight. She’s rated 116 in this race and if I run her in a Handicap later on, she competes off her new mark of 125, so the overweight makes no difference as she’s actually still ‘well in’. I’d rather have Robbie ride as he knows her and she arrives here having done absolutely nothing since last week.” In doing so Alletrix paid her conqueror, Laurina, a huge compliment and I’ve just watched that Fairyhouse race and Laurina may not be the slickest hurdler but she has plenty of size about her and she just sprinted away from that G3 field and is the best novice mare I’ve seen this season!!!
1.15 2m Spring 4yo hurdle G1 Typical of the juvenile scene you’re the best until something better comes along and it was no surprise to me that Mr Adjudicator and Farclas both left Espoir D’Allen behind off the final bend and it wouldn’t surprise me if their respective trainers, Messrs Mullins and Elliott, both have something at home that is better still! In Mullins case it’s Stormy Ireland, a filly the trainer can’t stop raving about and Elliott has nothing else entered in the Triumph but I keep hearing good things about Ringleader and Fools and Kings!
1.50 2m Deloitte Novice Hurdle G1 Samcro. It is as simple as that. I admit to wanting to take him on over the minimum trip but he had this lot for breakfast! Paloma Blue did his best to give him a race but was legless by the last and it was left to Duc de Genievres, who will surely benefit stepping up in trip, to forlornly chase the latest Irish jet home. The Future Stars race at Leopardstown was totally rubbished with the likes of Sharjah, Real Steel & Whiskey Sour in another county!
2.25 3m Handicap Hurdle 0-150 Grade B Another race where the handicappers reaction will be of interest. Total Recall was 31lb better off over hurdles and galloped this lot into the ground. The next three home all performed with credit, Oscar Knight (who always hints at being well handicapped), Flawless Escape (an improving novice), Delta Work (consistent and may well have a similar race within his scope) but for me the eye-catcher was the fifth horse, A Great View. The mount of the hapless Barry Geraghty looked like he was ridden with another day in mind and seeing he is already qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham this one doesn’t look rocket science! However off OR131 he is going to struggle to get in without a little assistance from Phil Smith.
3.00 2m 5f Flogas Novice Chase G1 It doesn’t get much than this and I’ll be surprised if you get a deeper novice chase than this all season. The Storyteller was seventh and only 7L behind the winner! So who were The Magnificent Seven?
Monalee Made every yard and outstayed them. Noel Fehily (his Cheltenham jockey as Davy Russell committed to main rival Presenting Percy) got Monalee into a super rhythm and didn’t miss a beat. Serious RSA contender.
Al Boum Photo Great run and he’ll get further. As for the future I expect the RSA (4 miler possibly) will be his next start but I just wonder if Mullins has one eye on the irish National on April 2nd as he needs to pick up prize money in that event to keep Elliott in his sights and his staying novices are perhaps his best hope?
Invitation Only Only beaten in the last 100 yards and surely this fine stamp of a horse is the Mullins JLT No 1 contender?
Dounikos Suggested here that he may well have given Al Boum Photo a serious race in the Limerick G2 that he was handed when that rival fell at the last. Just when you’ve had enough of Mullins bingo let’s try Gigginstown lotto? Petit Mouchoir for the Arkle, Dounikos or Tombstone for the JLT if anything, Shattered Love for the RSA? However the 4m NH Chase could be the ideal fit for Dounikos. He won his maiden hurdle over 2m 7f at Thurles and that suggests that stamina is his strong suit and he certainly kept on here.
Snow Falcon Maybe this is exactly what he is. G2/3 chaser, 2m 4f-2m 6f. Does he truly get 3m? Would good ground help?
Tombstone I just don’t know? Always had my doubts whether he puts it all in. He was of course fourth in THAT 2016 Supreme novice hurdle. 2m 4f looks his best trip and probably doesn’t win above G3. However if he landed a really big pot I would not be surprised but on balance I’ll take Tombstone on.
The Storyteller Ran here off OR147 and like Snow Falcon and Tombstone maybe this is as good as he is but I would love to see him line up in the Brown Advisory Plate off that mark with Jack Kennedy in the saddle!
Of the rest, Sutton Place was never travelling, mind you Barry Geraghty could probably get a Rolls Royce to stall the way he is riding at the moment! Rathvinden took a clumsy tumble two out when they turned the heat up and I could see Willie Mullins giving him an Irish National entry!
3.35 3m Irish Gold Cup G1 Fabulous race with a fabulous back story even if Edwulf chinning Outlander was personally financially painful! Perhaps that is only half the story as surely the trophy had Kiltullagh Vic’s name on until his last fence departure and that would have been a Grade 1 victory on only his third fencing start under rules!
Djakadam and Outlander were the leading pair until turning for home when Outlander went on but was immediately joined by a smooth travelling Killultagh Vic with edwulf a couple lengths behind. KV’s fall left Outlander in front with Edwulf getting up on the run in. Djakadam plodded on for third and his best chance of victory at Cheltenham would surely be in the Ryanair where he would probably re-oppose a non-staying Valseur Lido. I would love to see Alpha des Obeaux in the Ultima off top weight as I think Gigginstown will go to the Cheltenham Gold cup with Road to Respect, outlander and possibly Disko.
Our Duke travelled OK-ish but an error three out, as the pace increased, did for him although he plodded on for fourth. Plenty of work to be done if he is to be competitive at Cheltenham and as he chose not to come last year maybe they will miss it again, give the horse time and get him spot on for Punchestown? Anibale Fly and Mala Beach are yet to step up from handicaps to Graded company. If I thought he would complete Minella Rocco is a Grand National horse. I would be amazed if he made the frame in this year’s Gold Cup!
4.10 2m 5f Handicap Chase Grade B Looked like the excellent JJ Slevin had nicked another one for JP O’Brien when kicking off the final bend on Vieux Morvan but was mown down by a strong finishing The Last Goodbye with the pair well clear. Neither would look out of place in the Brown Advisory Plate.
Harry Fry’s entry Hells Kitchen disappointed by refusing to settle, again. Maybe he needs two miles (Grand Annual) and just let rip or perhaps replace Barry Geraghty with a jockey!? Couple of interest were the Mullins/Munir & Souede Polidam who Noel Fehily brought from a long way back. Which race at Cheltenham he lines up in is a riddle. The Irish handic Sandown
apper has dropped him a pound to OR145 which could bring the Kim Muir into play if the English handicapper plays ball? The other was Jett who took time to settle in the hands of Robbie Power, moved into contention despite the attention of a loose horse, every chance turning for home but the early exertions told. His trainer Jessica Harrington said in her Unibet blog on Saturday “He’s another of mine who will love the good ground and he doesn’t have a bad weight either. We’ve been running him over 2m but this trip isn’t a problem as he’s won over it before and his experience will count for plenty here.” The handicapper has kindly dropped him two pounds to an attractive OR140 and will be a punting proposition as soon as he gets Good going. Yet to race outside of Ireland.
4.40 2m Mares bumper G2 Looked a Mullins benefit although a minor surprise with the little skinny one, Relegate (Katie Walsh), beating the big, scopey one, Colreevy (Patrick Mullins) and Getaway Katie Mai splitting the pair. Relegate could go for the Mares bumpers at Sandown and then Aintree.
Meanwhile back in Blighty!
Saturday Sandown 12.40 2m Novice Hurdle C3 An interesting novice hurdle to kick the afternoon off with. Ainchea is a future chaser but treats his hurdles with contempt and his fall at the last wasn’t his first error. Countister was dwarfed by Ainchea and the mare may well have won anyway but she will struggle to match Laurina in the Trull House mares novice at Cheltenham. The third horse, Arthington, is big on my handicap radar. Gladly he remains on OR137 and his form behind Twobeelucky at Cheltenham reads well and with the stable jockey claiming five pounds I think he could have a good ground, decent 2m pot within his scope.
Saturday Sandown 1.50 2m Contenders Hurdle Listed Buveur D’Air paid £17K for a schooling hurdle, although Geraghty almost cocked it up! No slicker hurdler in training. Deserved favourite for Champion Hurdle.
Saturday Sandown 2.25 2m 4f Scilly Isles Novices Chase G1 Terrefort just held off Cyrname in this G1 2m 4f novice chase and both will surely be JLT bound. The winner is not very big but is very neat at his fences and Cyrname loves a scrap but neither are likely to make the winners enclosure. The third home, No Comment, is of definite interest. He is JP McManus’s only entry in the 4m NH chase at Cheltenham. This horse is a son of Kayf Tara has only run over 3m twice, both times second, both times staying on and one of them was a G3 handicap hurdle.
Tizzard has a lot of explaining to do about his campaigning of Western Approach and the rain had got into the ground and was too soft for Kallondra.
Saturday Sandown 3.00 2m 7f Handicap Hurdle Grade B A real slog won by a giant horse in Topofthegame who is now up to OR150 over hurdles and surely his next visit to the winners enclosure will be chasing. Golan Venture has been well campaigned by Phil Middleton and may have not peaked yet on OR141. Better ground would help Melrose Boy and OR137 surely isn’t the ceiling of his talent.
Saturday Wetherby 2.40 3m Towtown Novices Chase 3m A tough jumping test on Heavy ground and Ballyoptic battled well to beat Vintage Clouds and Shades of Midnight. The ground did for Captain Chaos and Ami Desbois. Don’t think the race will have any Cheltenham influence but could be for next season’s winter staying chases. For a novice Vintage Clouds has been aggressively campaigned having already run in the Scottish and Welsh National’s.
Saturday Musselburgh 1.30 2m 4f Scottish Future Champions novice Chase C3 There may not be a lot of Barney Dwan but he is nimble at his fences and in March 2016 he won The EBF hurdle final at Sandown, last March he was second to Presenting Percy in the Pertemps Final off OR143 and with the handicapper amazingly dropping him two pounds for this win he will supposedly go to the 2m 5f novices handicap chase that closes day 1, again off OR143! The two that fell independently three out, Keeper Hill and Peter the Mayo Man, both look big and scopey and could well re-oppose the winner at Cheltenham.
Sunday Musselburgh 1.25 2m Juvenile Hurdle Listed We have a Dream cemented his place in the Triumph hurdle eventually coming clear of a back to form, slick jumping who looks a lively Fred Winter candidate.
Sunday Musselburgh 2.00 Supreme Scottish Trial Novices Hurdle 2m an upset here with the odds on Claimantakinforgan trained by Nicky Henderson turned over by the North’s top novice Beyond the Clouds, returning from an 88 day lay-off and an improving Simply the Betts. Connections of the winner are hinting at the Premier hurdle at Kelso and then an Aintree handicap whilst the second could be an interesting handicap proposition off a mark in the mid 130’s in something like the Imperial Cup? Meanwhile it’s back to the drawing board for Team Seven Barrows and their Supreme plans.
Sunday Musselburgh 2.35 Alfred Bartlett Scottish Novice Hurdle Trial 3m C2 Kim Baileys improving Red River got the better of Henderson’s very green Mr Whipped in receipt of three pounds. Both could go to the real thing at Cheltenham but will struggle against the likes of Cracking Smart and Santini.