The Major Clashes that are Going to Light Up the Dublin Racing Festival

Welcome to Gavin Beech's weekly racing column for Bookmakers.co.uk. A veteran racing journalist, Gavin provides his opinion on the latest talking points across flat and jump racing.

The Major Clashes that are Going to Light Up the Dublin Racing Festival

The stars of Irish National Hunt Racing are out in force at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival this weekend we take a look at the most significant rivalries of the two-day horse racing extravaganza.


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Saturday

Hollow Games vs Journey With Me - 1.05 Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Hollow Games brings Grade 1 form to the table having finished four-and-a-half lengths behind stablemate Ginto in the Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle. The way he stuck to his task in the 2m4f contest strongly suggests that Saturday’s extra two furlongs will play to his strengths.

However, it will need to because Journey With Me looked one of the most exciting novices in Ireland when he stayed on powerfully to take the scalps of Minella Crooner and Kilcruit on hurdles debut. Both of those rivals have bolted up since and it says plenty about the regard in which Journey With Me is held by Henry De Bromhead that he is pitched into a Grade 1 on just his second hurdles start.

The way Journey With Me powered up the Leopardstown straight strongly suggested that he, along with Hollow Games, was a stayer in the making.

Fil Dor vs Vauban - 1.35 Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1)

Fil Dor was regarded as the best juvenile hurdler in Ireland up until the weekend when Pied Piper sluiced up at Cheltenham.

The clash between Fil Dor and Vauban will give us a real handle on the juvenile pecking order because Pied Piper would probably have been beaten by Vauban at Punchestown in December had the highly-touted Rich Ricci-owned newcomer not lost valuable momentum at the final hurdle.

Fil Dor sets the standard on his seven-length romp in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Boxing Day but Vauban brings a limitless amount of potential to the table and ante-post JCB Triumph Hurdle markets could look very different by around 1.40pm on Saturday afternoon.

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Blue Lord vs Saint Sam vs Haut En Couleurs vs Riviere D'etel - Irish Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1)

The sidelined Ferny Hollow apart, this bunch look the best two-mile novice chasers in Ireland right now.

Blue Lord jumped superbly en-route to a wide-margin success at Naas but he had just two average opponents against him that day. Both fences were omitted in the home straight so the form isn’t exactly bombproof and he does now have to concede a penalty to some very talented rivals.

Stablemate Saint Sam already looks a better chaser than he was a hurdler while Haut En Couleurs brings more potential to the table than any of his rivals having raced just four times in his life.

It looks likely that at least one of this Mullins trio will turn out to be better than Riviere D'etel who boasts Grade 1 chasing form having chased home Ferny Hollow here on Boxing Day. Riviere D'etel was getting 13lb from the winner that day which dampens enthusiasm for the overall level of her performance and she’s worse off with today’s rivals so she needs to raise her game.

Minella Indo vs Frodon vs Kemboy - Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1)

This is a mouth-watering clash between last year’s Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy, the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo and three-time Grade 1 winning chaser Frodon.

The form horse is Kemboy after he got within three-quarters of a length of Galvin and A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase over Christmas. Willie Mullins' star has only finished out of the frame once in seven starts at Leopardstown and he looks sure to run another big race on his favourite stage.

It will be fascinating to see how Minella Indo performs after his very disappointing display in the King George VI Chase at Kempton (wore cheekpieces for the first time) but he was beaten almost seven lengths by Kemboy 12 months ago which is quite a gap to bridge.

Frodon has already plundered one big prize in Ireland this year and Paul Nicholls has reported that his preparation has gone firmly to plan so he may well emerge as Kemboy’s biggest danger.

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Sunday

Galopin Des Champs vs Fury Road vs Jungle Boogie - Ladbrokes Novice Chase (Grade 1)

Of all the brilliant horses running at Leopardstown this weekend, the one that is creating the most excitement is probably Galopin Des Champs, whose chasing debut was nothing short of spectacular.

His jumping was slick and accurate, and he went away from a now 136-rated rival Ain't That A Shame like he was standing still, strongly suggesting he’s already a top-class novice chaser.

We’ll get a much better idea of just how good he is on Sunday because Fury Road is already a Grade 1 winning chaser, albeit over a longer trip. Galopin Des Champs might just be a stride too quick for Fury Road over this sort of trip, especially on drying ground.

This isn’t a two-horse race though because Willie Mullins also looks set to unleash the very lightly-raced Jungle Boogie, who has won a bumper, a hurdle and now a chase in just three career starts. In terms of pure numbers, his chasing debut wasn’t at the same level as Galopin Des Champs but his jumping was impossible to fault and he wasn’t extended to win by 12 lengths. He could be anything and should not be underestimated.


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Chacun Pour Soi vs Greaneteen - Ladbrokes Dublin Chase

Travelling over the Irish Sea has proved an issue for Chacun Pour Soi but he’s been imperious at home and he’s going to be incredibly tough to stop if anywhere near his best.

His three Leopardstown Grade 1 wins include an eight-length success in this race 12 months ago and we can surely expect a different Chacun Pour Soi to the one that folded so tamely in the Tingle Creek at Sandown.

Chacun’s official rating of 176 is 10lb clear of that of his main rival Greaneteen so Paul Nicholls’ runner will need him to underperform, as he did last time if he’s to make the trip over from England worthwhile.

Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen has been put firmly in his place by Shishkin since and he hasn’t raced outside of Britain since joining the 12-time Champion Trainer in 2017 so this will be a new experience for him. It will be some achievement if he can depose the reigning champion on his own turf.

Honeysuckle vs Appreciate It - Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Willie Mullins has decided to throw Appreciate It right in at the deep end on his first racecourse appearance since winning last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by a remarkable 24 lengths.

Appreciate It was a quite brilliant novice hurdler last year, winning three Grade 1 contests in an unbeaten campaign, and he's the one horse in this division that has the potential to ruffle the feathers of Honeysuckle.

It may be a lot to expect given he’s been off for so long but if Appreciate It can make any sort of race of it against Honeysuckle then the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival might not be the open-and-shut case it appears to be right now.

As for the champion Honeysuckle, well she is a very warm order (4/11) to win this race for a third year in succession and unless Appreciate It is a top-class hurdler, then that's exactly what she will do.