The Grade 1 novice events at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend have proved a good guide to the future over the last two seasons, with subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners Footpad, Samcro and Klassical Dream featuring among those to have struck at Leopardstown en route.
Here are 4 exciting novices to look out for – IF they run this weekend.
A fairly useful performer in bumpers last season, Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition has quickly surpassed that form in three starts over hurdles, including a pair of wins, and he looks a live contender for the first of four Grade 1s on Saturday’s card.
An impressive winner on debut at Galway in October, he showed improved form in defeat when second behind Abacadabras in a Grade 3 at Navan the following month, ultimately proving no match for the winner but keeping on well enough in his own right to pull clear of the third.
His strength at the finish suggested that he would be suited by a step up in trip, and he duly took his form to another level when going up to two and a half miles for a Grade 2 at Navan last time, staying on well after making a bad mistake in the back straight to beat the highly-regarded Andy Dufresne by two and a quarter lengths.
That rival gave the form a boost when winning his next start, and Latest Exhibition looks every bit a smart stayer in the making, with Saturday’s longer trip expected to suit.
Despite showing smart form to win his first two starts over fences, Notebook was relatively unfancied for the Racing Post Novices’ Chase over this course and distance on December 26, with the market instead dominated by Fakir d’Oudairies and Laurina.
In the event, however, Laurina was never able to get competitive after making several mistakes, while Fakir d’Oudairies simply couldn’t peg back Notebook, who produced a dominant performance to extend his winning sequence in this sphere, always doing enough to land the spoils by a length and a half.
Improving in leaps and bounds, that victory identified him as just about the best novice chaser seen out so far this season, with only Faugheen (more later) ahead of him on Timeform ratings.
Notebook already heads the market for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival and he is fancied to confirm the form with Fakir d’Oudairies to land this prestigious prize en route.
The Willie Mullins-trained pair of Bapaume and Cash Back are two others to note.
Aspire Tower was a fairly useful performer on the Flat in 2019, but he looks set to take even higher rank in this sphere if the evidence of his two starts over hurdles are anything to go by.
His wide-margin win on debut at Punchestown in November quickly marking him out as an above-average prospect.
Stepped up in grade for the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle over this course and distance on December 26, he again had little difficulty in dispatching a couple of useful sorts, making all the running to beat a subsequent winner by 17 lengths. He didn’t do everything right on the day, notably racing too freely in the early stages, but that arguably made his strength at the finish even more impressive as he powered on relentlessly to clock a time that stacked-up well, against others on the card.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge clearly has a huge engine, and, with further improvement on the cards, he rates the clear one to beat in this Grade 1 prize before a tilt at the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
A top-class hurdler in his prime, with his wins including the 2015 Champion Hurdle, Faugheen appeared to be coming to the end of his career when pulled up at Aintree on his final 2018/19 start, with many people expecting that to be his swansong.
His trainer Willie Mullins had other ideas, though, and there have been few more heart-warming stories this season than Faugheen’s wins at Punchestown and Limerick, with the fan-favourite having taken to fences like a natural at the age of 12.
His latest success in Grade 1 company saw him produce a high-class performance to beat Samcro by 10 lengths, the pair having the race between them from four out, before Faugheen powered clear in the straight to send the crowd into hysterics.
That form comfortably sets the standard here on Timeform ratings, and, still open to more improvement after only two starts over fences, Faugheen looks sure to mount a bold hat-trick bid.
There would certainly be no more popular winner at the Dublin Racing Festival.
*Prices and entries correct at time of publishing but are subject to change at the final declaration stage.