Dublin Racing Festival Day 1

The inseption of the Dublin Racing Festival into the National Hunt programme was as meritorious as it were overdue. The calender recalibration of the Irish Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle meetings to formulate into the one weekend festival was outstanding in more than one reference. Abstaintion from British trainers due to its frequency to the juggernaut Cheltenham Festival has not only proven unfound but also detrimental to preparation and it has been the Irish stranglehold of Prestbury Park’s main stage that has benefitted from Leopardstown’s huge early February meeting. The two day event, well backed in prize money and with a litany of epiphanies for national hunt enthusiasts, gave the natural reaction from cross channel competitors to keep the lid on their arsenal for the full on assault in six weeks later and it was initially quiet understandable. 

  However, the follow on success has failed to ignite international interest apart from the bold Paul Nicholls who alas will dip his toe into South Dublin waters. While Nicholls may keep Frodon for another day and skip the Westerner geldings favorite battleground, the same may not be true of Greaneteen who ran so well in last year’s Champion Chase. Both high profile horses will be well appreciated no doubt, by the Sandyford crowd.

The meeting kicks off with the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners ’50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novices Hurdle over two miles and six furlongs. It is the type of contest that race valuation purposes can smoulder on the crossing of two 

eventualities. That being the ‘best horse in the race on racecourse time performance’, against the ‘horse best attributing to the race contest’. It is in such a sticky prospect as the most talented performance thus far is not necessarily akin to the most prepared. Suffice to say that with such youngsters, a flawless and scintillating performance against low grade opposition is not quite up to the horse who is rough and ready from the Grade 1 or even handicapping past. This is true of the two most intriguing runners in this contest based on evaluations. 

  Hollow Games was a decent third in the Grade 1 Lawlors of Naas Novices Hurdle to absent stablemate, Ginto. The performance seemed to show Hollow Games as a horse already looking for an extended trip. This should be right up his street and with that particular Grade 1 at Naas being such a hotbed for quality talent in this sphere, his credentials are merited well.

  Journey with Me was a last minute withdrawal, although a warning shot had been fired recently about his participation by trainer Henry de Bromhead. He is by far and away the best novice in this division by my assessments (167 OTBR). HIs absence is not grevious, however. This is because, his victim at Leopardstown over Christmas, Minella Crooner (163), does line up. Like Hollow Games (161), he is trained by Gordon Elliott and as dumbfounded as I am by jockey arrangements in Cullentra, I still can’t help but feel that Jack Kennedy’s attendance on board the son of Shantou is a major bonus.

He won by eleven lengths at Punchestown over three miles next time out and will no doubt relish the conditions that warrant stamina but also a bit of class. I tend to lead with this theory of two and therefore I suggest that Minella Crooner not only carries much better value at 11/2 but also looks well to get the better of his stablemate.

  Grand Jury was second in that Naas contest and certianly warrants attention but even his eleven length defeat by Dysart Dynamo doesn’t elevate him to superior scores to Hollow Games, who I expect to turn form over this trip.

  Whatdeawant is 157 OTBR but being trained by WIllie Mullins then improvement is very possible.

  While stamina is certianly Eric Bloodaxe’ forte and he is versatile on ground too being a Saint des Saints though he trails in behind the three other mentions. 

  Pied Piper’s emphatic win at Cheltenham last weekend has finally introduced some intrigue into the juvenile division, which has been dominated by his stablemate, FIl Dor. Fil Dor heads the betting for the Racing TV’12 Per Month This Weekend Only’ Juvenile Hurdle. 

  He has won all three starts and remains a horse of interest in this sphere. Vauban was a half a length behind Pied Piper at Punchestown on New Years’s Eve on his sole start and has not surprisingly sprung to the head of the betting. Through Pied Piper (156), Vauban would be the preforable selection as Fil Dor is marginally behind on 153. Icare Allen also can’t be ruled out (152) but he horse he beat, Privilege, was well beind Britzka at Fairyhouse in December and the winner that day was 13 lengths inferior to Fil Dor at Christmas and subsequntly 16 lengths fourth to White Pepper.

  Willie Mullins could also unleash Vadaly, a French Bred filly who won her only start at Dieppe last August. Mullins can never be ruled out with newcomers at this level and in receipt of seven pound she would only have to run to 150. The fact that he is entering a four year old filly in this contest as well in the Triumph Hurdle on first starts for the team should tell you how highly the filly must be rated at home and 40/1 with Racheal Blackmore’s assistance looks too generous of odds to ignore.

  Mullins also potentially saddles Il Etait Temps on debut and has entered the gelding in the Supreme Novices

  Blue Lord is a horse that I have always expected big things of and the now Arkle favorite could move a step closer to realising such promise in the Patrick Ward & Co Solicitors Irish Arkle Novices Chase. I think his quicksilver jumping and physical improvements will make him hard to beat but stablemate Saint Sam was hugely impressive at Fairyhouse last month and with a weight pull of a couple of pounds, I think he is worthy of attention at 5/1. Blue Lord (168) and Saint Sam (167) still have a lot to prove beyond their high race speed returns but they set a standard of which I feel Riviere D’etel (155) will fail to reach even with her pull of nine pounds at the weights.

  I felt that Saint Sam should have won the Fred Winter last March and the fact that the talented Jeff Kidder won a subsequent Grade 1 having won the contest suggests that Saint Sam is right out of the top drawer. The heart is telling me Blue Lord but at the odds and the OTBR valuation return,

it looks to be a closer contest.

  Mullins looks to hold all the aces with Haut en Couleurs (164) also in the line up. He too gets weight from Blue Lord which would put him on 166 and righ on the heels of the others. The winner looks sure to be Closutton trained with a fascinating contest a foot.

  The betting around the Paddy Power ‘I’d love a can but pints are cheaper’ Handicap Hurdle suggests that the recent Pertemps Qualifier over course and distance is where the clues are but those horses seem fairly hadnicapped and it is outisde that group that the better handicapped horses arise.

Paddock watchers are encouraged to assess the fitness of the top weight Cobbler’s Way. the 40/1 shot retains a hurdle performance of 160 based on his performance with Latest Exhibition, Longhouse Poet and Fury Road. That was a course run over two miles and six furlongs in a strongly run Grade 1 so any stamina issues such prove unfounded..

  Unexpected Depth was second in this race twelve months ago off of the same mark so ahs to be respected again. While Good Time Jonny (+3), De Name Escapes Me (+5) and in particular Priory Park (+9) all command considerable respect. 

At long odds, the solid stayer, Scoir Mear, creeps in with a pound in hand and will out run his 50/1 odds.

 The Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup stars Kemboy (172) who relishes the contest and is excellent under the conditions. He would appear to be the rightful favorite for the contest but there are reasons to take him on at 5/2 antepost. 

Firstly, there is Frodon, a solid 169. One of the most admirable horses in training. When he gets his way, he is almost impossible to beat. Being spared from Cheltenham by supreme trainer Paul Nicholls can only mean that this is the Westeners premier target. The question is will he get his own way with plenty of horses ready to take him on for the lead, including Kemboy. Minella Indo (176) is by far the best of these and will be one also at the head of affairs but he seemed below par last year before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He’s a hard horse to trust. When he is good, he is exceptional but too often he is below that. Expect him to be working backwards from the Blue Ribband.

  Asterion Forlonge (167) is a horse I rate highly and if he can get a clear round then he will win a big race some day but it is as big an IF as Asterion finds the height of his fences. 

The heart firmly leans towards Frodon but while a titanic battle all the way around with Kemboy is one to relish, the prospect of them setting it up for something else looks too clear for comfort.

  I can see this contest playing into Janidil hooves. He should stay well having won the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup going away from Franco de Port who has since proven his stamina in the Thyestes Chase. He was fifth of eight in the Savills Chase but

expect this to be a very different contest and dropped in he could well use his pace to fly home. Whether his 164 OTBR will be good enough to outrun his 14/1 odds remain to be seen. 

Paddy Power ‘I’m Never Going Back To The Office’ Handicap Chase features only two horse that I rate on the better side of the handicapper. One is a now campaigned staying chaser, three pounds well in and t’other is a speed horse who is a suspect jumper

but over a stone well handicapped.

  A Wave by the Sea is not a slow horse and with three pounds well in he is under consideration but Mt Leinster’s rating of 137 is a mockery of his ability over fences and through Haut en Couleurs, he should be rated around 150. His hurdling was questionable but his ability ahs never been in doubt.

Mt Leinster seems to have more respect for fences and barring accident, I can’t see him upsetting his short odds of 2/1.

  Facile Vega has a tall reputation and being out of the supermare Quevega, he should go well in the Goffs Future Stars INH Flat Race. I don’t normally handicap bumper horses but considering her bloodlines I was fascinated and found a lofty mark of 166. I would eb surprised if anything can match that

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