Dublin Racing Festival Preview – Day 1
This weekend’s racing is quite simply sensational! The big meet of the weekend comes from Leopardstown who stage the fourth edition of the Dublin Racing Festival. Day one looks a card jam packed full of quality with 4 Grade 1’s, an outstanding Grade 2 bumper and 2 extremely competitive handicaps. The Irish Champion hurdle takes centre stage where defending champion Honeysuckle puts her unbeaten record on the line in what looks a tricky little renewal. Throughout the piece I will look to highlight the key contenders in each race, a few angles to consider and hopefully a couple to go well at nice prices!
Overpriced and underrated Fakiera can strike for Gordon in opening Grade 1
The Dublin Racing Festival kicks off with the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy and Partners Solicitors 50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle over 2 miles and 6 furlongs. Should the winner go on to win a race at The Cheltenham Festival, stable staff will receive a 50k bonus so it’s no surprise to see plenty of runners and another competitive renewal. The three winners of the race to date, Tower Bridge (2018), Commander Of Fleet (2019) and Latest Exhibition (2020) went on to finish fifth, second and second in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham so we’re looking for a horse with plenty of stamina and one to take forward over 3 miles.
Current 5/2 favourite, Gaillard Du Mesnil, looks a strong contender on the back of his facile Christmas success. The form has been franked since with the runner up, Mr Incredible, winning cosily on his next start. He was however beaten 8 lengths on his hurdles debut by the re-opposing Holymacopony who could look a big price at 10/1 but you do have to forgive him a pulled-up effort last time out. Gentlemansgame looked seriously impressive on debut and falls into the category of “could be anything”. This does represent a huge step up in grade though and he’d have to be quite special to win this after just the sole start over hurdles. Strong market support may be hard to ignore. Grade 2 winner Ashdale Bob and Willie Mullins’ Stattler look sure to relish this step up to 2 miles and 6 furlongs. Ashdale Bob does come here on the back of a fall and Stattler may well need even further.
As a result, I’m not totally convinced by those at the top of the market and therefore have looked a little further afield. Fakiera 12/1 is a horse who looks likely to relish this step up in trip having been caught out for pace over 2 miles 4 furlongs on his last start only to finish off like a train. This fast finish came against Ashdale Bob and I believe the extra two furlongs will see a reverse in the form. Fakiera recorded 2 wins prior to this effort and on both occasions did all his best work late on. Rated 138 he has some tidy form with the likes over Gabynako and Fire Attack over inadequate trips. Now upped in trip he looks a big price to me at 12/1 and can enhance his Albert Bartlett credentials for which he is best priced at 20/1.
Classy Chacun a Champion Chaser in waiting?
Next up we have a rematch from last year’s festival. Stablemates Chacun Pour Soi 4/9 and Min look set to lock horns once again and I believe Chacun will confirm the form. For all Min is an outstanding horse in his own right, to me he no longer possesses the speed to challenge the top 2 milers. Chacun Pour Soi is indeed a top 2 miler and was awesome in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase over course and distance last time out. His jumping down the back straight was electric and he stole lengths from his rivals both in the air and getting away from his fences. He beat Notebook by six and a half lengths that day and I can’t see Notebook reversing the form. It is easy to make a case for a 4/9 shot so I will instead attempt the tri-cast. On all known form Chacun looks like
he’ll be hard be stop but I quite like Notebook to pinch second ahead of Min. As touched upon before, I just don’t have Min down as a 2 miler these days and his sole run to date this season may back up my point. He won a third John Durkan in the fog at Punchestown so nobody bar the Jockeys know exactly how the race went. Patrick Mullins rode Min that day and said Tornado Flyer actually headed him coming down to the last suggesting Min outstayed his stable mate and was maybe caught for toe. Arguably Min’s career best performances, including his Ryanair win, have come over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Notebook on the other hand doesn’t lack pace and two miles looks his trip at the moment. I can just see him pinching second.
Exciting Energumene will take some beating in Irish Arkle
Highlighted in my Ten Graded Horses to follow for the remainder of the season in January, Energumene 4/5 put in an impressive round of jumping to defeat Captain Guinness by 8 lengths on bottomless ground at Naas. At this trip, I believe soft ground may be quite important to Energumene who to my eye looks a relentless galloper. He may however lack some gears and on a quicker surface may be susceptible to a turn of foot over two miles. Captain Guinness did range up beside him and looked to quicken past him, but in the ground couldn’t go through with his effort. Odds of 10/1 look a generous each way price for the Captain but the weather forecast looks to be against him. Soft ground is expected and I can see Energumene grinding his rivals into submission. For those of you that look for one at a bigger price, Darver Star could be interesting at 10/1. His effort over Christmas can be upgraded a fair bit as he was the only horse who was able to sustain his effort having been up with a frenetic pace throughout. Franco De Port swooped home for Brian Cooper that day under what I thought was an exceptional ride. I’d be surprised to see Franco uphold that form. Unexcepted has always be held in high regard by connections and jumped beautifully on fencing debut but he hasn’t been seen for quite some time which may suggest he’s a tad tricky to train and odds of 4/1 wouldn’t seem overly generous. With conditions to suit, Energumene can enhance his Arkle claims and maybe give Shishkin something to think about!
Right on Pont for Aven and Mullins in fiercely competitive Handicap Chase
With $59,000 going to winning connections, it is hardly surprising to see the 20 runners go to post for the Matheson Handicap Chase over an extended 2 miles. Current favourite Entoucas has long been the wise guys Grand Annual horse having strung together a serious of placed efforts. He runs in the same silks as Aramax who is also likely to be a popular selection having got his act together over fences last time out. Jockey bookings would suggest Mark Walsh favours the chances of Entoucas but I’m going to take the pair on with the Willie Mullins trained Pont Aven 13/2. He seemed to lose his way last season but has progressed nicely this term recording form figures of 942 suggesting he may be ready to strike. His progression is highlighted by his proximity to Daly Tiger in both defeats to him this season. On his first start, Pont Aven was beaten 31 lengths by Daly Tiger but on his last start was beaten just the 5. The weight discrepancy between the pair was larger second time around but it wasn’t enough to suggest Pont Aven hasn’t progressed quite significantly. Daly Tiger has form tied in with Tornado Flyer who has some extremely good form with Min so I’m inclined to think this is a strong form line. Do not be put off by the fact Paul Townend doesn’t ride, he hasn’t got a ride in the race and clearly both the owners and Willie are happy for Danny to keep the ride after such a good effort last time out.
Honeysuckle set to put her unbeaten record on the line in bid to defend her Irish Champion Hurdle crown
The feature race of the day is the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle and defending champ Honeysuckle heads a small but select field. Course specialist Sharjah, Morgiana winner Abacadabras, County Hurdle winner Saint Roi, Saldier and Petit Mouchoir round up a high-class field of 6. Honeysuckle is a mare I absolutely adore and would love to see her win but I have serious doubts about the trip. On RPR’s her best performances to date have come in the Hatton’s Grace and Mares Hurdle, both over two and a half miles. There’s no doubting she has gears and a turn of foot but she looks a tough stayer too. After all she did beat the now 145 rated Annie Mc in a soft ground 3-mile Point to Point by 15 lengths! Yes, she won the race last year but she just got back up to deny Petit Mouchoir and Daver Star. This year’s renewal looks a tad hotter and she may have some speedier types to fend off. She’s an iron mare and I’d love to see her win but 11/8 looks too short.
Sharjah heads the challengers and comes here in fine form having won the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle over course and distance for the third year running. Sharjah disappointed behind Honeysuckle in last year’s renewal but Patrick Mullins by his own accord got the tactics wrong and I’d expect to see Sharjah ridden cold off the pace before a late move down to the last. Honeysuckle is an extremely game mare so Patrick will have to time his challenge to perfection but I do believe Sharjah to have the superior turn of foot.
Abacadabras and Saint Roi bring the Morgiana form into play and both have something to prove after disappointing behind Sharjah over Christmas. Abacadabras had excuses that day as the vet post-race found mucus in his trachea which essentially means he was rather unwell! Saint Roi on the other hand didn’t seem to have an obvious excuse. He settled, jumped and travelled well but didn’t have the finishing kick to match the likes of Aspire Tower and Sharjah. To me, he just looked a tad out of his depth but his trainer Willie Mullins after the race seemed surprised by his poor showing and gave me the impression his home work has been a lot better that what he’s showing on the track. Improvement is possible and should the money come in for Saint Roi he may be hard to ignore but at this stage he represents a risky proposition.
Petit Mouchoir is the current outsider but looks sure to run his race. I actually thought he ran a massive race to place third behind Sharjah over Christmas considering he had been off the track for 152 days. Despite his age, Gordon Elliott may have squeaked some improvement out of him and he’s likely to have his supporters, especially on a place line. Form figures of 33253224440364232 since his last win demonstrates his consistency but he has been seriously struggling to get his head in front.
This leaves us with the extremely talented but fragile Saldier 11/1. Having run just 3 times since April 2018 it is surely a hugely encouraging sign that he’s able to take up this entry after a run in the Matheson Hurdle at Christmas. Saldier ran keen and fresh that day, hardly surprising after a 409-day break but he did jump and travel like a really good horse before his effort weakened coming into the straight. I believe the talent and engine is still there and odds of 11/1 look a nice price to find out. Remember, this is a horse who fell at the last when looking to be going slightly better than a certain Espoir D’Allen who went on to win the Champion Hurdle that season. Saldier also has Grade 1 winning form in the book having won last season’s Morgiana in impressive fashion. He was only 5 when he won that day and now a 7-year-old it’s highly likely he will have improved physically. I think he showed enough last time out to warrant taking a chance on him here. In a race that could get quite tactical I think it pays to be on the horses with a lethal turn of foot. Granted Sharjah is one of those but I think this lad is the other. The Irish Champion Hurdle/English Champion Hurdle double is 80/1 with Paddy Power and I wouldn’t put anyone off having a nibble.
The Moyglass Flyer can pounce for Joseph and JP
In typical fashion, JP McManus has launched an assault on the Grade B Ladbroke Hurdle with 6 of the 22 runners. Blue Sari would look very interesting off 140 based on his bumper form with a certain Envoi Allen and Front view drops back from chasing to exploit a potentially lenient hurdles mark. Ciel De Neige, Drop The Anchor and Hearts Are Trumps all have big handicap form but the one I like is the bottom weight The Moyglass Flyer 8/1. I was delighted to see this fella sneak in at the foot of the weights as I believe him to be much better than his current mark of 129. A winner of a maiden hurdle in 2018, The Moyglass Flyer was off track for a year before placing in a modest handicap and then winning one. Exactly a year on, he reappeared in a handicap hurdle and caught the eye with a fast finishing third against Sea Ducor and the winner Master Mcshee. Master Mcshee has some extremely good form with Appreciate It and currently sits at 143 on official ratings. He gave The Moyglass Flyer 3lbs that day and beat him by just over 9 lengths. The Moyglass Flyer has snuck in here off 129 and this surely looks a mark he must be competitive off. He improved nicely for his first run last year and the fast hustle and bustle of a 22-runner handicap hurdle is likely to suit his style of racing. The early market nibbles have been there for him which is always a positive when backing a JP horse and I expect him to see him arriving late on the scene.
Kilcruit can come out on top in Bumper smash up to finish day 1
The Goffs Future Stars I.N.H Flat Race ends day 1 and looks perfectly named given the calibre of horse lining up in this year’s renewal. Blackbow, Envoi Allen and Appreciate It have won the three renewals to date so it’s a bumper that really does produce “future stars”. Unfortunately, Champion Bumper favourite and my initial selection for the race, Sir Gerhard, was withdrawn at the final declaration stage but we are still left with a classy field of 10. The exciting Kilcruit 7/4 is one of three darts for Champion Trainer Willie Mullins and Patrick has chosen to ride Kilcruit suggesting he is the first string. He looked an extremely exciting prospect when quickening up in stylish fashion to win a Navan bumper in early December. The third horse Ballycairn has come out and won since so the form would look okay too. The Gordon Elliott trained Chemical Energy is Kilcruit’s main market rival and his form looks strong too having beaten On Eagles Wings in commanding style by 8 lengths and that horse has since come out and won his maiden hurdle, beating Captain Kangaroo who beat Kilcruit in a bumper last season. I suspect Kilcruit has improved a fair bit since then so I wouldn’t take that form line too literally. Letsbeclearaboutit is a horse with a lofty reputation and will bring Sir Gerhard’s form into play having finished a 4 length second to him last time out. I would like to see him go well as I’m sitting on Sir Gerhard at 15/1 for the Champion Bumper so he’s an informative runner. Ramillies is worth a mention for Willie Mullins having impressed over Christmas. Despite seemingly winning on the bridle, I wasn’t sure Patrick had as much left as some viewers may have thought. Patrick clearly prefers the chances of Kilcruit here too and he gets my vote in what looks a brilliant bumper to end day one of the Dublin Racing Festival.
Be sure to check out my day 2 preview and as always best of luck if you’re having a bet.
By Sam Rideout
Follow me on twitter – @TheTr17pleP