The Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown is the best thing to happen in Irish horse racing for some time. We can look forward to some top-class action and some real clashes to savour.
13:10 Novice Hurdle
No Samcro in here and that opens this race right up. Fabulous Saga has a great attitude as he showed at Limerick when getting up close home over 3 miles and is the choice of Paul Townend of the Willie Mullins pair.
Dortmund Park is your favourite having been very impressive against one of Willies at Thurles: he is only a 5-year-old and could be an improver, so he gets the nod.
13:45 Dublin Chase
This is a belter of a race with questions to be answered with Yorkhill back to the minimum trip.
Special Tiara has run more times in Britain than he has in Ireland. In fact, the last time he ran at Leopardstown was back in 2013 when he finished fifth in a novice chase! With him in the race it is a massive help to the likes of Yorkhill. It should be a true run race and that will bring out the best in Yorkhill.
There’s no two ways about it: Yorkhill should be better than these if he is to be a champion chaser, and I think Paul Townend had to ride him over Min. Min was well below the level of form that he showed when winning impressively at Gowran, when he lost the race here in the stewards room last time. There is always the nagging doubt with Yorkhill that it wont be straightforward for the jockey, and Paul Townend will be hoping that he can have have a smooth passage on him.
14:20 Irish Arkle Chase
Footpad and Petit Mouchoir met three times last season over hurdles, and each time Petit Mouchoir finished in front. When winning here in the Irish Champion Hurdle after a mistake at the last, that allowed Footpad to close on him.
They were third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle behind Buveur D’air, so there’s not much between them, Petit Mouchoir has had some time off after a very impressive win at Punchestown, which must be a negative. Footpad on the other hand is coming here off the back of two brilliant displays of jumping when winning twice.
Willie has been quoted as saying he is the best novice jumper of a fence he has ever trained! High praise indeed but there is no getting away from the fact Petit Mouchoir holds him and I am sticking with him as the value bet.
14:55 Sandyford Handicap Chase
This is, as you would expect, a really tough handicap chase but I can’t help but want to give Squoateur another chance after a great run in the Paddy Power over three miles. Stepping down in trip here, he will definitely be involved in the shake-up. JP McManus’ other runner is Kilfenora with Slippers Madden in the saddle: with only 9st 10lbs on its back could be another at a decent price each-way.
15:30 Irish Champion Hurdle
Faugheen the machine is back. I am convinced it was the bounce factor last time when he disappointed. It’s something that seems to happen to a lot of horses on their second run back after a long lay off: they seem fine at home but are very flat on the track. He was so good at Punchestown in the Morgiana that you have to hope he can get back to that level.
Defi Du Seuil is another on a retrieval mission after disappointing at Ascot, but you would hope for a better showing from him for the Philip Hobbs team. Melon will be better in a race where they go flat out, he travels extremely well and is a good each-way for the champion at Cheltenham in March. I cant desert Faugheen.
16:05 Handicap Hurdle
This is a really competitive handicap hurdle, featuring a Charles Byrnes-trained favourite who won nicely last time over 2m 4f. This is over two miles though and that will make it tougher for him and Minds Eye.
Both look very capable, but I have to think Bleu Berry could be a decent each-way bet in a trappy contest. This lad won a couple of novices last year and looked the part in doing so. He could be attractively handicapped along with Ben Dundee who is proven in big field handicaps.
16:40 Goffs Future Stars
Two powerhouse stables go head-to-head here. Owned by JP and trained by Joseph, Rhinestone will have plenty of followers, but Willie has such a strong hand in bumpers, so I am going with his Blackbow, who was a good winner at the Christmas meeting.