Tag Archive for: Dublin Racing Festival

Birchdale makes it a day to remember for Mark McDonagh

Mark McDonagh claimed a memorable first winner over fences as he steered Birchdale to victory in the Bulmers Secret Orchard Leopardstown Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.

The 7lb claimer teamed up with trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus to land the €73,750 first prize with Birchdale, who had not got his head in front since landing a Grade Two hurdle for Nicky Henderson back in January 2019.

There was clearly plenty of confidence behind the eight-year-old as he was sent off the 9-2 favourite, with Bolger’s recruit locked in battle with another McManus runner in Winter Escape jumping the last.

Birchdale found plenty on the run to the line, easily holding the late finish of Foxy Jacks by a length and a quarter, with McDonagh punching the air in delight as he passed the post.

McDonagh told RTE: “It’s a dream to ride in these colours. It’s my first ride in them, so thanks to Enda, Mr (Frank) Berry (owner’s racing manager), Mr McManus and my agent Garry Cribbin.

“I’m studying Business in UL (University of Limerick) and I’m on work experience at the moment at Joseph O’Brien’s, doing a bit of office work too, and it’s great to be able to do both things.”

Bolger added: “I thought he got a great ride from young Mark, I’ve known him for a long time as he used to come in a ride out for us.

“It all came together today and 9st 7lb was a help. It was Mr Berry’s idea to use him, it’s getting harder to get fellas to do the weight. Mark is riding well and it was an easy decision. He was outstanding on him.

“This was kind of the plan and it’s a prestigious race to win.”

Birchdale is 10-1 with Coral for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Party Central could head to Cheltenham
Party Central could head to Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

Party Central led home a one-two for Gordon Elliott in the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.

Sent off the 7-4 favourite, Party Central was covered up early on by Davy Russell before he started to line up her challenge with two to jump in the extended two-mile-one-furlong contest.

Russell pushed on to assume the lead from pacesetter Minx Tiara at the final flight with Party Central looking set for a wide-margin victory, only to start to pull herself up a little in front, allowing stablemate Say Goodbye to close to a length and three-quarters in second.

Elliott said: “I’d say she’s a black-type mare to be fair. We had her in a black-type race last week but I thought, with the mark she had, she was too well handicapped to run her in it.

“We said we’d keep her for this and we could always get black type somewhere else down the road. She has plenty of it already.

“Davy gave her a beautiful ride and when she got there she just pulled up, she had done enough. She’s a nice mare.

“Noel and Valerie (Moran, owners) like to have a few broodmares, so we’ll try to make her into a broodmare.

“They’ll be going to Cheltenham for the week so if they’d like to run her, she’ll be on the lorry.”

Call Me Lyreen jumps the last
Call Me Lyreen jumps the last (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott and Russell doubled up with Call My Lyreen in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle, with the County Meath handler again taking the first two places.

The two-mile heat was run at a furious pace but it was 20-1 shot Call My Lyreen who delivered a final finishing flourish to outpoint Magic Tricks by a length and a quarter, with Autumn Evening back in third.

Elliott added: “Davy gave him a good ride. We said we’d ride him a bit cold today, creep away, and that’s exactly what Davy did. There is only one winning post.

“Shane Fitzgerald gave my other horse a lovely ride as well to finish second but unfortunately he bumped into one.

“The horses are running well, that’s our third winner of the weekend and most of the rest of them have been placed so we’re very happy with the way they’ve been running.”

Lily Du Berlais (centre, green cap and silks)  just edged it in a photo
Lily Du Berlais (centre, green cap and silks) just edged it in a photo (Niall Carson/PA)

Lily Du Berlais grabbed Grade Two glory in the final stride of the Coolmore NH Sires Santiago Irish EBF Mares INH Flat Race, the final event of the Dublin Racing Festival.

She had plenty of horses in front of her turning for home, with favourite Pink In The Park seemingly poised to throw down her winning challenge, edging in front in the final furlong.

However, her stride began to shorten in sight of the line and she was swamped from behind, with Lily Du Berlais and Battling Bessie to separate them.

Lily Du Berlais, trained by Stuart Crawford and ridden by his brother Ben, was eventually called the nose winner at odds of 40-1.

Crawford said: “I thought she was a good mare when I brought her to Perth and Brian Hughes got off her that day and said ‘that’s as good a horse as I’ve ridden for you’.

“He rang me this morning and said ‘don’t forget what I told you back then’. He said ‘tell Ben to ride her cold and be as cool as he likes, I don’t care how good the race is’.

“She was tough on the day. I was thinking to myself my brother had been getting plenty of instructions from all directions and I said ‘you’re not doing what you were told there, you are too cool’.

“It worked out and it was great. To get a winner for (owners) Simon (Munir) and Isaac (Souede) and Anthony (Bromley, racing manager) is great. They are big supporters of racing and big supporters of me.

“We’ll take it today and make plans after that. She’s an extremely exciting mare to be going jumping with and she got the job done there today, so we’ll enjoy that.”

Blackmore savours every bit of another magic moment with Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle stirred the emotions of both the Leopardstown crowd and jockey Rachael Blackmore with her emphatic success in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.

Winning is nothing new for Honeysuckle and Blackmore – who were merely extending their unbeaten run together to 14 – but the record-breaking rider admitted completing an Irish Champion hat-trick in front of packed stands added an extra edge to what was already a landmark day.

Full crowds have been far from the norm since Honeysuckle got the better of Benie Des Deux in an epic battle for the Mares’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, with the Covid-19 pandemic really kicking in just days later and ensuring her Champion Hurdle coronation back at Prestbury Park last year was behind closed doors.

Blackmore’s own exceptional 2021 was always witnessed by just a handful of fortunate folk, with her Cheltenham top jockey title and historic Grand National win aboard Minella Times also passing without the rapturous receptions they so deserved.

Spectators were out in force to see the queens of National Hunt racing on Sunday though, and the duo was cheered to the start and cheered all the way home as they put their rivals to the sword with the minimum of fuss.

The mare returned to the winner’s enclosure with a raucous welcome befitting of her superstar status, with racegoers crammed against the rails to hail Irish racing’s equine queen.

Blackmore herself was left marvelling at her good fortune to be part of Team Honeysuckle along with trainer Henry De Bromhead and owner Kenny Alexander.

“It’s just unbelievable,” she told RTE.

“We’re all so lucky to be involved with her. Me to be riding her, Henry to be training her and Kenny to be owning her.

“I’ve never got a reception like that cantering to the start. It was incredible and I really got chills through my veins listening to everyone as we went down.

“It’s fantastic to be a part of it all and she’s just an unbelievable mare.”

Racegoers were eager to hail their hurdling superstar
Racegoers were eager to hail their hurdling superstar (Niall Carson/PA)

Blackmore could have been forgiven for feeling the pressure ahead of the race, with Honeysuckle’s unbeaten record on the line every time she steps foot on the track.

However, Alexander urged her to savour the occasion – and that is exactly what the rider did.

She added: “Kenny texted me last night and said that she owes us nothing, just go out and enjoy it. It’s lovely to be riding for those kind of people as well.

“I am a bit emotional. The crowds are what make it special and that cheer going down to the start, where would you get it?!”

Chacun Pour Soi shines on return to favourite hunting ground

Chacun Pour Soi bounced back to form to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.

Willie Mullins’ runner was on a retrieval mission after proving a bitter disappointment when last in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.

However, back on familiar ground at Leopardstown, Chacun Pour Soi comprehensively reversed the form with Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen as he strolled to victory under Paul Townend.

The 4-7 favourite was content to take a lead from Dunvegan in the early stages, while Bryony Frost elected to take the inside route in Greaneteen, racing alone throughout the Grade One heat.

He was clearly in trouble at the third-last though as Chacun Pour Soi started to move through the gears, with Dunvegan and Captain Guinness trying to go with him.

But Chacun Pour Soi was just too good and he was well clear coming to the last, with a fine leap sealing an impressive return to winning ways.

Dunvegan was second with Captain Guinness third, with Greaneteen dropping right away to finish last of the five runners.

Chacun Pour Soi was clipped to 6-1 from 8s by both Coral and Paddy Power for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham – a race in which he was only third as the 8-13 favourite last year.

“He’s back to himself. He was very good all week and he trained very well,” said Mullins.

“I thought I had him very ready the last couple of times and he disappointed so this week I decided I was just going to get him here at 95 per cent and I think he’s better like that.

“He’s been pleasing me at home doing that, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the future and hopefully I can get him across the water in that sort of form.

Chacun Pour Soi in the winner's enclosure
Chacun Pour Soi in the winner’s enclosure (PA)

“He doesn’t seem to bring his A-game when he gets on the ferry, whatever it is. Maybe I’ll go undercooked rather than properly cooked the next time.

“Maybe the travelling takes something out of him as well. We always think a day on the boat is like a piece of work so maybe we’ll do one bit less at home with him.

“He has never brought the sort of form he has brought around here to England.”

When asked how he would rate with Energumene, Mullins added: “I would have put this fella in a different league all the time, but that’s before his two disappointing runs and obviously he’s getting older.

“I think he’s a star, but he hasn’t shown himself to be at his best in England. I think he has that day to come yet, but maybe he’s gone too old for that.

“We’ll go back this year and try to put it right.”

Thumbs up and a big smile from Paul Townend
Thumbs up and a big smile from Paul Townend (Niall Carson/PA)

Looking back on his run at Sandown, Townend said: “He made a couple of mistakes in Sandown and I just thought that, early on today, he wasn’t as quick through the air as he normally is. But as the race progressed he was much better.

“I love the horse and love riding him and I’m delighted for him. He’s been fragile all his life so hopefully he’s in one piece come Cheltenham.”

Galopin Des Champs oozes class at Leopardstown

Galopin Des Champs dominated his rivals to land a spectacular success in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

Willie Mullins’ charge was sent off the 4-9 favourite after an impressive chasing bow at the Dublin track over Christmas – and victory barely looked in doubt from a distance out in the two-mile-five-furlong Grade One feature.

Galopin Des Champs was settled in second by Paul Townend with French Dynamite setting the pace and his task was slightly eased when Capodanno unseated his rider at the fifth before Beacon Edge fell at the next fence.

Galopin Des Champs after his victory
Galopin Des Champs after his victory (Gary Carson/PA)

Fury Road then made a terrible error at the fourth-last, but Galopin Des Champs was already firmly in control and while Master McShee and fellow Mullins inmate Gaillard Du Mesnil tried to make a race of it, the winner was in another league.

A clever leap at the last sealed victory, with Master McShee keeping on admirably to finish a nine-length second, with Gaillard Du Mesnil a further five lengths back in third.

Galopin Des Champs was already prominent in the ante-post lists for Cheltenham before the race, but he was chopped to 13-8 favourite from 2-1 for the three-mile Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Festival by Paddy Power. The same firm go 15-8 from 9-4 for the shorter Turners Novices’ Chase, while Coral make him the 10-11 market leader for the longer contest.

Mullins said: “I wasn’t as happy with his jumping as I was at Christmas, but then Paul said it was a Grade One pace today. Bryan Cooper got down off my other horse and said the same thing, they were going so fast.

“Paul said he didn’t want to let him down to jump fences the way he did at Christmas otherwise he would maybe have been in front too early, on softer ground, so he held on to him a bit longer.

“He didn’t go with them a few times and the horse was very brave and I was wondering how long that was going to last.

“They finished together, which is good, and both would have learned a lot from today’s run against real stiff company. The horses behind him were really good horse, Grade One winners.

“When they jumped the second I said ‘is there anything going well’ and you could see all the jockeys were sort of nudging. I said ‘Paul is still going well, all you’ve got to do now is jump the last’ and that’s what happened.

“My heart was in my mouth jumping those fences down the back, whereas at Christmas I was waiting for another fence to come up because he was really pinging fences. Paul didn’t want to let him do that today, he tried to teach him something.

Hopefully we are sound and well the week before Cheltenham

“We’ll just try to keep him right now and then decide where we are going to go. A lot of things can happen between now and Cheltenham.

“Hopefully we are sound and well the week before Cheltenham and we’ll know then what’s happening.”

Townend added: “He knew he had a race there today, but he still hit the line well. It was a pressure ride and I’m glad it worked out.

“He possibly would appreciate further, but when he can put in performances like that over today’s trip, it definitely opens more doors for him.

“What he did that day (at Christmas) was very special to see, but he had to back it up in my book and he didn’t do himself any harm there, I think.”

Honeysuckle bidding to add further lustre to glittering CV

Honeysuckle’s status as a hurdling great is already secure and all eyes will be on the brilliant mare in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Victory in the highlight of the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival will take her to just one behind the tally achieved by the legendary Istabraq, while Hurricane Fly sets the standard with five.

Her career has been managed expertly by Henry de Bromhead, who just like last season has given her a break since her winning reappearance in the Hatton’s Grace before three more outings, which start in earnest this weekend and will lead her on to Cheltenham and Punchestown.

She has been a big part of the Rachael Blackmore success story, and so far they have carried all before them with an unblemished record from 13 starts.

“We were really happy with her performance first-time out at Fairyhouse – it was a great start to her season,” said Blackmore.

“She has a phenomenal record and every day we go out we just try to keep that going.

“It’s every jockey’s dream to be associated with a horse like Honeysuckle in their career and it’s a real privilege to be part of her team.

“We are in countdown mode and looking forward to the weekend getting going now.”

Peter Molony, racing manager for Kenny Alexander, Honeysuckle’s owner, said: “Henry is very happy with her. I called in to see her myself last week and she is as grumpy as ever which she always is when she is fit and well, so fingers crossed now for a good run.

Honeysuckle was a 10-length winner of the race last season
Honeysuckle was a 10-length winner of the race last season (Niall Carson/PA)

“It’s great that racegoers can now get an opportunity to see her race.

“We are very aware of her fan club – she was with us on her holidays last summer and we were inundated with people who wanted to come and see her so that was a big enough indication. The reception she got at Fairyhouse was incredible.

“It’s exciting and nerve-racking but we are really looking forward to seeing her defend her Irish Champion Hurdle crown in front of a packed crowd at the Dublin Racing Festival.”

Another mare in the line up is Paul Hennessy’s Heaven Help Us, another Cheltenham Festival winner albeit in the Coral Cup. On official ratings she has 25lb to find with the favourite.

Willie Mullins runs two. Saint Roi, winner of the 2020 County Hurdle, and Echoes In Rain, a third mare in the race and a Grade One winner in her own right.

Zanahiyr may give Honeysuckle most to do
Zanahiyr may give Honeysuckle most to do (PA)

Gordon Elliott admits it will be tough to beat Honeysuckle with his runner Zanahiyr, a leading juvenile last season, but the five-year-old is building up a good record with each run this campaign.

Elliott said: “He’s a horse that is improving the whole time and he’s getting stronger every day.

“Obviously Honeysuckle will be very hard to beat, she looks a penalty kick really, but our horse is on good form, he ran well at Leoparsdtown the last day behind Sharjah, only beaten a neck.

“If he improves anything at all, he’s in the mix.”

Leopardstown officials relishing showpiece weekend

Leopardstown are relishing the prospect of a full racecourse as they prepare for two days of top-class action during the Dublin Racing Festival.

The showpiece meeting was forced behind closed doors in 2021 and at one stage a limit to the number of spectators allowed this season seemed likely, but the Irish government has since eased restrictions and a full crowd is expected across the weekend.

The card, which includes eight Grade One races and offers over €2million in prize-money, is filled with some of the biggest names in the sport as the reigning Gold Cup, Grand National and Champion Hurdle winners are all entered.

It will be a first experience of the meeting for the track’s racing and operations manager Jane Hedley, who left a long-term role as a clerk of the course at the Jockey Club to take up the post in October.

“We were really happy at the entries stage and most of the key players are running so we’re very pleased,” she said.

“We’re so looking forward to it, it will be great just have everybody here at last.”

Chacun Pour Soi is one of the big names on show this weekend
Chacun Pour Soi is one of the big names on show this weekend (PA)

The going at Leopardstown is currently yielding on both tracks, with rain due to begin falling on Saturday afternoon and continue through to the Sunday.

“Unfortunately it does look like it might be a bit cloudier than we’d imagined and we might get a bit of rain tomorrow afternoon, but hopefully everyone manages to have a good time,” Hedley said.

“It’s yielding on both courses, we’ve had seven millimetres of rain overnight and we are expecting more rain tomorrow (Saturday) and overnight into Sunday.”

Like all venues Leopardstown has seen the presence of spectators severely limited by Covid measures throughout the past two years, but the track suffered a further interruption when the Christmas meeting was held without general admission ticketholders in late December.

The measure was not imposed by the government but rather a result of a high number of Covid cases amongst raceday staff, leaving the racecourse even more eager to welcome back a crowd.

“We’re expecting in the region of 25,000 people across the two days,” said Hedley.

“It’s been a long time coming but I think people are dying to get back here, we’ve got a new layout as well which I believe crowds have not experienced yet so let’s hope they all enjoy it.”

Townend: Frodon is a help, not hindrance to Kemboy chance

Paul Townend feels the presence of Frodon in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup could be a help to Kemboy rather than a hindrance.

Both horses like to be ridden prominently and Townend is of the belief that a bit of company on the front end will prevent Kemboy from idling.

Winner of the race 12 months ago, Kemboy’s record at Leopardstown is exceptional, but Townend has never actually won on him there.

“His course form is very good and he ran a cracker there at Christmas as well,” said Townend.

“He’s knocking on the door in this and while I haven’t been on his back for any of his wins there, I hope I can make up for that this time around.

“He just seems to come alive there and loves it there. I think at this stage of his career, a horse like Frodon being in there will actually be a help rather than a hindrance.

“He was looking for a bit of company, I felt, at Christmas, so it will probably help him a bit more this time.

“I’d imagine we won’t be giving anything away at the start, it depends how fast they want to go with the other horse. He is growing up in his old age and hopefully we can get him in a nice rhythm.”

His Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Vauban is among the favourites for the Racing TV ’12 Euros Per Month This Weekend Only’ Spring Juvenile Hurdle despite being beaten on his only outing to date, however, that was against easy Cheltenham winner Pied Piper.

“We like him a lot. We were disappointed when he got beaten but delighted to see what Pied Piper has done since,” Townend told Nick Luck’s Daily Podcast.

“I suppose we lack experience, so it’s going to be difficult for him as Fil Dor has the experience, but we like ours a lot and think he has come on plenty for his run at Punchestown. He’ll probably come on again for the experience this weekend.

“It was a proper race last time, he’s schooled well since and his jumping has sharpened up, which we hoped it would. Gordon’s (Elliott) is the form horse but our horse is full of potential.”

With Ferny Hollow sidelined, Townend’s big hope in the Irish Arkle is now Blue Lord, but he is wary of Elliott’s Riviere D’etel, who pushed Ferny Hollow all the way at Christmas.

Blue Lord has been impressive over fences to date
Blue Lord has been impressive over fences to date (Donall Farmer/PA)

“It’s going to be a competitive race. While the mare had a very hard race the last day, I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves for it,” said Townend.

“She has all the experience and we have to give her plenty of weight. I think she’s the forgotten one in this division.

“He’ll know he’ll have had a race Saturday evening for sure but he’s had plenty of racing over hurdles, keeping good company.

“They took out fences the last day which wasn’t ideal, but we’ll see where he fits in after this. Our other two have looked very good as well, Saint Sam and Haut En Couleurs.”

One Mullins horse on a recovery mission this weekend is Chacun Pour Soi in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Beaten at Cheltenham and Sandown on his two trips to England, the fact he has a home game this weekend is in his favour against Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen.

“I love riding him. He disappointed me in Cheltenham and he disappointed in the Tingle Creek, but the feeling he gives on tracks like Leopardstown and Punchestown is as good a feeling as you can get,” said Townend.

“Once he gets out there, I look forward to it as he’s a real thrill to ride.

“Travelling is the obvious thing to point at because he’s disappointed twice, but he doesn’t have to travel this weekend.”

Galopin Des Champs is another Townend mount set to go off at prohibitive odds in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase after a sparkling chasing debut.

“He was very good and you couldn’t knock anything he did, but this will be a much stiffer task. Not taking anything away from him, but he’ll have to go and do it again,” said Townend.

“He doesn’t lack speed and the way he jumps, he’s definitely not a plodder. We’ll know more after the weekend where we are going with him.”

Fahey duo take weekend Festival tests

Peter Fahey hopes Saturday will crystallise his Cheltenham Festival plans for at least two of his horses.

The Big Doyen, owned by the Money For Jam Syndicate, has produced two impressive victories at Roscommon and Punchestown, winning the latter event by 15 lengths, and is as low as 10-1 for the Champion Bumper.

Fahey was planning to head straight to Cheltenham next month, but is set to run him in the ultra-competitive Grade Two Goffs Future Stars (C&G) INH Flat Race at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

The five-year-old is poised to face six rivals, each of whom won last time out, including the Willie Mullins-trained Facile Vega, who is current favourite for the Champion Bumper at 2-1 with Sky Bet.

Fahey said: “The Big Doyen is in good nick and he will go to the Dublin Racing Festival.

“I have been very pleased with him. His last bits of work have been very good and he has strengthened up.

“He has had a decent break and this will tell us where we are with him before we look at the Cheltenham Festival.”

The Irishman is also hopeful that Born Patriot can punch his ticket when he heads to Sandown for the valuable Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle.

Born Patriot has not run since chasing home Kansas City Chief over three miles at Cheltenham in October.

Fahey hopes the Grade Three contest over an extended two miles and seven furlongs will demonstrate the six-year-old’s Festival claims.

He added: “Born Patriot is in good form. He had a nice run in the Pertemps Qualifier at Cheltenham on his second run back this season in October.

“We have given him a little break and he goes to Sandown.

“It is a competitive race, but he has a nice weight with Easysland running, so it keeps his weight well below 11st (10st 11lb).

“He is a very lightly-raced horse and I think he will run a nice race over there.

“He is borderline for getting into the Pertemps Hurdle and if he happened to run well and get a couple of pounds, he will go for the Pertemps at Cheltenham.”

Honeysuckle headlines all-star cast for Dublin Racing Festival

Honeysuckle will face a maximum of five rivals in her bid for a third victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant mare will be a hot favourite to complete the hat-trick on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival and extend her overall unbeaten record to 14 in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

“Honeysuckle is just a special mare – she is above and beyond anything else, she has a massive will to win and she has dug deep a few times when she has really had to,” said Blackmore.

“She is very versatile in a lot of different areas and to be able to adapt as she does to different situations, different races and different tactics makes her a dream to ride. Henry and everyone in the yard do a fantastic job with her.

“The Dublin Racing Festival is a fantastic weekend of racing and it’s brilliant that Honeysuckle is going for another Irish Champion Hurdle. Hopefully we can put up a good show again.

“It’s great to have the crowds back – they bring such a special atmosphere. Honeysuckle got an unbelievable reception at the Dublin Racing Festival in 2020 and I really hope we will be walking back into the winners’ enclosure on Sunday.”

Honeysuckle’s biggest threat could be the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It, who has not been seen since his 24-length success in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old was due to pursue a career over fences this term, but an injury suffered before Christmas prompted a change of plan.

Mullins has also confirmed Saint Roi and Echoes In Rain, who finished third and fourth respectively behind stablemate Sharjah, who has been taken out of this weekend’s contest, in Leopardstown’s Matheson Hurdle in December.

Gordon Elliott’s Matheson Hurdle runner-up Zanahiyr and and Paul Hennessy’s stable star Heaven Help Us complete the potential field.

The Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs will be expected to play a starring role in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase following his scintillating chasing debut at the track over the festive period.

He could face Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge and Elliott’s Fury Road, among others.

Chacun Pour Soi is on a retrieval mission
Chacun Pour Soi is on a retrieval mission (Niall Carson/PA)

Chacun Pour Soi will bid to bounce back from Tingle Creek disappointment by bagging a third win in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Among his seven possible opponents are two British raiders in the Paul Nicholls-trained Greaneteen and Sky Pirate from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard.

Likely contenders for the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle include Sir Gerhard, one of five Mullins-trained entries, and Elliott’s Mighty Potter.

Defending champion Kemboy is one of nine contenders for Saturday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old saves his best efforts for the Foxrock venue, finishing second and first in the last two runnings of this race as well as winning and being placed twice in the Savills Chase.

He was last seen finishing a close-up third in the latter event behind Galvin and A Plus Tard, neither of whom will be in opposition this weekend.

Kemboy is one of four potential runners for Mullins, who has saddled a record 10 previous winners of the Irish Gold Cup.

He could be joined by Asterion Forlonge, who fell at the final fence when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Tornado Flyer in the King George, as well as Cilaos Emery and Janidil.

Minella Indo (right) on his way to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Minella Indo (right) on his way to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Minella Indo chased home Kemboy 12 months ago before going on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for De Bromhead. He will return to Leopardstown with a point to prove after pulling up in the King George.

British hopes will be carried by the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon, with Gordon Elliott’s trio of Delta Work – winner of this race two years ago – Conflated and Mount Ida the other hopefuls.

Ten horses have stood their ground for the opening Grade One of the weekend – the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors “50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff” Novice Hurdle.

The two that dispute favouritism are Elliott’s Hollow Games and De Bromhead’s unbeaten Journey With Me, while Bronn could put his unbeaten record on the line for the Mullins team.

Elliott’s Fil Dor, another unbeaten prospect, sets the standard in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

The Mullins-trained Vauban – narrowly beaten by Fil Dor’s stablemate and subsequent Cheltenham winner Pied Piper on his Irish debut – is rated his biggest threat by bookmakers.

Despite the enforced absence of ante-post favourite Ferny Hollow, Mullins still appears to hold the ace hand in the Irish Arkle, with Blue Lord, Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam among seven possibles.

Riviere D’etel (Elliott), second to Ferny Hollow at Christmas, heads the opposition.

It might not be a Grade One, but the concluding Goffs Future Stars (C&G) INH Flat Race promises to be a hugely informative affair.

Mullins has whittled down his team to two, with Facile Vega – a son of the great racemare Quevega – the likely favourite following a runaway success on his course and distance debut.

The champion trainer has also left in another course winner in Embassy Gardens, with Peter Fahey’s The Big Doyen and and Sandor Clegane from Paul Nolan’s yard also in contention.

Nicholls planning dual assault on Dublin Racing Festival

Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost will team up with Frodon and Greaneteen at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend.

Nicholls, who has decided not to run dual King George and Punchestown Gold Cup winner Clan Des Obeaux in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, believes the guaranteed better ground at Leopardstown will be suitable for both of his Grade One winners.

Frodon could take on previous winner Kemboy, while Greaneteen is set for a mouthwatering clash with Chacun Pour Soi.

“Clan is not going, he is going to wait for the Denman Chase. Frodon is going to go and Greaneteen will run in the two-mile chase, so two of them are going out there,” Nicholls told Betfair.

Frodon is heading to Ireland this weekend
Frodon is heading to Ireland this weekend (Steven Paston/PA)

While Frodon has made the running in plenty of races in past, Nicholls does not think he needs to make all, especially after a battle for the early lead with Minella Indo in the King George at Kempton took its toll.

“Everyone knows the way he runs, but he doesn’t have to. He won’t be getting in a fight like he has been of late – it was ridiculous what happened last time,” said Nicholls.

“Bryony can ride him how she feels. It’s a big, galloping track which is more suitable for him and it will be better ground. We’ll see what happens on the day.

“If you’re making it you’ve got to go a sensible pace, not too quick like the two of them did at Kempton over the first half-mile.”

Greaneteen looked very good in the Tingle Creek, in which Chacun Pour Soi disappointed, but proved no match for Shishkin at Kempton over Christmas.

Greaneteen was impressive in the Tingle Creek
Greaneteen was impressive in the Tingle Creek (Steven Paston/PA)

“He was good in the Tingle Creek and then we probably ran him back too quick at Kempton, but we didn’t think Shishkin was going to turn up and then he did but we decided to have a go,” said the champion trainer.

“He ran OK, the ground went a bit soft and he will like the better ground and he’ll like the track.

“We’ve two nice chances and it’s nice to have runners at the Dublin Racing Festival. Bryony will ride both and it’s exciting.”

Iceo is unlikely to contest the Triumph Hurdle
Iceo is unlikely to contest the Triumph Hurdle (Steven Paston/PA)

Nicholls also had news on smart juvenile Iceo, who was well beaten at Cheltenham on Saturday behind Pied Piper.

“I’d say he’s a proper National Hunt horse, not a Flat horse, and I don’t think we’ll even bother entering him for the Triumph,” he said.

“He obviously wants soft ground and he’s got to learn to settle in those better races, he was a bit keen. He’ll be going for races like the Victor Ludorum at Haydock where he’ll get some soft ground.

“He’s a chaser of the future, so we’ll bear that in mind – we found that out on Saturday and the Triumph won’t be his race.”

Dublin date for Colonel Mustard before Festival decision

Colonel Mustard will step back into Grade One company for his next outing before being aimed at either the Supreme or Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Lorna Fowler’s seven-year-old heads to Leopardstown for the two-mile Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle on Sunday week after chasing home the highly-regarded Jonbon in the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot last month.

Though the Nicky Henderson-trained Jonbon barely came off the bridle in handing out a two-and-three-quarter-length beating, County Meath-based Fowler is hopeful last season’s Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle runner-up can continue to progress after learning more about the Makfi gelding.

“He is in very good form, I am happy to say, and at the moment we are still on course for Leopardstown next weekend. Providing the ground is OK, that is the plan,” said Fowler.

“He came back from Ascot with no bother – he seemed very pleased with himself, which was great – and we are just stirring him up for the next occasion.

“Obviously, everyone is getting very excited about all these novices’ going to Cheltenham, but right now we are just focussing on Leopardstown.

“He has entries in the Ballymore and the Supreme, but we will focus on the goal right now, which is Leopardstown.”

Jonbon followed up with a hard-earned success in deep ground in the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday and while pushed out to 4-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Fowler felt that the Ascot form had been franked.

“It is amazing how you are put up there to be slammed,” she added.

“Everyone was quite mute about Jonbon’s performance in terms of no-one was particularly impressed at Haydock and he got pushed out in the market, but I think it was very testing ground and he has done very well.

“He wasn’t impressive, he was workmanlike, but Nicky did say he quickened away twice, and you can’t argue with that. We were beaten by a good horse at Ascot, but equally, we think Colonel Mustard is a good horse and hopefully he will continue to prove it.”

Leopardstown announces Dublin Racing Festival showpiece switch

Leopardstown has announced changes to the programme for the Dublin Racing Festival, with the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup and the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle switching days.

The Gold Cup will now be run on the Saturday of the meeting, with the Irish Champion Hurdle moving to the Sunday as officials seek to offer the best ground possible for the headline events.

The Ladbrokes Dublin Chase over two miles and a furlong will also move to the Sunday card, with the fixture being held on February 5 and 6 in 2022.

Leopardstown CEO Tim Husbands said: “The race programme for Dublin Racing Festival has shown itself to be framed particularly well within the National Hunt calendar and we have been delighted with the strength in depth across the eight Grade One races and the seven other black type races since its inception.

“As always, Leopardstown will seek to deliver the very best track conditions for the weekend and hence the switch of the two feature races.”

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of the best jump racing in Ireland and perfectly placed five weeks before Cheltenham to offer definitive clues about the likely destination of many of its major prizes, did its job this weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

It also made the more than considerable likelihood that Willie Mullins will see off Gordon Elliott as champion trainer once again in their homeland into a formality. Fifteen races, mostly Graded and bolstered by some very valuable and fiercely contested handicaps, were framed. Mullins won nine of them, four of seven on Saturday and five from eight yesterday.

Elliott won one, in his juvenile hurdle niche where he still has the stranglehold on Triumph Hurdle calculations after Mullins decided that he needed to give French Aseel a little more time to settle into the stable routine. Ruby Walsh, the most brilliant race reader (Flat and jumps to be fair) I’ve yet to encounter on television let us in on that secret when discussing the Elliott winner Quilixios, who has supplanted French Aseel as second favourite at 6-1 behind his unbeaten stable-companion Zanahiyr, a 5-2 chance.

But elsewhere at least three Mullins Cheltenham candidates cemented their claims on major prizes next month. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, maintained his unblemished record over fences in the 2m 5.5f novice and is now an 11/10 shot for the Festival (RSA as was) Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. If you think he’ll go instead in the shorter Marsh Chase you can have 7/1. Don’t take it because he won’t!

Saturday’s bumper winner, Kilcruit, bred by Willie Mullins’ mother, is now the 6-4 favourite for the Festival Bumper after a 12-length romp under the breeder’s grandson Patrick in Saturday’s Grade 2 event. The only problem with taking that 6-4 is that there are sure to be other Mullins runners in the race; but they will need to be good to beat this one.

Incidentally, when he made his debut at Clonmel last season, Kilcruit was actually beaten, and at the time was trained by Willie’s brother and the rider’s uncle Tony, who had such a spectacular summer with the staying German-bred mare Princess Zoe, winner of the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp last autumn.

Kilcruit turned up in Willie’s string for his seasonal debut at Navan in December where he won by almost ten lengths and, up in grade, had even more real estate and a good deal of extra goodwill to spare over Saturday’s rivals.

A third certain Festival favourite will be yesterday’s easy novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It, now only 7/4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. All three of these will have been heavily linked in multiple bets but the bookmakers are far less likely to be wrong-footed by these as they clearly were over the weekend by a very well-planned and almost as well-executed three-horse bet that could easily have repercussions for the far-sighted originators, or unscrupulous conspirators, according to where you stand.

Late on Saturday night, bookmakers, among whom Bet Victor have come forward to declare their hand, were assailed online by punters all wanting to back three horses, I would imagine in singles and linked multiples.

In Saturday night’s early betting they were all outsiders with only one – the middle leg, Blowing Dixie, at Southwell – having any realistic credentials according to yesterday’s Racing Post analyses.

Anyway, the three horses were firstly Fire Away, a 20/1 chance in the newspaper’s betting but double that the night before. In his last runs in Ireland he had been 7th of 15, beaten 38 lengths at 20/1; 14th of 25, beaten 25 lengths at 66/1; 8th of 11, beaten 26 lengths at 16/1; 6th of 8, beaten 39 lengths at 8/1; and PU of 16 at 8/1.

Those runs in Ireland took place between November 19th 2019 and March 2nd 2020. Transferred to Daragh Bourke’s Scottish stable he had three runs in late summer. They were 10th of 15, beaten 51 lengths at 50/1; 7th of 10, beaten 61 lengths at 20/1; and, last time out on September 16th, he started 50/1 and pulled up in a field of 11. Over the period his rating had fallen from an initial mark of 116 to 98.

Yesterday he was making his debut for a new stable, having joined Laura Morgan’s team near Melton Mowbray from Bourke only 11 days before the race. “He had two horses for sale and I originally had a different one in mind but chose him. I’m delighted I did,” she told Racing TV, understandably as he won the race unchallenged by 18 lengths at even money!

Leg two, Blowing Dixie, had won four races at Southwell, all of them over a mile and a half when trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam but, even so, for an 80-rated four-year-old Fibresand specialist to realise as much as £50k at last year’s July Sales at Newmarket might seem rather surprising.

Fetch it he did and, switched to the ultra-shrewd Iain Jardine, Blowing Dixie began a busy autumn schedule running six times between early September and late November. His card reads 7th of 7, beaten 25 lengths at 80/1; 8th of 9, beaten 22 lengths at 66/1; 7th of 8, beaten 28 lengths at 10/1; 10th of 13, beaten 21 lengths at 66/1; 5th of 6, beaten 16 lengths at 66/1; and finally 8th of 9, beaten 25 lengths at 17/2.

Starting for Jardine on a mark of 80, by yesterday he was down 15lb to 65. A 12/1 shot in the Racing Post, he started 4/6 and won by an easy two and a half lengths. His most obvious market rival, Drew Breeze, winner of two of his previous three races, started slowly and was never nearer than fifth of the eight runners, beaten 16 lengths at 13/8.

Daragh Bourke also figured in the third member of the overnight triumvirate. A former £260,000 buy from Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in 2017 after winning an Irish point and Galway bumper, Gallahers Cross didn’t win for Nicky Henderson and was sold on for £40k.

Between June 2019 and January last year he ran five times for Bourke beginning with an 8th of 9, beaten 48 lengths at 7/1, when the gloss of the decent placed Henderson form had not properly worn off. Next came an 8th of 10, beaten 62 lengths at 20/1; 11th of 12, beaten 54 lengths at 28/1; 7th of 7, beaten 39 lengths at 16/1; and, finally, last month, 7th of 8, beaten 50 lengths at 9/1. This time the official reaction to the string of poor performances was a reduction from 115 to 90.

So it is possible, even on the scantiest of scrutiny, to discern a pattern. Each of the three horses had a series of very poor runs from their respective (two, close together) bases in Scotland in the latter half of last year, and all three dropped just over a stone in the ratings and suddenly found form enough on the home gallops to persuade certain people to want to back them, and all on the same day.

The only thing that went wrong – possibly denying winning trebles into the thousands of odds against – was that Gallahers Cross, a 4-5 shot at the off, could finish only fourth of the seven runners, behind an all-the-way Paul Nicholls top-weight winner, Get The Appeal. Like Gallahers Cross, Get The Appeal is a son of Getaway.

As someone who set up a multiple bet many years ago which foundered at the final leg of four (when a future – two runs later! – Group 1 winner ridden by a multiple champion jockey finished unplaced), I can sympathise with those who thought their big pay day had come. On the other hand, any one of them whom I happen to know who didn’t bother to let me in on it – serves you right! But then, as with our try all those years ago that involved physically covering 300 betting shops, rather than pushing a few buttons on computers, two out of three isn’t bad.

Finally, it just remains to question how can any horse beat Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle after Saturday’s romp in the Irish Champion, a victory far more emphatic than last year’s? Tough, with plenty of stamina and unbeaten in one point-to-point and ten runs under Rules, surely the Henry De Bromhead mare can give Rachael Blackmore the distinction of being the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. Sorry Epatante, unless Nico can contrive to make this a speed rather than a stamina test, her crown definitely looks to rest precariously on her head.

As Liverpool FC are finding, it’s one thing to win a championship, quite another successfully to defend it.

Kemboy gallops to Irish Gold Cup glory

Kemboy made every yard of the running to win the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Agonisingly caught close home by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, this time he was allowed to dominate throughout.

Ridden by Danny Mullins, with Paul Townend preferring the claims of the unplaced Melon, Kemboy only briefly looked in danger on the run to the second last.

Rachael Blackmore moved the favourite Minella Indo to within a length of Kemboy but hit the fence hard, handing back the initiative to Kemboy and he never looked likely to relinquish it.

Willie Mullins, who has mopped up the Grade One contests over the weekend, had feared the ground would be too soft for the nine-year-old, but he did not look inconvenienced in the slightest.

Kemboy jumped the last in fine style and kept up the gallop to win by two lengths from The Storyteller, with Delta Work third.

Paddy Power cut the winner to 10-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: “That’s fantastic for Danny and his owners.

“He’s really surprised me on that ground. The chase track is a lot better than the hurdle track and they went up the middle, which is better again.

“I thought all the rain we had might have affected that fella, but he seems to be getting stronger with age.

“I had Paul (Townend) down on this guy and Patrick (Mullins) down to ride the other guy (Melon), but Paul said he’d like to ride Melon.

“Different tactics didn’t work on Melon, I’d say he just likes to enjoy himself and get on with it. Melon keeps his best for Cheltenham, but hasn’t managed to get to the lollipop in front yet (four times second at the Festival).

“We’ll have a think with (owner) Mr Donnelly about Melon, maybe something like the Ryanair might suit, and let him enjoy himself from the beginning – that might suit him better.

“Danny got some great leaps out of the winner, I only spotted one mistake on the first circuit. Rachael came after him down the back, but his jumping got him out of it.

“I’m very pleased to win another Paddy Power Gold Cup.”

Mullins admitted a switch back to smaller obstacles at Cheltenham remains a possibility, despite his victory.

He added: “He’s entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as the Gold Cup, as I’m just not sure if fences are his thing around Cheltenham. We were all wondering if we should try something different as Cheltenham hasn’t been his luckiest spot.”

Danny Mullins said: “Myself and David (Mullins, recently retired jockey) were chatting after the race at Christmas and he said he’s not fast, but is a great galloper and this is a ride he would probably have had, so it’s thanks to him that I am on board today.

“It’s great to be winning these high-level races at the big meetings, it’s what it’s all about and riding a good horse like this is fantastic.”

Hennessy and Condon in Leopardstown Heaven

Heaven Help Us provided trainer Paul Hennessy and young jockey Richard Condon with the biggest success of their careers in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.

The seven-year-old found herself back over timber after a relatively unsuccessful spell over fences and she looked much more at home.

Condon took a lead into the straight off Razzle Dazzle Love, before kicking off the bend and seemingly putting the race to bed.

However, the 16-1 chance slowed into the final flight and lost some momentum, giving JJ Slevin a squeak on Global Equity, but Heaven Help Us held on by a neck.

“It’s a great thrill to win Paddy’s race. We were neighbours and when I was a young lad he would often bring me to the races and make sure I got home as well,” said Hennessy, who is also a successful greyhound trainer.

“I’m ecstatic. You look at the strength of that race. I just thought she wasn’t mad about the fences, but she was second in a Grade One (over hurdles last season).

“I thought we’d switch back to hurdles and it worked out.

“Danny (Mullins) wasn’t available because Willie wanted him, but Richie came in and rode her out for me. I told him he could ride her and he took 7lb off.

“It’s great for us and for her. She won at Cheltenham for us and was second in a Grade One – she’s magic.

“She might go for a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown to try to get her into Cheltenham. I’d love to have a runner at the Festival.”

Not content with mopping up most of the Grade Ones over the weekend, Willie Mullins also scooped the valuable William Fry Handicap Hurdle with unconsidered 40-1 shot Maze Runner.

He was ridden by Conor McNamara, brother of Derby winner, Emmet.

He said: “It’s lovely to get it. I rode him the last day in Navan when he was a bit gassy and a bit keen.

“I got a lovely position, he relaxed but I was conscious to get there as late as I could. He was good and tough.”

Mullins added: “I’ll look forward to all the Festivals with him for the rest of the season and he can go back and race on the Flat as well. He can mix it between the two and he might win a chase at some stage.

“There could be a big handicap in him on the Flat.”

Mullins ended the meting as he started it with another winner in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, but it was with the relatively unconsidered Grangee (18-1) who prevailed.

Mullins said: Jody (Townend, jockey) springs a surprise. She did exactly as I asked her to, which was to keep her powder dry until the end.

“I was surprised she was beaten at Market Rasen but the winner (Eileendover) looks very good.

“We’ll have a chat about Cheltenham, the ground might be too good by Aintree.”

The Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go (10-1) won at the meeting for a third time in the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase after two wins over hurdles previously.

Byrnes is currently allowed runners as he has appealed against a six-month ban handed out following the Viking Hoard case.

“That’s his third win here and Mark was brilliant on him. We thought he would run well at Limerick over Christmas, but he just can’t jump out of the heavy ground,” said Byrnes.

Of the Viking Hoard case, he added: “I can’t say much with the appeal on Tuesday evening. It’s very upsetting for my family and racing in general and we have to let the case run its course.”