Doncaster Racecourse

The Dublin Racing Festival has quickly established itself as a pivotal two-day meeting in the racing calendar and the reigning Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle winners will be strutting their stuff this weekend as well as last year’s Grand National winner.

The Leopardstown executive have been watering extensively – 160mm in January – with I believe only 2mls of rain hitting the track during the month although there was 7mls overnight on Thursday with more rain forecast, perhaps heavy on Saturday evening. Underfoot conditions should be perfect and no excuses.

I remember being disappointed to hear that Willie Mullins suggested Blue Lord (2.10) would bypass the Irish Arkle and go straight to Cheltenham after his convincing win in a Naas Novice Chase at the beginning of the year.

Because of the low sun he only jumped six fences at Naas and another ten in landing the odds at Fairyhouse the previous month. Despite looking a natural over the larger obstacles, I thought Mullins would give Blue Lord another run, but he said that Ferny Hollow would be his Irish Arkle horse.

Injury has led to the defection of Ferny Hollow, but Mullins still saddles half of the six-runner field in what promises to be a fascinating race. Haut En Coleurs finished third in last year’s Triumph Hurdle and looked smart when making a winning chase debut over today’s C&D over Christmas.

Saint Sam is another unbeaten over fences having dotted up at Fairyhouse on his chase debut. He always looked as if he would make a better chaser than hurdler and he was a very good juvenile hurdler.

Riviere D’etel was put in her place by Ferny Hollow last time but the mare receives weight from the geldings. She may be better going right-handed, however, and I do believe Blue Lord – who used to be a bit of a tearaway over timber – can make it three out of three over fences. The selection is 13/8 with William Hill for Saturday’s Grade 1.

The Irish Gold Cup is Saturday’s highlight and Minella Indo (3.15) would be a 5/4 chance if this were 3m 2f+ at Cheltenham, but this is something of a retrieval mission having ran poorly – albeit given an abject ride – in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day. I would hope to see Henry De Bromhead’s Gold Cup winner show more this afternoon, but he was beaten nearly 7L in the corresponding race 12 months ago and it didn’t stop him galloping up the Cheltenham hill to land the Blue Riband of jumps’ racing five weeks later.

Robbie Power takes over in the saddle with Rachel Blackmore likely to be on board A Plus Tard at Cheltenham next month. The De Bromhead yard have not been firing on all cylinders so far in 2022 but he is a master of getting it right on the night. Cheltenham is his home but the 7/2 with William Hill looks too big a price for a Gold Cup winner. Last year’s winner Kemboy and the admirable Frodon head the market but, at his best, Minella Indo is a better horse than this lot.

Over to Sandown and there is a cracking card. I would be keen to take on L’Homme Presse in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase with Pic D’Orhy were it not for the form of the Paul Nicholls yard who had at least a couple of inmates run stinkers at Wincanton on Thursday.

L’Homme Presse has been aggressively campaigned by Venetia Williams and is a terrific novice, but he is more effective going left-handed and I wouldn’t be taking the odds unless everything was in my favour.

Of more interest from a betting perspective is the 3m handicap hurdle and Harry Fry suggested Ree Okka (2.55) would be going to Aintree for their 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle in April after he landed a novice hurdle over this trip at Kempton last time. I feel he could be well treated on his handicap debut from a mark of 130 and he carries just 10st 6lbs in this valuable handicap. The 13/2 with William Hill 6 places looks fair.

Beauport races as if the step up to this trip will suit and he returns to the scene of his finest hour having landed the big 2m 4f+ handicap hurdle here at last year’s Imperial Cup meeting.

Linelee King (3.30) looked an unlucky loser at Ayr last time having just taken it up when sprawling four out, losing momentum and many lengths. He did well to rally and, in the circumstances, he ran a cracker to be beaten just over a length. He can race off the same mark today and I have taken the view that he is a winner without a penalty. There was 6/1 available earlier in the week but the selection is a best price of 4/1 with Boylesports at the time of writing.

At Wetherby I hope to see Jack Sharp (3.00) go one better than when second at Doncaster last time off this mark. The form has not been franked in the interim period, but I do feel there is more to come from Alastair Ralph’s lightly-raced 7-y-old who has only had five career starts. The selection has opened up 2s with William Hill, but I would expect to get bigger on the day.

If Saturday’s Leopardstown card is top class, then Sunday’s is sensational with the Irish Champion Hurdle the feature contest. I hope to see the real Chacun Por Soi in the Dublin Chase and the exciting novice chaser Galopin Des Champs make the transition to Grade 1 winner in the 2m 5f Novice Chase. I believe he is a future Gold Cup winner and will be disappointed if he does not take the step up in grade in his stride.

Capodanno got within five lengths of Bob Olinger last time; it will be interesting to see how he fares against the Willie Mullins novice.

Honeysuckle puts her unbeaten record on the line in the feature and it was this corresponding race 12 months ago that showed she was not just a top-class mare but a champion. The three odds on shots make no appeal, at least to me, as a betting medium although I will be disappointed if any are turned over.

Leading owner JP McManus throws five darts at the 2m 5f handicap chase including top-weight, last year’s Grand National winner, Minella Times who is the mount of Rachel Blackmore. Lurking at the foot of the weights, however, is Birchdale (2.25) who is 4lbs out of the weights but carries just 9st 7lbs including conditional jockey’s Mark McDonagh’s 7lbs claim.

McDonagh has never ridden a chase winner in 42 previous attempts, but he has finished in the first four on nineteen occasions and has ridden 15 winners over timber – although he has yet to taste success in 2022.

Birchdale has never fulfilled his initial promise as a novice hurdler with Nicky Henderson, but he ran a terrific race here over three miles last time when he travelled like the best handicapped horse in the race, but failed to get home, having been a tad keen in his first time cheekpieces.

The drop back in distance can only be a plus and he will never have a better opportunity of winning a big one. At the time of writing only William Hill have updated prices on the contest after the declaration stage on Friday morning and I would hope we might get a bit bigger than their 6/1 – five places.

Sir Gerhard (3.35) can maintain his unbeaten record in the G1 2m novice hurdle with chief threat My Mate Mozzie likely to be better going right-handed. The Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham next month promises to be the race of the Festival and Willie Mullins is likely to be mob-handed in the opening race of the meeting. I was very impressed with the selection’s hurdles debut here on Boxing Day, but he will have to put up a sensational display to leapfrog Constitution Hill at the top of the market for next month’s Supreme Novice.

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