Donn's Articles » Stars bidding to bounce back

Stars bidding to bounce back

The stars are set to align at the inaugural running of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown next weekend.  Here are five of the brightest stars, all of them bidding to bounce back now from recent defeats, the challenge that faces each of them all the more fascinating for that. 

Yorkhill (Target: Coral Dublin Chase)

Yorkhill made his seasonal debut in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Chase last month.  It was his first attempt at a distance in excess of two miles and five furlongs on the track and it was a worthwhile experiment.  He won a point-to-point over three miles and, by Presenting from the family of The Listener and Offshore Account and Fork Lightning and Distant Thunder, he is bred to stay.

As an experiment, however, it didn’t work.  Willie Mullins’ horse was too keen through the early stages of the race.  He didn’t give himself a chance of getting home over the three-mile trip. 

His target at the Dublin Racing Festival is the Coral Dublin Chase over two miles and one furlong, not the Irish Gold Cup over two, and that makes sense.  Over the shorter trip, his rider can be aggressive, he can allow him jump and run.

There is no doubting Yorkhill’s class or Yorkhill’s engine.  He is a triple Grade 1 winner over hurdles, he won the JLT Chase at Cheltenham last March, and he almost beat Gold Cup aspirant Road To Respect at Fairyhouse in April, despite giving away acres of ground by jumping continually to his left.  He will be back on a left-handed track on Saturday, and he is one of the most intriguing horses in training. 

Our Duke (Unibet Irish Gold Cup)

Our Duke was a revelation last season.  He won his beginners’ chase at Navan on his chasing debut, he won the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, and he eschewed a trip to Cheltenham in March in order to target the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in April, which he duly won as well.

That was a really impressive performance.  Not only was he a novice taking on hardened high-class handicappers in the Irish National, but he also carried 11st 4lb to victory.  No Irish National winner had carried more than 11st 4lb since Flashing Steel had won the race in 1995.  And he won it with plenty in hand.  It was the performance of a seriously classy individual.

Jessica Harrington’s horse has run just once since last year’s Irish National, he made his debut this term in the Champion Chase at Down Royal in early November, and he disappointed.  We didn’t see the real Our Duke at Down Royal, his run was too bad to be true.

Subsequently treated for kissing spines, he is reported by his trainer to be zinging again, and bang on track for the Irish Gold Cup on Sunday. 

Faugheen (BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle)

Still nothing has come to light to explain Faugheen’s disappointing run in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.  Even trainer Willie Mullins remains mystified. 

It is mystifying because his comeback run in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November was so good.  That was his first run in almost two years, and he looked like the Faugheen of old, the one that we missed.  He travelled with his usual verve, his jumping was fast and fluent and he made good horses Jezki and Swamp Fox and Campeador look ordinary.

The Germany gelding is one of the best hurdlers of recent times.  He has won 12 of his 14 races over hurdles, eight of them at the highest level, including the Neptune Hurdle, the Irish Champion Hurdle, two Christmas Hurdles and the Champion Hurdle.  It would be great to see him return to his brilliant best on Saturday.  

Monalee (Flogas Novice Chase)

Built and bred for chasing, Monalee was really only passing time last season jumping hurdles, but he still proved himself to be adept over the smaller obstacles, winning a Grade 3 contest at Clonmel in February and then running out of his skin to finish second in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

His chasing debut this season was eagerly anticipated, and he didn’t disappoint.  Henry de Bromhead’s horse jumped his fences with an accuracy that belied his inexperience at Punchestown in November, and he coasted to an easy and fluent victory.

Sent off a warm favourite for the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, he was travelling and jumping well until he got in tight to the second fence down the back straight and came down. 

It was a real novice’s fall.  He just put in a short stride before the obstacle, and he couldn’t get his landing gear out on time.  It was a tough fall too, exacerbated by the fact that another horse, Rathvinden, cannoned into him after he had fallen.  He came home sore and sorry for himself.  Thankfully, his trainer reports him now to be fully recovered, and he remains a staying novice chaser of significant potential. 

Sharjah (Deloitte Novice Hurdle)

It is probable that Sharjah would have won the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas had he not fallen at the final flight.

He had travelled really well through his race for Patrick Mullins, and he had just moved up on the outside of stable companion Real Steel on the run to the last.  It was sunny at Leopardstown that day, perhaps there was a shadow on the final flight, perhaps he was distracted, but it was an uncharacteristic fall.  He had jumped well up to that point, and he appeared to be full of running.

Winner of a conditions race over a mile and a half on the flat in France, the Doctor Dino gelding had won his two previous races over hurdles for Willie Mullins.  He has progressed with each of his runs in Ireland, and he is a worthy favourite for the Deloitte Hurdle on Sunday.

© The Sunday Times, 28th January 2018