Irish Eyes: Mullins to dominate
Leopardstown provides the action in the Ireland this weekend with two Grade One races and a total prize fund of 551,800 euros.
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Punters should note that horses will race on the outside track on Saturday and the inside track on Sunday, which can have a huge bearing on the way races are run and the subsequent results. Whatever rain falls prior to the start of racing, the ground will be significantly better on the inside track for Sunday's card.
Arvika Ligeonniere faces only two challengers in the highlight, the Grade One Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Steeplechase. He has beaten both of the aforementioned challengers previously so it's unsurprising that he is odds-on to confirm his superiority over Oscar's Wells and Benefficient again.
Whilst he left the field for dead on his last start, courtesy of his huge engine, he did jump markedly to his right and that will be a worry for those taking the 8/13. However, from what we are hearing, he should be shorter than that and still looks the decent value at those odds.
Marito had also been entered for the Arkle, but given he runs for the same connections as Arvika Ligeonniere, Willie Mullins has sensibly declared him for the Grade 2 Novice chase instead, where he renews rivalry with Mount Benbulben.
The pair fought out a terrific finish last time out at Naas, with Marito prevailing by a head over two miles. This longer trip will suit both horses but one can't help but feel that Mount Benbulben's ultimate finishing position last time out was down to a terrific ride from Paul Carberry.
Noel Meade has first call on Carberry however, and he has been claimed to ride the very capable Texas Jack on this occasion, and that won't help Mount Benbulben's chances. Marito on the other hand looks more straightforward and whilst he's not the biggest, his jumping once he settles into his stride has been excellent, so he gets the vote to make it a double for Willie Mullins.
Mullins could well make it a treble in the very tricky €100,000 Boylesports.com Hurdle (formerly better known as the Pierse Hurdle). He runs three but it's a 16/1 shot that makes most appeal, in the form of Abbey Lane.
He is hardly unexposed, having had ten previous starts for Gordon Elliott prior to joining Mullins. However, he ran with a lot of credit on his first start for Mullins, after a break of 21 months, when finishing a short head second over two and half miles. That will have left him spot on for this and in an open race he is worth an interest at 16/1.
The www.leopardstown.com 4yo bumper is a race to look forward to as the last four winners of this race have all subsequently won or been placed in Grade One company. With only three of the 14 runners having previously seen the racecourse however, there is little form to go on.
Dermot Weld provides the likely favourite in the shape of Willow Island and he will know what is required to take this contest, having trained the winner of two of the past three renewals with Waheeb and Hidden Universe.
With all that in mind however, we are putting forward a second each-way selection in this race. Private Treasure is a full brother to an Irish-Derby winner Frozen Fire and had held a 2012 Derby entry when trained by Aidan O'Brien. He now races for the father-and-son partnership of John and Josh Halley and is rumoured to have some talent!