Dublin Racing Festival Preview
For the National Hunt fanatic, there is simply no better time than the spring. High-quality races come thick and fast and most of all, our questions get answered. The first port of call during this exhilarating season is the Dublin Racing Festival, taking place on Saturday and Sunday the 1st and 2nd February. We are treated to two days of exceptional action, including eight Grade 1 events, six high-class handicaps and two bumpers full of extremely promising sorts. Altogether there are fifteen races to sink your teeth into. Not only is this weekend of racing as good as any national hunt meeting you will find all year, but many Irish horses use this as their final stop before the manic Cheltenham Festival in March. Last year, Klassical Dream showcased his exploits at Leopardstown for winning the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle on the opening day of Cheltenham, while Envoi Allen took the Grade 2 bumper, before winning the Champion Bumper. Horses that did not win at Leopardstown. This is a breakdown of each race with some horses to watch closely. Of course, this piece is accompanied by a few bets as well!
Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Staff Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m6f
Last year’s winner: Commander Of Fleet (13/2)
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Jockey: Jack Kennedy
Commander Of Fleet was the biggest priced winner of a Grade 1 race at the Dublin Racing Festival in 2019. The now six-year-old, followed up this win with an excellent second when sent off the 4/1 favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novice’s Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Commander Of Fleet, unfortunately, pulled up lame at the Punchestown Festival and that injury means we will not see him this season. Commander Of Fleet remains an exciting Novice Chaser for the 20/21 National Hunt season.
Concentrating on this year’s renewal, at the head of the betting lies the exciting Latest Exhibition. Trained by Paul Nolan, Latest Exhibition was last seen putting in an impressive performance beating the subsequent Grade 2 scoring Andy Dufresne. To the eye, it looked like Latest Exhibition’s abundance of stamina kicked in at Naas, especially considering that Latest Exhibition made a terrible error down the back-straight of that Grade 2 event. One may be concerned if the ground came up as quick as last year as Latest Exhibition looks like a horse that wants the word “soft” in the going description. It should be noted that Leopardstown is watering at the moment and with this race being the first heat of the weekend, horses that like to get their toe in will be treated to soft and fresh ground. The pile of non-runners due to the quick conditions last year may also mean that watering could be overcompensated this year.
While Latest Exhibition may well be more suited to some cut in the ground, he does have a win on his resume on yielding ground after winning a Naas bumper last year. “Yielding” will likely be the going description come Saturday and that is good enough for me to side with Paul Nolan’s imposing seven-year-old.
Ladbrokes Dublin Chase (Grade 1) – 2m1f
Last year’s winner: Min (4/9F)
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Ruby Walsh
Last year’s Dublin Chase was won by Min. Recording his fourth victory in Grade 1 company, Min was a straightforward winner of what was a below-par renewal of the two-mile Grade 1 chase. The 2020 version of the race promises to offer plenty more in anticipation and quality. Willie Mullins holds an incredibly strong hand in the two-mile chasing division, giving entries in the Dublin Chase to Chacun Per Soi, Cilaos Emery, Duc Des Genievres and Min. It is interesting to see Willie Mullins not splitting up the Rich Ricci owned Chacun Per Soi and Min. However, with Cheltenham on the horizon, this may not have been possible. Cilaos Emery and Duc Des Genievres are the other two likely runners in the race for Willie Mullins and the former is the horse I will be siding with here. Cilaos Emery has amassed a handicap rating of 165 in just three career starts to date. To add to that, it does not appear that we have even scratched the surface of his talent yet. Although Cilaos Emery has been favoured at the weights on both of his starts this season, it would be hard to not be impressed with the manor he thrashed an in-form Ballyoisin last December. Willie Mullins has done a sublime job of nursing Cilaos Emery back to health after an injury cut last season short and it would come as no surprise if this eight-year-old son of Califet burst into the Queen Mother Champion Chase picture with a big run here. A Plus Tard was a Grade 1 course and distance winner at Christmas over Chacun Per Soi. However, one may ask the question of whether A Plus Tard can uphold that form with Chacun Per Soi, as that rival will now be fitter for his comeback run over Christmas. A good run from the Cheveley Park owned A Plus Tard will solidify his place at the top of the Ryanair Chase market at the Cheltenham Festival.
ERSG Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1) – 2m1f
Last year’s winner: Le Richebourg (11/10F)
Trainer: Joseph Patrick O’Brien
Jockey: Mark Walsh
Le Richebourg was a mighty impressive winner if the Irish Arkle last year. The J.P McManus owned chaser solidified his stance at the top of the English equivalent of the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival with a seven-length success. Unfortunately, injury then struck and we have not seen Le Richebourg since. Another disappointing element of last year’s renewal is that none of the six runners will be running in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase this year.
We have a potential blockbuster renewal of the Irish Arkle this season with four incredibly exciting novices lining up including Cash Back, Fakir D’oudairies, Melon and Notebook and Bapaume. We could be in for a real treat here. The likelihood is the winner of this race will be all the rage in the betting for the Arkle at Cheltenham due to the fact that the British runners in the two-mile novice chase division seem a little quiet. Cash Back has definitely shown improvement since switching to the larger obstacles. Cash Back received a rating of 153 after defeating Zero Ten at Naas last time out by a dozen lengths. Cash Back took every horse bar the runner up out of its comfort zone that day and that may be tougher to do in Grade 1 company here. Both Fakir D’oudairies and Notebook arrive here with winning Grade 1 form. Fakir D’oudairies won the Drinmore Chase with a fine display of front-running jumping while Notebook (who perhaps took advantage of a below-par Fakir D’oudairies) won the Racing Post Novice Chase with an excellent display of jumping. Like Cash Back, Notebook has significantly improved for a switch to fences. According to the handicapper, Cash Back (153), Fakir D’oudairies (156) and Notebook (158) are all exceptionally above average for novice chasers at this point in their careers. This may well be the race of the weekend. It is also impossible not to mention Melon, the duel Champion Hurdle runner-up again filled that spot when finishing second on chasing debut behind Fakir D’oudairies when giving him weight for age. That particular advantage of Fakir D’oudairies has diminished over time. Melon got off the mark late last December over this course and distance in what I would describe as an underrated performance. From early on, Melon forced mistakes out of his rivals by jumping and bold tempo. Only Gallant John Joe could keep tabs on the Stephan Donnelly owned gelding and that was largely down to an error at the last when Melon appeared to have a look around and get lonely in front. The negatives surrounding Melon are that he runs to peak form on the Tuesday of Cheltenham. His second in the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle, as well as two seconds in the Champion Hurdle are by far his best pieces of form. One would worry if he was actually fully tuned up for this particular assignment. Bapaume, who was more known for his consistent exploits in the staying hurdle division has a most interesting engagement here. Priced at 6/1, Bapaume is under half the price for the Irish Arkle than he was for the Flogas Novice over two-miles and five furlongs, for which he was a 16/1 poke. On a personal level, I believe the three miles stretched Bapaume and he was a victim of his own class mixed with the lack of opportunities over intermediate distances at the top level over hurdles. This drop to two miles may not result in a victory, but this efficient jumper could stay on late in the day and go into plenty of notebooks (excuse the pun) for something like the Marsh Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. On a final observation of the Irish Arkle, look out for Gallant John Joe , who could turn up here for a spin out the back before going for the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Matheson Handicap Chase (Grade B) – 2m1f
Last year’s winner: Quamino (14/1)
Trainer: Paul Nolan
Jockey: Brian Cooper
Quamino got up in the shades of the post to win this last year under an excellent ride from Brian Cooper. Quamino is not necessarily handicapped out of todays renewal, however, the seven-year-old does arrive here in worse form than last year. Paloma Blue commands automatic respect here on handicap debut. Local owner Chris Jones was optimistic about the chance of his horse last week. However, the six-year-old Gigginstown novice, Eclair De Beaufeu, arrives here with the most intriguing profile. After winning easily at Wexford, Eclair De Beaufeu was a beaten favourite behind Notebook and Moon Over Germany at Punchestown and well held by Tornado Flyer at Navan. However, Gordon Elliott’s gelding now slips into handicap company off a mark of 140. Bear in mind, this was a horse that went off favourite to beat Notebook,who is favourite for the Irish Arkle, so there may well be mileage in his handicap mark.
The PCI Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m
Last year’s winner: Apple’s Jade (8/11F)
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Jockey: Jack Kennedy
Apple’s Jade put everyone to the sword last season in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The legendary mare could not follow it up in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and she has not shown the same form this year as last. Nonetheless, Apples Jade did manage to add a Grade 1 to her sparkling profile at Leopardstown last December. The two mile division is in dire need of a shot in the arm and time is quickly running out. Henry De Bromhead may have a trump card in the shape of superstar mare, Honeysuckle. To put into context the lack of depth in the two mile division, one could legitimately argue that Honeysuckle would have a tougher time beating Benie Des Dieux than she would beating whatever shows up in the premier two-mile hurdle races, including the Champion Hurdle. These unusual circumstances have resulted in novices even getting entered in the Irish Champion Hurdle. To be brutally honest, what price do you think Abracadabras would be if he were to show up here? Our protagonists in the Irish Champion Hurdle are Honeysuckle, Sharjah and Klassical Dream. The narratives around all three are vastly different. Honeysuckle is the upcoming superstar mare with the equine world at her hooves. However, she must prove it over two miles and this is the first time she goes left handed in public. Sharjah, a multiple Grade 1 winner, probably does not get the credit he deserves and he in particular could use a race like this to demand the respect that he deserves for his exploits to date. Then you have Klassical Dream, the sophomore hurdler who is on a redemption mission after two poor efforts this season. One cannot rule out Klassical Dream but he strikes the eye as a horse who may want further than two miles and he may have a preference for softer conditions, which he is unlikely to get on Saturday. This looks like a straight duel between Honeysuckle and Sharjah. The unbeaten mare, Honeysuckle may well capture the imagination of the punting public and become too short a price, thus possibly making Sharjah a value bet. However, if Honeysuckle was to win this and go for the Champion Hurdle unbeaten, it would give the race and division a much needed booster. Although, at a colossal price, Saglawy may run a career best. It is extremely well documented that Willie Mullins does not do a lot over hurdles with his five-year-old hurdlers that are not novices after their juvenile careers and in Saglawy’s case, he ran on the flat after his juvenile campaign. This is a horse that detests heavy ground and conditions should suit on Saturday. Last time out, everybody was caught napping by Rachel Blackmore when she stole a march on Burrows Saint, but Saglawy was a decent second. He is also entitled to improve for that. This is a poor race and I am not saying Saglawy will take a huge jump, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked up some place money.
The Ladbrokes Extended Handicap Hurdle (Grade B) – 2m
Last year’s winner: Off You Go (8/1)
Trainer: Charles Byrnes
Jockey: Mark Walsh
Two Ladbrokes Hurdle was won last year by the progressive Off You Go. JP McManus sends three to post in a race he is quite used to winning regularly. Unexcepted shows up here off a mark of 137. This is a horse I believe can win a Champion Hurdle in 2021 but this year is certainly a learning curve. This may come a little too soon in his career but it would come as little surprise if he won this impressively. Stablemate Tiger Tap Tap comes in here off 136 and that rating may well underestimate him. Martin Brassil runs You Raised Me Up off a feather weight here and a mark of 125 possibly underestimates him after three solid runs in handicap company. With plenty of extra place incentives available, he is well worth keeping onside in what looks like a very tricky race.
The Goffs Future Stars (C&G) I.N.H Flat Race (Grade 2) – 2m
Last year’s winner: Envoi Allen (4/6F)
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Jockey: Jamie Codd
Envoi Allen was a brilliant winner of what turned out to be a very powerful renewal of this bumper last year. Envoi Allen has gone on to slay all before him thus far and one can only hope this year’s race is as good. Eric Bloodaxe and Appreciate It will be all of the rage in this after both horses won at this track over Christmas but there is definitely value to be had elsewhere. An intriguing entry down the bottom is Padraig Roche’s Shakespeare’s Word. Receiving plenty of weight from his elders, Shakespeare’s Word should not be underestimated after running extremely well on debut at Naas where he did not go unbacked. It took Shakespeare’s Word an extra few seconds to understand his job in the home-straight and when he was shown the whip by Aine O’Connor, he took off in eye-catching style to secure second. With improvement highly likely and with little weight on his back, he will definitely have a decent each way chance. Wide Receiver, the £410,000 purchase also runs here. However, he still looks a tad raw and it is a little surprising to see him part-take in his third run in bumpers.
Best Bets for each race at DRF on Saturday:
12:50 – Latest Exhibition – 1pt win @ 100/30 (General)
1:25 – Cilaos Emery – 1pt win @ 11/2 (General) – Monitor Betfair Exchange for anything better than odds against to finish in first 3
2:00 – Bapaume – 1.5pt ew @ 13/2 (Bet365, BoyleSports, William Hill)
2:35 – Eclair De Beaufau – 1pt win @ 6/1 (Bet365)
3:10 – Saglawy – 0.5pt ew @ 50/1 (Betfair, Coral, Paddy Power)
3:45 – You Raised Me Up – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power ⅕ odds 6 places)
4:20 – Shakespeare’s Word – 1pt ew @ 20/1 (General)