There are eight Grade One races at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown this weekend and our Ben Linfoot tries to answer key questions surrounding each and every one.
1. Could Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown be tempted by the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham for Apple’s Jade after this weekend’s run in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle?
It’s unlikely, isn’t it? Both trainer and owner have repeatedly stressed that they believe you run in the race that you have the best chance of winning. That is undoubtedly the Mares’ Hurdle for Apple’s Jade. The fact that she’s turned up in the last two Mares’ Hurdles, winning one and finishing third in the other, shows that their actions are matching their words. But, there is the merest glimmer of light for the Apple’s Jade Should Run In The Champion Hurdle brigade. Firstly, Buveur D’Air doesn’t look as bombproof as he did for the Champion Hurdle following his Kempton defeat. Secondly, this is Apple's Jade's first run over two miles since her second run for the Elliott yard, back in the 2016 Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. New evidence could well alter opinions. And thirdly, the fact Samcro was going to be pointed at the Champion Hurdle this season suggests both Elliott and Gigginstown harbour more ambitions of winning the race than they had previously led us to believe. With that horse’s participation at the Festival in major doubt, perhaps a new direction for Apple’s Jade, who looks in the form of her life this season, will be up for discussion. A hugely impressive win on Saturday would certainly make things interesting.
2. How much of a danger is Salsaretta to Battleoverdoyen in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors €50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle?
Elliott again here with his Battleoverdoyen a hot favourite for the opening Grade One of the meeting, and he’s the closest challenger to Champ in the Ballymore betting for the Cheltenham Festival as well. An unbeaten profile culminating in Grade One glory at Naas last time in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle is the reason for that, his near three-length win over Sams Profile one of the best pieces of form on offer. Derrinross’s Grade 2 Limerick win is arguably just as good, though, and Salsaretta could be a really intriguing rival to the favourite considering her 7lb sex allowance and the form of her own win at Limerick on Boxing Day. The way she cleared away from subsequent Sky Bet Moscow Flyer winner Felix Desjy over 2m4f suggests she’ll relish the extra two furlongs on Saturday and that wasn’t the only form boost from the race, as Jessie Harrington’s subsequent Huntingdon winner Not Many Left was back in fourth, beaten 15 lengths. Willie Mullins won this race six years in a row between 2012 and 2017, twice for Salsaretta’s owner Rich Ricci, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if the pair regained the winning thread this weekend.
3. What do Min and Footpad have to do in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase to cause a ripple against the mighty Altior in the Champion Chase ante-post market?
Well, this time last year Min won the inaugural running by 12 lengths as he liked and was cut to 3/1 from 4/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Back then there wasn’t quite as much evidence that Altior had his measure, but a seven-length distance between the two at the Festival, the identical margin that Nicky Henderson’s horse had over him in the 2016 Sky Bet Supreme, was further proof that Min just isn’t quite as good. Could he narrow that gap or even overtake him this time around? The hope for Min fans is that he has a year on Altior and he looked as good as ever on his seasonal return in the John Durkan at Punchestown, when jumping brilliantly on his way to a one-and-a-half length win over Shattered Love. Another convincing win in this, with stablemate Footpad in arrears (if both of them run, of course), would establish himself as Mullins’ number one Champion Chase hope, so inevitably he’ll be cut a couple of points into clear second-favouritism, even if his chances of beating Altior remain unlikely. As for Footpad, he was better at Christmas when jumping well, but being reeled in by Simply Ned looks form a world away from troubling Altior. His performance here will likely determine his Festival target, with stepping up in trip for the Ryanair an ever-increasing possibility if he fails to win over two miles for the third time this season.
4. Have Le Richebourg and Knocknannus got the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase between them?
I don’t think it would be wise to assume they have. The evidence at our disposal is limited for these lightly-raced novice chasers, for starters, and although the pair have the best chasing form of the field at this stage we are only talking about half a season over fences. So looking back through hurdling form for further clues becomes important and with that in mind Paloma Blue looks a horse to have on your mind for Saturday. A good horse at the top level over timber last season, he caught the eye at this very meeting when finishing third behind Samcro in the-then Deloitte (now Chanelle Pharma, more on that race below). Henry De Bromhead’s horse was keen that day but travelled into things nicely, crucially showing plenty of speed which could be a potent weapon this weekend. He followed that up with a good fourth in the Sky Bet Supreme, but was quickly switched to fences after just one season over hurdles and we know how good De Bromhead is when he gets his hands on this type of horse. His chasing debut was a disappointment, no doubt, but he came on for his first few runs last season and De Bromhead’s horses as a whole weren’t in great form in November, while he bounced back quickly with a win at Leopardstown at Christmas. Of course, he’ll have to jump miles better than he did that day, as he wasn’t great at all despite winning, but his natural talent was there for all to see and dodgy jumpers is not something you associate with De Bromhead.
5. There are some closely-matched chasers in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup, which of the main protagonists is open to the most improvement this season?
Al Boum Photo, for me. Five horses are covered by just 4lb at the top of the official ratings scale in this race, so finding the one that could improve a bit more should be absolutely key and Al Boum Photo strikes me as that horse. He’s had one or two jumping issues in the past, but he looks to be honing his craft in that regard judging by his win over 2m5f at Tramore last time in the Savills Chase (Listed), as there was only one little mistake six out that day and the form is working out really well. Invitation Only and Alpha Des Obeaux were beaten 22 and 25 lengths respectively, and that pair have finished first and second in the Thyestes Chase subsequently, so there’s real substance to the form. On top of that it was Al Boum Photo’s first run of the season, so he’s open to improvement in that regard while the return to three miles looks a positive, too. He didn’t jump fluently when a close second in the Flogas at this meeting last year, but a better round of jumping could well see him improve sufficiently to get the job done on his return to the top level. Road To Respect will probably be sent off favourite and he’s a danger granted better luck than when he stumbled here behind Kemboy in the Savills Chase (Grade One) at Christmas, the winner himself a big player following that career-best victory.
6. Has the market got the discrepancy between Sir Erec and Tiger Tap Tap’s prices correct following their ding-dong battle last time?
Just a neck separated the pair at Leopardstown at Christmas. Both were making their hurdling debuts. Both represent top connections. Sir Erec had marginally the better jump at the last to give himself the advantage, Tiger Tap Tap made slight inroads on the run-in to make the ground up. On that showing, there’s very little between the duo, so it is slightly surprising to see Sir Erec chalked up at 7/4 with Tiger Tap Tap 11/4. On that run alone you’d have them joint-favourites on Sunday, but Sir Erec’s back form on the Flat probably edges things in his favour and then you have to take into account the strength of Joseph O’Brien’s juveniles. If this fellow really is better than stablemate Fakir D’oudairies, who demolished his opposition at Cheltenham last Saturday, then odds of 7/4 look perfectly fair. But we should really only trust the evidence we’ve seen with our own eyes. And, on that Leopardstown run alone, I’d rather back Tiger Tap Tap at 11/4 than Sir Erec at much shorter odds.
7. How will the Sportinglife.com Maiden Hurdle form stand up in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle?
The roll of honour for what was formerly the Deloitte, now the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, is an impressive list. In the last 10 years alone Dunguib, Benefficient, Champagne Fever, Vautour, Nichols Canyon and Samcro have won the contest and the reduction in trip from 2m2f to two miles when the DRF was formed looks unlikely to dilute its impact at the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, last year Samcro stepped up in trip to successfully land the Ballymore, so the race looks likely to continue to provide winners of various Cheltenham Festival novice hurdles at varying trips in the years to come. But this year it does look more likely to effect the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle betting, with Vision D’honneur looking to follow in the hoofprints of Champagne Fever and Vautour who both did the Leopardstown-Supreme double. He ran away from the highly-touted Elixir D’ainay in the Sportinglife.com Maiden Hurdle over two miles at Punchestown last time, winning by four-and-a-half lengths, with the runner-up nine lengths clear of the rest. He could be the one to take the Supreme market by the scruff of the neck and it would be no surprise if he were favourite for the Festival opener by the close of play on Sunday. It requires a creative imagination to believe Elixir D’Ainay can reverse that form, but that was his first run for Willie Mullins and he could come on a bundle for it. I’m slightly surprised to see him available at 16s, although the same stable’s Klassical Dream, who beat Vision D’honneur at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, looks the Closutton number one, according to the betting at least.
8. What’s going to be the key attribute in the Flogas Novice Chase – Delta Work’s stamina or La Bague Au Roi’s speed (and weight concession)?
Historically, stayers have a great record in this race. Cooldine won it before he won the RSA Chase in 2009, Bostons Angel achieved the same feat a year later and since then Outlander took this on his way to multiple Grade One wins over three. So Delta Work’s proven stamina over further looks no bad thing ahead of this 2m5f contest. He won over the three-mile trip in the Pertemps Final and his best performance over fences thus far came last time when he was stepped up to three at Leopardstown for the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase. He’s not devoid of speed by any means, though, his win in the Drinmore evidence of that, as he got the better of the Arkle-bound Le Richebourg that day. His mistake at the last in the Drinmore apart, his jumping has been good and he looks a worthy favourite for this, even with La Bague Au Roi bringing a strong level of form over from England. She gets a 7lb sex allowance from the favourite as well, which will help, but they didn’t go quickly when she won the Kauto Star over three miles at Kempton at Christmas, her speed proving the crucial factor in Sunbury. That zip will help her at Leopardstown, but I fancy Delta Work’s proven stamina could be the vital attribute when it comes to the crunch in the Flogas and he could well be a strong RSA Chase favourite when darkness falls on the DRF late Sunday afternoon.
The Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday and Sunday is still set to go ahead, although after at one time being threatened by snow, frost could now be the issue.
As a result Saturday's running order has been amended with the bumper and hurdles races taking place earlier on the card.
Leopardstown's operations manager David Attwood said: "There is currently rain and sleet clearing this evening, remaining dry for the remainder of the week.
"Temperatures remain cold up to and including the weekend with frost at night.
"The track is currently frost free and has been raceable all week. However, in view of the likelihood of frost on Friday night, we have decided to amend the order of running for Saturday with the hurdles and bumper taking place earlier on the card."
The track is currently frost free and has been raceable all week.