Dublin Racing Festival – Day 2

A mixed day from a punting perspective on day one of the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival and a couple of major question marks from before racing remain unanswered, not least of which regarding the enigma that is Yorkhill. But that’s a discussion for another day. For now, it’s all about day two…

12.40 – Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle

A race run in memory of his father, Willie Mullins will be desperate to win this 2m 2f handicap and throws three darts at it. The favourite is Contingency, who won twice early in the season, but I wonder about the strength of those races and she’s short enough for me at 2/1. Meri Devie, meanwhile looks handicapped out of it having to shoulder top weight. Instead I like the chances of Court Artist, a mare with form in the book having finished a close-up third behind Cap Soleil in listed company at Haydock last time out, while Liam Gilligan takes off a very handy seven pounds.

Selection – Court Artist 12/1ew

1.15 – Tatterstalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle

I was very much looking forward to seeing Stormy Ireland in this contest and believed the 58-length Fairyhouse winner could have given Espoir D’Allen a real run for his money. As it is, the Mullins filly is conspicuous by her absence and it’s difficult to see any other result than Gavin Cromwell’s star four-year-old underlining his dominance as Ireland’s number one juvenile. I have read some people tipping up Farclas, who was second to the favourite at Christmas, but although the Elliott horse might improve for that run it’s important to remember he was getting weight from Espoir D’Allen that day and meets him today on level terms, so I really can’t see him improving that much.

The JP McManus juvenile has been overpriced for the Triumph all season for me, mainly due to the ridiculously short price about the owner’s other young star, Apple’s Shakira and although it’s difficult to compare the two I wouldn’t be surprised if Cromwell’s contender turns out to be the better of the pair come March. That is, of course, after he passes his latest test on home soil on Sunday.

Selection – Espoir D’Allen Evens

1.50 – Deloitte Novice Hurdle

Gordon Elliott put the cat amongst the pigeons when he nominated Samcro for this two-mile contest rather than Saturday’s 2m 6f novice hurdle, but what it has done is make this the day when we find out for sure just how good the son of Germany is. A far tougher race, he now faces the likes of Sharjah, Real Steel and Debuchet, the latter of which is a fascinating contender with a whole load of improvement likely from his disappointing hurdling debut in December. Indeed, if we assume that Samcro is a freak and will win before going on to romp home in the Ballymore, then it could be that the performances behind him still might shake up the top of the Supreme market such is the strength of this race. Debuchet, for sure, is overpriced at 33/1 for the Festival opener, while I still think that Real Steel could be a serious contender on 13 March, having not run his race for half of that crazy contest when he fell alongside Sharjah over Christmas. The French import can be backed at 20/1 for this Sunday’s race and even though Samcro will probably win, the each way value makes him the bet for me.

Selection – Real Steel 16/1ew

2.25 – William Fry Handicap Hurdle

Hennessy winner Total Recall reverts to hurdles off a mark 31 pounds less than his chase rating so it doesn’t take me to point out that he has obvious claims here. There are of course no guarantees that he’ll be as good over timber but in reality he won’t have to be and can run miles below his chase form and still win with something in hand.

Selection – Total Recall 11/8

3.00 – Flogas Novice Chase

One of the best races of the weekend, this is a contest that may well include the winner of the RSA come Festival week. I’ve made no secret on social media of the fact that I think the bookies majorly overreacted to Presenting Percy’s recent win by making him a 3/1 favourite and I’ll be shocked if he justifies that status come the day. The fact that Sutton Place can still be backed at 20/1 for the RSA is a major oversight in my book as he could well be a quarter of that price on Sunday afternoon. A smooth winner on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day, he should come forward for that and can start to show some of the potential that he has always had. Monalee, meanwhile, is another leading RSA contender and can bounce back from his fall at Christmas, while Invitation Only is also above Presenting Percy in my reckoning and has done nothing but impress in his last two races. It promises to be a cracker but I’m just favouring Sutton Place and urge you to take some of that RSA 20/1 before the off.

Selection – Sutton Place 10/3ew

3.35 Unibet Irish Gold Cup

It’s not often you go into a Cheltenham Festival with a genuine shout of landing with a 66/1 shot, but if Killultagh Vic can go close at Leopardstown on Sunday then that is what those who followed my antepost advice regarding the Willie Mullins horse for the Gold Cup will have on their hands. I have no doubt that he will have improved for his first run back from a long layoff, while the return to fences is also a major plus, but the question remains whether he can win on Sunday on his first run over the bigger obstacles for over two years. It will be a tremendous training performance from Mullins if he can do it and i’m prepared to take the chance he can with doubts surrounding the return of Our Duke and question marks aplenty about most of the rest of the field. It’s a division that is crying out for someone to take hold of it and Killultagh Vic could be the answer.

Selection – Killultagh Vic 5/1ew

4.10 – Chanelle Pharma Handicap Chase

There has been lots of discussion about the lack of British raiders to the festival but one of the few is Harry Fry’s Hell’s Kitchen and he is a strong favourite in this 2m 5f handicap chase. A good winner over Christmas at Kempton, the form of that victory has since been franked too by second placed Mister Whitaker’s win at Cheltenham last week. I’m going to take him on with a horse I think could be very well handicapped though in the shape of Vieux Morvan for Joseph O’Brien. The trainer has already tasted success this weekend, with surprise package Tower Bridge in the meeting opener, and skipped the Thyestes Chase to wait for this contest. Fifth behind Anibale Fly at Leopardstown at the Christmas festival on his first start since arriving from France, he is unchanged on his mark of 133 and off 10st 5lbs should go close.

Selection – Vieux Morvan 8/1ew

4.40 Coolmore N.H. Sires EBF Mares Flat Race

Not the most straightforward task if you’re looking at the last to get out of trouble, although Willie Mullins holds a strong hand with favourite Colreevy. My selection though comes from a different Mullins source – Mags, who runs daughter of Milan, Motown Girl. Although beaten by Getaway Katie Mai on her debut, whom she reopposes here, she showed a huge improvement next time out when trouncing a field at Limerick by nine lengths in December. The second that day, Minnie’s Secret, has since won twice to give some substance to the form and at a double figure price she looks a very interesting each way punt.

Selection – Motown Girl 12/1ew

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Dublin Racing Festival – Day 1

With seven Grade 1s and some of the most competitive handicaps you will see this winter, the Dublin Racing Festival promises to be a weekend to remember. Here’s my view on Saturday’s spectacular opening day…

1.10 – Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle

The meeting was all set to get off to a bang with Samcro in this 2m 6f Grade 1. That was until Gordon Elliott threw a spanner in the works by instead switching his brilliant son of Germany to the two mile Deloitte Novice Hurdle on Sunday. The contest has a far more open look to it as a consequence and cases could be made for most of the seven strong field. Elliott still has the favourite in Dortmund Park, a horse I had tipped up for the Supreme at the start of the season but now looks an out and out stayer on the evidence of his impressive 16-length win in abysmal conditions at Thurles a couple of weeks ago. Although a horse with undoubted talent I wonder if this race might be coming around a bit too quickly for the five-year-old.

Instead, I like the chances of Carter McKay, seemingly the Willie Mullins second string with Paul Townend taking the ride on Fabulous Saga. The son of Martaline was no match for Getabird last time out, when finishing third in the Moscow Flyer last month but had won well on his hurdling debut at Gowran Park in November. Both of those races were over two miles and I expect him to relish the step up in trip here. He was a point winner over three miles, while if you look back at last season, the most impressive of his two bumper wins came at Naas over 2m 3f when he beat West Coast Time much more easily than the two and a quarter length winning margin would suggest. He’s been mixing it in higher company than stablemate Fabulous Saga and at 4/1 looks overpriced to get us off to a winning start.

Selection: Carter McKay 4/1

1.45 – Coral Dublin Chase

A Grade 1 masquerading as a Grade 2, this is the first of two big head-to-head clashes on the opening day of the festival as Yorkhill and Min lock horns. In my last Cheltenham Festival antepost piece I detailed the reasons why, in my opinion, two miles over fences would be ideal for Yorkhill. On Saturday i’m hopeful he will prove this before going on to give Altior one hell of a battle at Cheltenham. Min will be no pushover first, however, as he is clearly better than he showed at Christmas but i’m just not sure he has the same x-factor as his stablemate. Isn’t it great to see two Mullins big guns taking each other on though? It promises to be one of the races of the week.

Selection: Yorkhill 10/11

2.20 – Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase

Next into the ring it’s Footpad v Petit Mouchoir, another clash to savour. Without repeating my comments throughout the season, I think it’s much closer between these two than the bookies would have you think and the 8/1 about Henry De Bromhead’s challenger for the Arkle in March could look very big after this race. He was the better hurdler of the two and while there can be no doubt that Footpad has improved greatly for the switch to fences, Petit Mouchoir‘s debut over the bigger obstacles wasn’t too shabby either. At the prices, I’m prepared to take the risk that the grey will cause a minor surprise here.

Selection – Petit Mouchoir 3/1

2.55 – Coral Sandyford Handicap Chase

The first of two big handicaps on the day and it could well be the first of a memorable Robert Tyner double. Blast of Koeman was third in a similar contest over course and distance over Christmas, having won on his second chase start at Fairyhouse in November when beating Robin Des Mana. He comes into this contest with just 10st on his back and I can’t see him not being involved at the business end. A horse that was only a length behind Invitation Only in a Punchestown Festival bumper a couple of years ago, he looks to have room for improvement on his current handicap mark. I was also toying with dear old Ted Veale for this race, who runs off 10st 4lbs when you take into account Liam Quinlan’s claim, but he’s just been so woefully out of form the last twice that I shall stick with my main selection. At 20/1 though I wouldn’t put you off as a decent each-way option just incase he bounces back to form.

Selection – Blast of Koeman 15/2ew

3.30 – BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle

A race that can be summed up pretty easily. Essentially Faugheen will either bolt up or be pulled up. If the 2016 winner is back to the form he showed in the Morgiana on his comeback then he will simply be too strong for this lot and i’m praying that will be the case so that we get the showdown everybody wants to see with Buveur D’air next month. It’s a race I would find it difficult to suggest a bet in however because of the obvious risks involved. Despite this, I don’t think anything would please me more over the whole weekend than seeing Faugheen back to his brilliant best – you could say for the machine to be back in full working order. It will also be fascinating to see how Defi Du Seuil gets on here – he’s clearly better than he showed last time out and could yet prove to be third in the pecking order for Champion Hurdle honours, a race he can still be backed in at 20/1.

Selection – Faugheen 11/8

4.05 – Coral Hurdle

I penned my preview of this race a couple of weeks ago (click here) and pinned my colours to the Midnight Stroll mast at 20/1. Now as short as 8/1 he looks to have outstanding claims for Robert Tyner and Philip Enright. When writing I did expect, however, that Mind’s Eye would go elsewhere and his presence in this two mile handicap offers a serious threat to the main selection. Henry De Bromhead’s contender was hugely impressive when winning here at the Christmas meeting and running off just 10st 2lbs with Dylan Robinson’s claim taken into account he has a massive chance of following up. Midnight Stroll was giving him two pounds when finishing fourth behind him in December and is only a pound better off today because of Robinson’s five pounds, so reversing the form might prove tough. The safe option is to back the pair of them as both look very solid options to make the places.

Selections – Midnight Stroll (previously advised at 20/1ew) & Mind’s Eye 10/1ew

4.40 – Goffs Future Stars National Hunt Flat Race

Rapid Escape is all the rage to win the concluding bumper but having watched a number of videos back again before writing this blog i’m not totally convinced he’s the good thing he’s made out to be. Instead I think the each way value might sit with Noel Meade’s Brace Yourself, who is currently available at 12/1. Having Nina Carberry in the saddle is an immediate plus, but if you look at the video of his 24-length win over Dorydalis on Boxing Day it makes interesting viewing as the horse just continued to power away with the minimum encouragement from his pilot. A son of Mahler who cost £165,000 at the Cheltenham sale in November, I think his chances have been underestimated and he could well spring a shock at a big price.

Selection – Brace Yourself 12/1ew

Cheltenham, Doncaster & Fairyhouse – Saturday selections

Another blockbuster Saturday of jumps action with the Festival Trials day at Cheltenham taking centre stage, ably supported by a Doncaster card where the Skybet Chase is the highlight.

My ante-post pick for the Town Moor showpiece, Flying Angel, is now a best price 8/1 and still makes lots of appeal at these odds, even if the 16s available earlier in the week have long gone. Click here to read my preview of the race.

Elsewhere on the Doncaster card I also like the chances of Kim Bailey’s Station Master in the Grade 2 River Don Novices Hurdle, as the trainer looks for back-to-back big Saturday winners following his success with First Flow a week ago. The son of Scorpion has been an impressive winner on his last two outings and in beating the likes of Just A Thought has better form in the book than current race favourite Indian Hawk.

We’ll get to Cheltenham in a moment, but the horse I think I’m looking forward to seeing almost more than any on Saturday runs over in Ireland – Crackerdancer. A winner of her last four runs, she defied a penalty to win a listed mares bumper at Navan in November and couldn’t have been more impressive on her hurdles debut when hacking up by 25 lengths at Limerick last month. Ray Hackett’s daughter of Robin Des Champs has had her problems, issues that kept her off the track for over two years before her return last February, but is certainly making up for lost time now and I not only fancy her to win this weekend at Fairyhouse but also advise adding her to your Cheltenham Festival portfolio. She can be backed at 16/1 for the Mares Novice Hurdle and I think would already be a lot shorter than that if trained in a more fashionable yard.

Hopefully already in your Cheltenham book is Ballyandy, who I advised at 33/1 for the JLT and will hopefully advertise his claims when he drops back into handicap company on Saturday. Last season’s Betfair Hurdle winner should prove too strong for his rivals and is very generously priced at 3/1.

Nigel Twiston-Davies looks to have outstanding claims of claiming the Coltswolds Chase too with Bristol De Mai, who can bounce back having recovered from the ulcers that blunted his performance in the King George. While another horse looking to bounce back is Finian’s Oscar, who reverts to hurdles and could emerge as a leading contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle if landing the Cleeve, which I believe he will.

Selections:
1.15 Cheltenham – Ballyandy 3/1 (NAP)

1.50 Cheltenham – Coo Star Sivola 7/2
2.05 Doncaster – Station Master 5/1ew
2.25 Cheltenham – Bristol De Mai 7/4
2.45 Fairyhouse – Crackerdancer 9/4
3.00 Cheltenham – Pacific De Baune 7/2
3.15 Doncaster – Flying Angel 8/1 (previously advised at 16/1)
3.35 Cheltenham – Finian’s Oscar 7/2

Cheltenham Festival ante-post:
Mares Novice Hurdle – Crackerdancer 16/1ew

Previously advised:
JLT Novices Chase – Ballyandy 33/1ew

Gowran Park & Warwick – Thursday selections

After a very quiet start to the week there is some much better quality jumps action to look forward to on Thursday with the highlight undoubtedly being the card at Gowran Park.

The centrepiece is the Thyestes Chase, one of the few big Irish handicaps that Gordon Elliott has yet to master, however that could all change this year. Twice placed in the race previously, Ucello Conti holds strong claims of climbing to the top of the podium this time around and showed he is in fine fettle with a good second behind Anibale Fly in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

However, I prefer another of the Elliott runners, in the shape of Monbeg Notorious, who runs off just 10st 2lbs and has the services of Jack Kennedy as a further added plus. Not out of the frame in his last eight starts, and only once ever when completing, chasing was always going to be his game and following two seconds he got his head in front at the third attempt last time out, beating Willie Mullins’ Augustin by over seven lengths at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve. If he can build on that he has a massive chance of going close here.

Earlier on the card there is a cracking Grade 2 hurdle at 1.50 which sees Let’s Dance take on stablemate Bacardys (back over timber after an aborted chasing campaign) and Presenting Percy. On level weights i’d have fancied Bacardys, who could well still turn out to be an interesting Stayers Hurdle contender, but Let’s Dance gets nine pounds from him which should prove too much. Last season’s Mares Novice winner at Cheltenham was one of the few Willie Mullins stars to shine at Leopardstown last month and could even turn into a dark horse for the Stayers herself if winning well again here. Indeed it could be argued that it could be an easier race than facing Apples Jade in the Mares.

One Mullins favourite i’m opposing is Bunk Off Early in the 3.35, a horse I really liked last season until disappointing at Cheltenham. He’s had issues since and didn’t seem a natural over fences on chasing debut when going down by six and a half lengths to Tycoon Prince. Instead I like the chances of De Plotting Shed, who deserves to get his head in front again after just being beaten by Saturnas at Fairyhouse earlier this month and finding Presenting Percy just too good at Galway in October. This is his easiest assignment yet over fences.

Meanwhile, over at Warwick an old friend of this blog is back in action – Polydora. A winner at 25/1 for us back in October, Tom Lacey’s son of Milan found class two company too hot after that but stepped back down to a class four was back in the winner’s enclosure last time out at Exeter last month. The step up to 2m 7f seemed to suit that day meaning the 3m 2f marathon he faces on Thursday could eek out even further improvement. An opening handicap mark of 130 doesn’t look too harsh to me as this is a horse on the upgrade and one that Lacey has long held in high regard. At 8/1 he looks overpriced and has a massive chance of at least making the frame.

Selections:
1.50 Gowran Park – Let’s Dance 11/4 (NAP)
2.35 Warwick – Polydora 8/1ew
3.00 Gowran Park – Monbeg Notorious 7/1ew
3.35 Gowran Park – De Plotting Shed 6/4

Antepost Angles – Coral Hurdle

The countdown is well and truly on now to the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival and I, for one, cannot wait. It promises to be a blockbuster weekend, offering the perfect blend of top notch graded action with highly competitive (and valuable) handicaps – BHA take note!

Although Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival taught us to take nothing for granted, there is the prospect of plenty of short-priced favourites going in over the two days, with the likes of Samcro, Yorkhill and, dare I say it, Faugheen all holding leading claims. However, there are also some big-field handicaps for us to get our teeth into in search of some bigger prices, with the €59,000 Coral Hurdle the highlight.

Formerly the Irish Sweeps Hurdle, it wasn’t actually a handicap in it’s early years, instead serving as a trial for the Champion Hurdle and being won by horses such as the legendary Night Nurse in 1975. In it’s current guise it has developed into one of the most hotly contested two mile handicap hurdle races run in Ireland of the season, possibly second only to the Galway Hurdle.

A race won by Noel Meade’s Ice Cold Soul last year, the 2018 renewal has attracted some very classy entries including Campeador, Ivanovich Gorbatov and last summer’s Galway Hurdle winner, Tigris River. No horse has carried over 11 stone to victory however since Adamant Approach in 2002, so those lower down the weights would seem to be where we will find the likely winner.

Of those, impressive Christmas Festival winner Mind’s Eye certainly makes some appeal off 10st 7lbs, although Henry De Bromhead’s charge also has other entries and may well be more likely to take up one of those engagements instead. Fourth and only four lengths back at Leopardstown that day was Midnight Stroll, a horse who was also giving the winner two pounds.

Robert Tyner’s six-year-old showed excellent form in his bumper season, finishing third and just a neck behind Next Destination at the Punchestown Festival. He has carried that promise into his first season over timber too, winning twice before that creditable fourth at Leopardstown last month. He has just 10st 3lbs on his back for the Coral Hurdle and at number 27 on the list is guaranteed to get into the race.

Tyner knows what it takes to win, having succeeded with Spring the Que in 2007, and at 20/1 I think Midnight Stroll makes lots of appeal to give him a second success eleven years on.

Selection:
Coral Hurdle, Leopardstown, 3 February: Midnight Stroll 20/1ew

Antepost angles – Skybet Chase

The Skybet Chase, also known as the Great Yorkshire Chase, is a three mile handicap with a great history. First run in 1948, it’s roll of honour includes 1982 winner Bregawn, who the following season would lead home Michael Dickinson’s famous five in the Gold Cup.

It’s doubtful whether we will see a future Gold Cup winner in this week’s Doncaster renewal but it still includes some classy types. One of those is my ante-post fancy, Flying Angel, who claimed Grade 1 success at Aintree last April when beating Cloudy Dream and Top Notch to win the Manefesto Novices Chase.

It’s fair to say that the seven-year-old hasn’t really built on that win so far this term, but has been running with some high class company – fourth behind Top Notch in the 1965 Chase at Ascot and last time out, third behind Definitely Red in the Many Clouds Chase. With his conqueror at Aintree seemingly going to Cheltenham instead, this weekend’s assignment is a significant drop in class, meaning Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge would look to have solid claims.

L’ami Serge is the current clear favourite but it remains to be seen if Nicky Henderson’s runner can produce some of his recent improved form over hurdles back over the larger obstacles. There is also, of course, the long-running question of the Munir/Souede owned horse’s resolve in a battle, as shown again last time out in the Long Walk when he looked to be travelling best only to find nothing when it came to the crunch.

He is now as short as 9/2, whereas you can get 16/1 on Flying Angel, a Grade 1 winner who isn’t switching between hurdles and fences midway through the season (having not been that convincing when last encountering them too).

Nigel Twiston-Davies has twice won the Skybet before, but not since Beau in 2000, so this would be a long-overdue success in the race for the trainer who is set for a big day anyway with Bristol De Mai looking to have outstanding claims in the Cotswold Chase over at Cheltenham. Running off 11st 5lbs, Flying Angel looks very fairly weighted, while the soft ground will hold no fears having won on heavy at Warwick last February.

Selection:
3.15 Doncaster: Flying Angel 16/1ew