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Patrons return to Leopardstown as the Dublin Racing Festival returns with high quality racing and plenty of prizemoney on offer over two wonderful days in Foxrock. The chatter about the ground will most likely continue over the weekend with four Grade 1’s on offer on Saturday afternoon. We start Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup day with the 2m 6f Grade 1 Novice Hurdle with Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead providing the leading contenders.
This looks a competitive renewal with Grand Jury and Hollow Games only separated by a neck in the Lawlor’s Of Naas with Whatdeawant back in fifth place. It’s too early to ride off Whatdeawant with a better run expected while the current form of Henry De Bromhead’s team is a concern for the chances of Grand Jury. HOLLOW GAMES has solid form in the book and was doing his best work at the finish at Naas and should get back to winning ways now stepping back up in trip for team Elliott.
Caldwell Construction have some quality in the juvenile division this season and run unbeaten Fil Dor here following the impressive success of Pied Piper at Cheltenham last weekend. The son of Doctor Dino brings the best form into this race following his victories at Down Royal, Fairyhouse and here at Leopardstown over Christmas. Six Feet Apart has enhanced that form since and runs here for Joseph O’Brien following a recent victory in a Listed hurdle at Doncaster.
Vauban is one of several runners for Willie Mullins with Susanna Ricci’s runner a good second to Pied Piper on his Irish debut at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve. However, it’s another progressive runner from the Closutton team in ICARE ALLEN who catches my eye following success here over Christmas. There was a lot to like about that performance with the son of Cokoriko looking a dark horse in a race which JP McManus has previously won with both Sir Erec and A Wave Of The Sea.
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BLUE LORD heads the Willie Mullins challenge in the Irish Arkle following the sad absence of Ferny Hollow in our third Grade 1 contest on Saturday. The son of Blue Bresil was unlucky not to be placed in the Supreme last season and has gone about his business in quite but professional fashion with two wins from two so far this season. He really hasn’t put a foot wrong in wins at Fairyhouse and Naas and it’s no surprise Paul Townend rides ahead of Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam.
Riviere D’etel has shown good from and receives weight from her rivals with plenty to like about her wins and good second to Ferny Hollow here at Christmas. She sets the standard on form, but for me there’s more improvement to come from BLUE LORD who can follow in the footsteps of Footpad by winning this race for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. It will be a joy to watch these novices gain more experience and tactics should be interesting with plenty of pace likely in this affair.
Maze Runner was a surprise 40/1 winner in this 3-mile Handicap Hurdle last year which looks a competitive renewal and another race sponsored by our Paddy on the opening day at Leopardstown. It’s a race which has only been won once in seven-years by a horse carrying over 11-stone (Oscar Sam in 2017), with last year’s winner the only horse in those seven years to return at a double figure starting price.
There was plenty to like about Panda Boy’s win here over Christmas with Martin Brassil looking for another big prize following success with Longhouse Poet at Gowran Park. However, my pin is drawn towards both GOOD TIME JONNY and RIGHTPLACERIGHTIME from two of the shrewdest trainers around in the shape of Tony Martin and Emmet Mullins. The step-up in trip should bring out further improvement in Good Time Jonny despite a 9Ib rise for his easy victory here over Christmas.
RIGHTPLACERIGHTIME has squeezed into this race with the trainer/owner partnership of Emmet Mullins and Paul Byrne loving nothing more than landing a big handicap. Despite getting turned over as favourite at Haydock, the son of Kalanisi is a serious player with Rachael Blackmore booked. Elsewhere, Priory Park is looking for his third straight win for JP McManus, while Dunboyne represents Gordon Elliott and is one of several renewing rivalries with Panda Boy from Christmas.
There was renewed sparkle from Kemboy in the Savills Chase over Christmas with Willie Mullins’ runner now looking to secure back-to-back victories in the Irish Gold Cup. It was his best performance since scoring here last February, but there’s a real concern that himself and Frodon will take each-other on up front and ruin both their chances of victory. Race tactics are massive in these big races and it might prove best to side with younger legs and a hold-up performer in the shape of ASTERION FORLONGE.
The Donnelly’s deserve a change of luck with this grey who in fairness still has questions to answer in terms of jumping following events from his early days as a novice and his previous two starts. He overjumped the last when unluckily coming down at Kempton and it’s hard to say if victory was his or not against Allaho in the John Durkan at Punchestown. He travels well in his races and has completed on both starts at Leopardstown, so hopefully it’s his time to shine in Paddy’s big one.
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Unless your pockets are empty and you need a lie-down, it’s hard to see anyone leaving early as this closing bumper looks a cracker with some exciting horses for the future on show. Willie Mullins has always held FACILE VEGA in high regard and kindly gave the cat out of the bag at a dinner late last year before his impressive victory over Christmas. The son of Walk In The Park and Quevega blow Patrick Mullins away when showing another gear and this race has been the plan ever since.
He can follow in the footsteps of Blackbow, Appreciate It and Kilcruit by winning this race for the Closutton team with another dominate front running performance looking likely in the finale. Navan winner Itswhatunitesus might prove best of the rest with trainer Gavin Cromwell likely to finish second in this race after Letsbeclearaboutit’s runner-up run last year. Elsewhere, Sandor Clegane, The Big Doyen and Embassy Gardens are all nice horses but might be up against a special one here.
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