There haven’t been many weekends of jumps racing during recent memory that have had such a big impact on the antepost markets for Cheltenham Festival, the National Hunt season’s marquee event.
The Dublin Racing Festival is still in its infancy as a concept, having been created to try and replicate the success of Irish Champions Weekend on the flat, but, now four years in, delivers a spectacular two days of action.
It may have some way to go before it rivals Cheltenham – the lack of English raiders on show speaks volumes, particularly with the prize money on offer – but what went down at Leopardstown will surely have a huge influence on the main event in March.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
The opening race on Saturday was a 2m6f Grade 1 Novices’ Hurdle that – in what became a theme of the weekend – went the way of Willie Mullins and the smart Gaillard Du Mesnil. Held up further than expected, he travelled very well in testing conditions and won by an eased-down five lengths.
Prior to that race, he was a 6/1 shot for the Ballymore, but is now the market leader for the opening race on day two of the Festival.
The fact this race was a furlong further than the Ballymore wouldn’t be a concern as they tend to go very quickly at Cheltenham on what is likely to be better ground. The bigger worry is how much this weekend’s outing would have taken out of him physically with just five weeks to Cheltenham.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Gentlemansgame was introduced to the Albert Bartlett market at 20/1 having looked as though he’d appreciate going up in trip.
But, following his second behind Gaillard Du Mesnil at the weekend, plenty of Betway punters have judged that to be good value, backing him in to a joint-second favourite.
Stattler – who finished a short-head behind him on Saturday having led from the front before getting caught by a speedier type – is the antepost favourite. Owned by Mr Bartlett’s grandson, Ronnie, who is now at the helm of the potato empire that sponsors the race, he’s bound to be a shorter price on the day should he line up at the start.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
Chacun Pour Soi was favourite for the Champion Chase on the morning of the race last year before being withdrawn with a stone bruise.
Following an explosive eight-length victory for Mullins in the Dublin Chase on Saturday, he’s gone from 11/10 to to triumph 12 months later – making him one of the Festival’s shortest antepost favourites.
Having won the first two Grade 1s on the card at Leopardstown, Mullins then completed a hat-trick with Energumene in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase (with two more of his stable finishing in second and third).
That effortless success has seen him cut from 9/2 into for the Arkle, with only the formidable Shishkin ahead of him in what is shaping up to be one of the contests of the Festival.
Honeysuckle took her record under rules to 10 from 10 with a second consecutive Irish Champion Hurdle success – seeing her slashed from 7/1 in to for the English equivalent.
That race has now been confirmed as her main target by her connections. With plenty of her rivals being beaten this season, Henry de Bromhead’s mare is the rightful favourite for the feature race on day one.
Sharjah hated the heavy ground on Sunday and was never really in the contest, meaning he’s been pushed out from 8/1 to for the Champion Hurdle.
However, it’s worth noting that he ran poorly in the same race at Leopardstown last year but bounced back on much better ground at Cheltenham to finish second at 16/1, so write him off at your peril.
That Honeysuckle news has seen Concertista , the favourite for the Mares Hurdle, shorten in price despite not even running this weekend – going from 2/1 in to by default now her main rival is heading elsewhere.
Stablemate (and last year’s runner-up) Benie Des Dieux is the second favourite at , meaning Mullins has a strong chance of making it 10 wins in 14 years.
The concluding race on Saturday was the Grade 2 Bumper and, my, did we see an impressive winner in Kilcruit who looked like an aeroplane in leaving the rest of the field behind.
As a result, we had no choice but to cut him from 8/1 all the way down to 11/4 for the Champion Bumper, though even that price didn’t last long as hungry punters ate up the value on another Mullins horse.
He’s currently a favourite and shaping up to be one of punters’ ‘bankers’ of the Festival.
Despite drifting markedly in the morning for Sunday’s first Grade 1, the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, Quilixios was heavily backed prior to the off, eventually going off at 4/6.
The race slightly fell apart, so you could question the form of what he beat, but he never looked in danger and has subsequently been cut from 15/2 to for the Triumph.
With his owner, Cheveley Park Stud, assembling a huge squad for Cheltenham, you can expect him to be lining up for Friday’s opening race at the Festival.
His trainer, Gordon Elliott, also has the long-time antepost favourite in Zanahiyr who, by all accounts, looks as though it will take something very special to beat him.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The Chanelle Pharma Novices’ Hurdle has produced plenty of Cheltenham winners in the past and the odds-on favourite for this year’s edition, Appreciate It, didn’t let his backers down, giving Mullins an eighth win in 10 renewals.
He looks by far and away the best novice hurdler we’ve seen over 2m this season and, after being clipped from 2/1 into for the opening race of the Festival, he could get the week off to a flying start for punters.
Ballyadam finished runner up and a return to better ground will only help his chances at Cheltenham. He was a 6/1 favourite for the Supreme before drifting to 16/1 over Christmas after being beaten by Appreciate It, but has been supported back in to and will no doubt be a popular each-way selection on the day.
Festival Novices Chase
The Mullins winning streak continued in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase with Monkfish, who was arguably the most impressive winner of the weekend. He looked flawless and could be a future Gold Cup winner.
That performance saw him cross the line from 11/10 to odds-on territory at for the Festival Novices’ Chase, meaning Mullins is now responsible for more than half of the 28 antepost favourites for Cheltenham.
It wasn’t the strongest renewal of the Irish Gold Cup, with only five runners going to post.
Minella Indo disappointed and looked like a previous fall had knocked his confidence, and as a result has been pushed out from 8/1 to for the Festival’s marquee race.
Melon didn’t seem to stay and looks as though a drop back in trip for the Ryanair will be his next target, for which he is currently .
The winner, Kemboy, was cut from 25/1 to 14/1, but that price didn’t last long as he was backed even further into .
There have been, however, been doubts about his jumping around Cheltenham and, following his Grade 1 success on Sunday, his trainer has suggested that he could run over hurdles instead.
He’s currently a shot for the Stayers.
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