THERE’s top-class racing wherever you look this weekend but many a canny eye will be cast over the star-studded Dublin Racing Festival.
This is the second of two mega meetings in the space of six weeks at Leopardstown. Money talks, and when you stage seven Grade 1’s worth over 1.5 million euros in prize money the big guns come a calling.
Eight of the Emerald Isle’s Cheltenham winners in 2018 ran at this meeting last year and three did the double, so the likes of MIN, APPLES JADE and ALBOOM PHOTO will be closely watched.
Willie Mullins holds all the cards tomorrow (Saturday) in the Grade 1 Chase at 1.25 where MIN, who is 6/4 with Carrigill’s and their weekend nap, could just be too good for stablemate FOOTPAD.
Last year’s top Festival trainer Gordon Elliott also fields a strong hand with BATTLOVERDOYEN well fancied in the opener before APPLES JADE goes in the Irish Champion Hurdle at 3.10.
APPLES JADE will typically like on the pressure from the front which might play right into the hands of strong traveller MELON who I’m taking to upset the apple cart.
It’s no surprise to see KEMBOY sit atop the betting in Sunday’s Irish Gold Cup (3.35) after that seven-length triumph at Christmas. I, however, still have my doubts as to whether he genuinely is a top-class stayer and Willie Mullins’ charge won’t be allowed to dictate the race this time around.
Gigginstown will be out for revenge and they will try to put the favourite off his game, leaving the door open for ROAD TO RESPECT (11/4 Carrigill’s) – who, for me, remains the best staying-chaser in Ireland today – to pick up the pieces and win.
On this side of the Irish Sea Sandown Park’s Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase has attracted some really smart types as VINDICATION bids to remain unbeaten.
VINDICATION never wins by a wide margin, with a four-length triumph in a novices’ hurdle the widest victory he’s ever recorded. The form figures alone suggest his performances are workmanlike, but David Bass has never had to ask the six-year-old any serious questions. His trainer describes him as “bone idle” and there are clearly a couple more gears that this talented chaser has never had to search for.
Kim Bailey’s charge faces stiff opposition from LOSTINTRANSLATION and OK CORRAL who is looking to give Nicky Henderson his sixth win in this race in the last 10 encounters. And this race looks to be the perfect stepping stone for Colin Tizzard’s LOSTINTRANSLATION.
Connections feel the seven-year-old gelding could develop into a Gold Cup horse in time – despite the fact that he’s never raced on a left-handed track – and he looks to be heading to the JLT in March. He showed great determination in overhauling Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when winning the Dipper and is reportedly ripping it up at home.
Phil Kirby’s stable star Lady Buttons posted a Grade 2 win at Doncaster last Saturday and another win in his home county is on the cards at Wetherby tomorrow if the meeting survives the cold snap.
The in-form Middleham handler saddles TOP VILLE BEN in the Towton Novices Chase. He hacked up by 46 lengths over this course and distance over Christmas and can follow up. Always highly regarded during his time at Seven Barrows with Henderson, he’s really come on with Kirby and has adapted to fences extremely well for a horse who tumbled three times over hurdles.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if finishes outside top 4): MIN, Saturday, Leopardstown, 1.25.
Augur’s best bet: TOP VILLE BEN, Saturday, Wetherby, 2.40.