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A weekend to savour at Leopardstown

Runners lining up for a race at Leopardstown over ChristmasRunners lining up for a race at Leopardstown over Christmas
© Photo Healy Racing

The Dublin Racing Festival has cemented itself as one of the best weekend’s racing in the National Hunt calendar and this year’s renewal is again packed full of star names.

Galopin Des Champs, Honeysuckle, State Man, Facile Vega, Appreciate It, Lossiemouth, Blue Lord and Mighty Potter are just of the big guns that are set to line up over the two-day meeting where BoyleSports are offering a range of incentives for both new and existing Irish customers across the weekend. The leading Irish bookmaker is refunding bets up to €20 per customer per race in the form of a free bet if your selection finishes second to the favourite. With a number of short-priced favourites at Leopardstown over the weekend this is a decent concession. T&C Apply. 18+ dunlewey.org The offer applies to races with 5 runners or more.

The action starts on Saturday with a mouthwatering Grade 1 Novices Hurdle at 1.20pm where nine exciting prospects go up against each other in a wide-open affair. Over half the field are trained by either Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott, but those two powerhouses won’t get things all their own way here. Paul Nolan saddles Sandor Clegane which was most impressive when routing a big field at Punchestown in November, Barry Connell will fancy his chances with wide-margin course winner Good Land and the English raider Weveallbeencaught adds extra spice to the contest. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained runner was third to Hermes Allen on hurdles debut in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham before easily landing his maiden at the same course last month.

Whatever the fate of the Mullins runners in the opener it will be some shock if he doesn’t land the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle where he saddles six of the eight runners including the hot-favourite Lossiemouth. The form suggests stablemate Gala Marceau will chase her home.

The Irish Arkle Novice Chase is another Grade 1 contest likely to be dominated by Mullins trained runners. The Champion trainer has declared some of his best novices to take each other on here. Paul Townend has opted to side with former Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Appreciate It, but it must have been a tough call to choose between him and Dysart Dynamo which he rode to an impressive victory over the course at Christmas. Daryl Jacobs comes over to partner El Fabiolo for his retaining owners and the six-year-old is by no means out of this either.

It was most likely a much easier decision for Townend in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup where he sticks with Cheltenham Gold Cup ante post favourite Galopin Des Champs. The seven-year-old is one of the most exciting horses in training and it will be a major disappointment if he can’t dispatch this opposition.

Even the final race of the opening session is full of exciting talent. The Grade 2 Bumper run in memory of Oliver Brady is numerically dominated by Mullins trained horses, but this time Willie is joined by brother Tom and nephew Emmet. Tom’s Fascile Mode produced a taking performance on debut over the course at Christmas and while he faces stiffer opposition this time he is not without his chance. For a selection it may pay to side with Gordon Elliott’s Better Days Ahead. He is highly regarded by connections and lived up to the hype when making no mistake on his second racecourse start at Fairyhouse in early December.

Sunday at Leopardstown is also jam-packed with top quality action. The undoubted highlight will be the clash of Honeysuckle and State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The mare has won this race in each of the last three seasons, but having lost her magnificent unbeaten record last time at Fairyhouse is on something of a recovery mission. If Honeysuckle does manage to notch up her fourth win in the race she will bring the house down and also book her ticket to defend her Cheltenham title against Constitution Hill in five weeks time.

Another enthralling contest on Sunday is the Grade 1 Novice Chase where Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter is the sole rival to a quintet of Willie Mullins trained horses. Mighty Potter is two from two over fences so far and comes into the race as the bookies’ favourite, but the tactics will be fascinating as Mullins attempts to win the race for the tenth time in sixteen years. Elliott is looking for his first win in the race.

It’s not only the Grade 1 races that Mullins and Elliott look set to dominate across the weekend, the pair also have strong contenders in the handicap races and it would be no surprise if they both hit the board on Sunday in these contests as well. Gaelic Warrior will take some stopping off top weight in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle on Sunday for Mullins while Elliott’s Indigo Breeze is going to be a warm order for the Bulmers Leopardstown Handicap Chase on the same card. Indigo Breeze was narrowly beaten by The Real Whacker at Cheltenham in November and that horse has since gone on to score at Grade 2 level.

It’s hard to know exactly how good Gaelic Warrior may actually be. It’s difficult to assess the true worth of his two facile victories this season, but the suspicion is that he’s considerably better than the 143 rating he runs off on Sunday.