The ground conditions put only a very slight dampener on the Dublin Racing Festival as there were a number of non runners, particularly in the Irish Gold Cup where there were six withdrawals. But that didn’t take away from the quality at Leopardstown over the two days. Plenty of horses have laid down markers for races at the Cheltenham Festival in five weeks time and the competition is really hotting up. Keep an eye on our Cheltenham Festival Tips page for the latest antepost previews!
Gigginstown and Gordon Elliott have been relatively adamant in the past few months that Apple’s Jade will be running in the Mares’ Hurdle come Tuesday 12th March, but that all changed on Saturday. The seven-year-old put in yet another scintillating display to gain her tenth Grade 1 success. Showing that a drop down to two miles was no hinderance to her whatsoever, speed is certainly not something she is short of and a Champion Hurdle bid is on the cards and she adds a whole different element to the race now.
Buveur D’Air made a swift response with a smooth success in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown for the third consecutive year. The Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be one of the races of the week, especially if Willie Mullins’ star Mare Laurina takes her chance too.
Battleoverdoyen was the antepost favourite for the Dublin Racing Festival curtain raiser on Saturday, but wasn’t declared for the contest. Commander Of Fleet stepped in with a point to prove, having been beaten in the Royal Bond when he was last seen. This two mile, six furlong trip really suited him as he stayed on strongly to hold off the challenge of Rhinestone. It looks like the Albert Bartlett will be the Gigginstown recruits target at Cheltenham, for which he’s a 10/1 shot. Stamina looks his strong suit so the searching test should play to his strengths.
Since winning his PTP, Envoi Allen has had quite the reputation, which he has backed up on the track. He made it three in a row under rules in the Grade 2 Bumper on Saturday. Taking a wide route throughout, he cruised into the lead around the home bend under Jamie Codd and maintained the gallop to score by just over a length. A general 5/1 chance for the closing contest on day two of the Festival, he looks to have an extremely bright future.
The Dublin Chase produced a horrific tragedy as the 2017 Champion Chaser, Special Tiara, broke down before the first fence. The enthusiastic and tremendously talented twelve-year-old will be immensely missed from the big stage.
An impressive victor of the race last year, Min made it back-to-back wins in taking style as he breezed passed Saint Calvados on the home bend. That didn’t really tell us a great deal as we know how good he is. But whether he runs in the Champion Chase or Ryanair Chase is still up in the air. Altior is obviously a formidable opponent in the two mile feature, but whether Min would stay the trip in the Ryanair is up for debate.
Having beaten three of his five opponents on his previous start, Le Richebourg appeared to have an outstanding chance of making it two Grade 1’s on the spin. He duly obliged, but he was certainly aided when two of his main rivals fell. The English raider, Knocknanuss, was extremely keen and took a tumble at the second fence. Thankfully he and his rider, Jamie Moore, were both up ok and there will be other days for them. Voix Du Reve came down at the last when holding every chance, but Le Richebourg was still travelling strongly alongside so it’s difficult to say that the outcome would have been any different.
Joseph O’Brien’s charge heads the market for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival and deservedly so considering what he’s shown in his previous two outings.
The most convincing winner on Sunday had to be the Joseph O’Brien-trained Sir Erec, who took the Spring Juvenile Hurdle by an easy six lengths. Mark Walsh was in no mood for messing around as he made all the running, never seeing another rival on the classy Juvenile. The pair steadily drew clear following a rapid jump at the last to settle matters. It was a facile success and if the yard believe he’s better than their emphatic Cheltenham winner Fakir D’Oudairies, he’ll take a lot of stopping in the Triumph Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend had a titanic tussle from the back of the last hurdle to the winning post in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle. The former just got the better of the battle on board Klassical Dream, who made it two from two since joining Wille Mullins from France. He showed a great attitude to rally and get the better of stablemate Aramon. Paul Townend’s mount was a Grade 1 winner on his previous start so that form has a solid look to it. There clearly isn’t much splitting them and it’d be no surprise to see them both bang there in the Supreme.
Bellshill and Road To Respect demonstrated that you don’t need big fields to provide a thrilling horse race. The pair put on a terrific battle right the way to the line in the Irish Gold Cup to set them both up for a tilt in the Blue Riband event at Cheltenham. The lead changed hands between the two multiple times throughout the contest and with so little splitting them at the line, it was a race of fine margins. Road To Respect’s jumping let him down at times but the same can’t be said of Bellshill, who despite one error at the seventh flight, jumped very efficiently. Many horses in the Gold Cup market have questions to answer and these two have had a good run in the lead up to March. Both definitely deserve their spots in the line up and could easily see themselves in with a chance coming up the hill.
The Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase was the highlight of Sandown’s card on Saturday and it certainly didn’t disappoint with the three market leaders filling the first three places. Defi Du Seuil came out on top and in the meantime displayed that he got the two and a half mile trip well. It’s another furlong in the JLT at Cheltenham, but the ground at Sandown on Saturday was pretty testing so that provides more encouragement.
Lostintranslation in the main jumped well apart from a couple of small mistakes and a return to Prestbury Park should see him to better effect, where he has previously beaten Defi Du Seuil. Vinndication finished in third, looking a bit tapped for toe, he stayed on stoutly but didn’t quite have the speed to get to the front two. A more searching test of stamina may suit him better.
Star Mare La Bague Au Roi gained her second successive Grade 1 in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday and if going to Cheltenham, would have a huge chance in either the JLT or RSA. But her trainer, Warren Greatrex, doesn’t seem overly keen on heading to the Festival as the track may not be her optimum. That decision looks justified given she’s trailed home in seventh on both her visits.
The Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle is a mid-week highlight at Huntingdon on Thursday with some interesting contenders entered, featuring Angels Breath and Emitom. Newbury have a brilliant card on Saturday with the Betfair Hurdle and Denman Chase, which could play host once again to last years Gold Cup winner Native River. Warwick have the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase on Saturday for potential Arkle horses and Listed action at Exeter on Sunday as well as at Musselburgh who have some rearranged races from their abandoned Cheltenham Trials meeting last weekend.