“It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”
Originally said by Churchill in 1939 to describe the actions of Russia, more recently re-cycled by Tom Segal when talking about betting at York but wholly appropriate to the inaugural Dublin Festival of Racing next Saturday and Sunday!
Two days of fantastic National Hunt racing of the highest calibre with more sub-plots than a Stoppard play. In just about every race you will be asking the same questions as you to try to find the winner on the day.
Is THIS race the plan or is this a Festival (Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse or Punchestown) prep race?
Who is in the saddle? First, second or third string?
Mullins v Elliott? Mullins needs to close the gap on his rival and the difference is measured in Euros won.
Who ISN’T here? Who represents their form?
Where it is being held?
Leopardstown. Described by the Racing Post as a “Left-handed, flat, galloping track with 3f run-in. Circuit 1m6f.” The second last on both the hurdle and the chase course is halfway round the final bend and there is a sharp turn into the home straight and just one obstacle in the home straight. This course is where Mengli Khan choose to jump through a wing, they have “island” obstacles which makes jumping straight a major plus. Are you listening Yorkhill?
The going is currently Soft on the hurdle track and Soft, Yielding in places (that’s quicker) on the Chase course and it doesn’t look like getting any slower.
OMG, “there are two elephants in the room”.
The first is the Cheltenham Festival. Many this side of the Irish Sea will look at these fourteen races as trials for THE Festival in March, however the Irish, especially those in authority are very keen to promote the Dublin Festival Of Racing as a stand-alone event.
The second is Ruby Walsh. Ireland’s senior member of the weighing room is still on the side-lines with his broken leg. Willy Mullins will definitely miss him, especially on his big guns who may have one or two quirks. Paul Townend is an able deputy, David Mullins rides the second strings with Ms Katie Walsh getting the third choice, Danny Mullins still absent with a wrist injury. Where mob handed in the handicaps some lesser known riders get their big chance. However Ruby Walsh will most noticeably be missed when the tapes go up, as at these bigger meetings Irish jockeys are used to dancing to his tune! Davy Russell would be the obvious conductor but he prefers a more stalking role so look out for two of the young guns to take a small field championship race by the scruff of the neck. Jack Kennedy, because he may well have the horse to do it and David Mullins because he can! On Day One alone David Mullins gets to ride Carter McKay, Min, Demi Sang and Melon! That’s a possible Lucky 15 to kick off with.
Pigeon-holing could be dangerous!
If there is one thing I have learned about Irish racing in the last few seasons is don’t pigeon hole! Many Irish horses are from the PtP circuit where they race over 3m and most decent horses stay that far, just find their “best” trip. Just because they won their last two races on Heavy ground doesn’t mean they won’t perform on better ground. Don’t “assume” from jockey bookings that it is first and second string (with maybe the exception of Ruby Walsh).
Mullins v Elliott
Gordon Elliott will try to win everything. Willie Mullins will be more tactical and don’t tell me there won’t be team orders. Pacemakers, spoilers, ridden to maximise place prize money, I expect to see all of them from Team Mullins! Hardly riding “on merit”!
Day 1 Saturday February 3rd
1.10 2m 6f Novice Hurdle
Bombshell here. No Samcro here, he runs in the 2m Deloitte novice hurdle tomorrow instead, although connections say the Ballymore (2m5f) is still the Cheltenham target. Samcro beat Jetz by 12L on hurdling debut.
Instead Elliott gives Russell the leg up on Dortmund Park who could be Alfred Bartlett bound as in winning his last two races over hurdles this €230K French bred gelding has suggested stamina is his forte. Similar could be said of Fabulous Saga on whom Willie Mullins puts Paul Townend, a career record of four from six and his last two wins over 3m at G3/G2 level. Very solid form. David Mullins rides Carter McKay who was favourite for the Cheltenham Bumper last season, once Getabird was an absentee, until usurped on the day,. Team Closutton always suggested that he was a stayer and he did well to be third to Getabird in the G1 2m Moscow Flyer at Punchestown. I can see David Mullins riding him aggressively and definite improvement going up five furlongs in trip.
The other four will all need to improve but each of their trainers thinks they will and has spoken to the press!
Henry de Bromhead on Dicey O’Reilly “We were quite disappointed with his seasonal reappearance at Cork, so we were delighted to see him bounce back and win at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and he seems in great form since then. The plan is to run him in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday. This is a step up in trip for him and he obviously needs to improve, but we’ll see what happens.”
Jessica Harrington on Jetz “@paul0boyle10 How highly do you rate JETZ? If he can win a Graded Hurdle this year I would be absolutely delighted but he will make a great chaser and all his family improve with age so I’m very excited about the future, especially when he gets some better ground.”
Noel Meade on Moyross “I was very disappointed with him at Naas (well-beaten seventh in the Grade 1 won by Next Destination) and nothing showed up afterwards – it may have been the very heavy ground that caught him out. He is a chaser for next season but I thought he’d run better than he did at Naas. We’ll find something for him in the next few weeks but, as I said, he is a good bit better than the form that he showed at Naas. He is in the two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle at Leopardstown and I’d say he’ll go there.”
Joseph O’Brien on Tower Bridge “He ran well at Leopardstown and he’ll go for a maiden or a novice hurdle next month. With that new rule now, we might keep as a novice up until Hatton’s Grace day this year so he won’t go to the Dublin Racing Festival and there is a good novice hurdle for him at Punchestown next month. He wouldn’t want the ground too soft and the ground at Leopardstown the last day was as soft as he’d want it. I think he could develop into a nice novice hurdler.” So why the change of mind? Oh he’s owned by JP McManus, nuff said!
Conclusion I’m with Carter McKay who will come on for the extra distance and Danny Mullins riding a hold up race from the front! Eight runners would have made Moyross an ew play but not with seven.
1.40 Dublin Chase G2 2m 1f
This race could be worth the entrance money alone. Special Tiara picked up the pieces when Douvan blew out in the QEQMCC last March at Cheltenham. Min beat Special Ned in the G1 at Leopardstown, but lost it in the stewards room, they re-oppose here. Ordinary World was third to Special Tiara at Cheltenham, Ballcasey has won four graded chase but never at G1 and usually over further and Alisier D’Irlande, a stunning specimen, who could lead this field a merry dance but has yet to convince in Grade 1. The wild card is of course the horse that Lydia Hislop has dubbed “The Ubiquity In Equine Form”, Yorkhill.
Immediately after winning the Neptune hurdle Ruby Walsh famously told the world that “this horse could win the Arkle Chase with his mouth open” and indeed at the start of this season Yorkhill was quoted in at least four Cheltenham ante-post markets. Immensely talented but to put it mildly “a sandwich short of a full picnic”! He jumps left, sometimes drastically, ran into a straw bale in a PtP and unseated, he is headstrong but he is a four time Grade 1 winner. This particular correspondent has always wanted to take him on but Kevin Blake (At the Races and Final Furlong Podcast) makes a very sound case for a G1 2m Championship chase being his correct race. At 2m the increased gallop will help him settle and at speed he will jump straighter. I’m on at 9/1 for the QEQMCC. I am quite prepared to see this latest venture fail but if successful the Cheltenham clash with Altior could be the race we all expected to see in the champion Hurdle!
Talking of the voluptuous Ms Hislop here is her take on Yorkhill in her latest “Road to Cheltenham”, “By the way, did I mention Yorkhill chipped a bone in his foreleg when finishing last in the Christmas Chase? Of course I didn’t – because neither did Willie Mullins until last Saturday. I thought I might have been overdoing the Trappist gags but hailMaryfullofgrace I repent! I repent! “He was out for ten days which he’d be getting [in any case] after the race,” Mullins said, minimising the news. “I think last year we had to take a splint bone out of him. He seems to rap himself but he recovers very quickly and won at Cheltenham after it.” Clearly if Yorkhill does pitch up on Saturday, the setback has indeed not been significant but nonetheless it is clearly far from ideal for this important Champion Chase audition. It will be fascinating to see who rides which Mullins charge in the race that will probably determine which horse is banished to the Ryanair.”
Conclusion I’ll pass on the punting front but this is a must watch race! Yorkhill and odds on just don’t go in the same sentence and what could you take him on with?
2.20 Frank Ward Arkle Novices Chase G1 2m 1f
Just five runners and in all reality it is probably a heavyweight match between Footpad and Petit Mouchoir, or is it?
Any Second Now was a leading, if not the leading, novice hurdler this time last year. He swerved Cheltenham and then unseated in the G2 at Fairyhouse. Since novice chasing he has been runner up on all three starts to Monalee, Invitation Only and he has 5L to make up on Footpad. Just hasn’t cut it in Grade 1.
Tycoon Prince had been supported for tomorrows handicap chase so a tad surprised to see him here. Promised much, well talked up but never delivered often over further. Saw off Bunk Off Early over C&D at Christmas, can he build on that?
Demi Sang is only five but has already won two chases at Auteiul and on Irish debut saw off the handy Avenir d’une Vie at Naas. He travelled, jumped adequately if little big at a couple and Geraghty had to get after to him from the last to get him home. Useful, probably wants further but not Champion Hurdle class! That is where Footpad and Petit Mouchoir were over the smaller obstacles. Footpad hasn’t put an hoof wrong over fences and currently looks the best in this division but Petit Mouchoir was the first horse in my Cheltenham notebook this season but has been side-lined with an entry. So it’s a trade-off between the fact that Footpad never beat Petit Mouchoir over hurdles against the fact that Petit Mouchoir has an interrupted preparation. Petit Mouchoirs trainer told Attheraces “He’s entered in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Saturday and the plan is to run him. He had a setback since his chasing debut, but he seems good now and he’s ready to run. He seems well, but he obviously hasn’t had an ideal preparation for a race of this class, so while he will be there to do his best on the day, it might well prove to be a stepping stone to his next start.” Hardly bullish.
Conclusion Logic says Footpad but I’ll pass and enjoy the contest.
I’m going to post this now (5.50pm Thursday) and continue with the bumper and the two handicaps tomorrow!