What a weekend in store and I’ve been advocating soft ground for a while now and hopefully there’ll be enough dig in the ground for Saturday’s opening day of the two-day Dublin Racing Festival.
No-one wants to see the mass withdrawals we had last year at such a great occasion as we want all the entries to turn up on the day.
The winter game should be run in winter ground.
The first race on the card and while plenty may disagree, I think Elixir D’ainay will uphold the form with Longhouse Poet at Naas over this longer trip.
They were second and third respectively to Envoi Allen at the Kildare track in January, but whether either of them is good enough to match the form shown by Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition is another thing.
Chacun Pour Soi must improve on his Christmas run to turn the tables on A Plus Tard. He’s a strong travelling horse, a brilliant jumper but was beaten relatively easily by A Plus Tard in December.
However, all of them with Champion Chase aspirations must get to Min’s level first, who has won this race for the past two seasons.
This was a big call for Paul Townend and he rode all of Willie’s entries last week. Even though they didn’t work together he’s picked Chacun Pour Soi, so he must feel it has the best chance.
Cilaos Emery is improving and going in the right direction but lacks a little bit of experience. We’re hoping Chacun Pour Soi improves to Min’s level, but whatever happens in this race, the winner will be a challenger to Defi Du Seuil and Altior in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.
I expect Mark Walsh and Fakir Doudairies to make more of the running than he did at Christmas when beaten by Henry De Bromhead’s Notebook. When you factor in that Cash Back can be a bit of a runaway too, the race could be set up for the one that will sit in behind the pace.
Paul Townend has stuck with Melon purely on back-class, but Cash Back and Bapaume still have potential. With Notebook, Cash Back and Fakir Doudairies going at it hard upfront – it could be set up for a finisher.
The two I like against the field are Shane Nolan’s Charlie Stout who won well at Fairyhouse last time and my dad’s horse Batcio who was second on his handicap debut here over Christmas.
Both are at the right end of the weights and should be involved at the finish.
I’m hoping Batsio wins it for my dad.
The Irish Champion Hurdle looks a cracking race and the presence of the mare Honeysuckle adds an extra dimension. She’s unbeaten in six starts for Henry de Bromhead and looked very good when winning the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse over 2m 4f.
The one doubt I’d have about her is the ability to jump at speed. It’s Championship racing for a reason and you have to race at Championship pace. She’s going to have to get down out of the air and be slick at her hurdles so that Rachael Blackmore can settle her into a rhythm on the bridle and save her energy for the final stretch.
Her stablemate Petit Mouchoir is bound to go a right gallop and that will test her jumping. She can be a bit ‘high’ and ‘clean’ at her hurdles and while she’s done very well to win what she’s won, she hasn’t faced anything like she’ll face in this test.
She’ll have to jump better to beat this field.
Sharjah sets a high standard having won consecutive December Hurdles at this venue over Christmas and loves Leopardstown. Klassical Dream disappointed that day and threw himself at the last hurdle down the back straight and nearly fell but looks to have taken a step forward at home since then.
I think the race will be set up for Sharjah to pounce on the run to the last flight.
Willie Mullins throws a few darts at the board here and I can see why Paul Townend has chosen Buildmeupbuttercup out of the ones he had the choice to ride. One of the market leaders Unexcepted, is owned by JP McManus so Mark Walsh rides.
Buildmeupbuttercup was a little unlucky at Fairyhouse last time, where she bundled herself over the last hurdle and that arguably cost her the race. She could be a bit of value here to hit the frame at least.
Od the others, Gordon Elliott’s Thatsy under Jack Kennedy caught my eye. He beat Entoucas in a maiden hurdle at Navan and was fourth to The Moyglass Flyer on his first run in a handicap on Paddy Power Chase Day at this track over Christmas. He doesn’t look too badly treated.
I rode work the other morning against Appreciate It and he caught my eye. I’d say he’s a very good horse. Joseph O’Brien’s Eric Bloodaxe has been very good in his two wins.
If there’s a Cheltenham Bumper horse in Willie Mullins’ yard this season, it’s Appreciate It.