Things We Learned » Dublin Racing Festival

Dublin Racing Festival

It’s a cracking weekend ahead.  We know that.  We’ve known it for a while.  Most of the Irish horses that you want to see there will be there.  It’s a pity that there won’t be more raiders from overseas, but we’ve known that for a while too.

Eight Grade 1 races, and they cater for most.  A two-mile juvenile hurdle, a two-mile novice hurdle, a two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle, an Irish Champion Hurdle.  A two-mile novice chase, a two-mile-five-furlong novice chase, a two-mile champion chase, an Irish Gold Cup. 

There is no Grade 1 bumper, but there is a Grade 2 bumper and a Grade 2 mares’ bumper.  There is an argument for re-instating the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters’ Chase, the case for which Ryan McElligott has put forward in these pages on several occasions.  And you could argue the case for a Grade 1 three-mile hurdle, but that would almost certainly detract from the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle, a Grade 2 three-mile hurdle run at Gowran Park on Thyestes Chase day.

There is no Grade 1 two-and-a-half-mile championship chase and no Grade 1 two-and-a-half-mile championship hurdle, and no mares’ chase and no veterans’ chase and no clamber to extend the meeting to three or four days.  That’s why we are set for the clashes: Honeysuckle taking on the boys over two miles, A Plus Tard taking on Chacun Pour Soi again, Fakir D’Oudairies and Notebook again, Latest Exhibition and Fury Road and Elixir D’Ainay and Longhouse Poet.  And that is as it should be. 

Under the radar

We knew that there was a good chance that some of the Willie Mullins horses would come on appreciably for their seasonal debuts in December, and the evidence was fairly compelling last week. 

Allaho stepped forward from his second-place finish in a beginners’ chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival to win his beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday impressively.  Billaway stepped forward from his defeat in the hunters’ chase at Down Royal on St Stephen’s Day to win the hunters’ chase at Naas on Sunday.  Even Total Recall, he was running for the first time since June when he contested a hurdle race at Clonmel in early December, and he returned to close to his Ladbrokes-Trophy-winning best when he won the Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last Thursday.  

That theme could continue this weekend.  Kemboy and Chacun Pour Soi, of course, are the two obvious ones.  Both horses ran well in defeat on debut over Christmas in the Savills Chase and the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase respectively, and it would not be surprising to see both horses improve significantly on those runs.

There are others, though, who fall into this category – trained by Willie Mullins, made seasonal debut in November or December or early January – and who may be a little under the radar, including Aramon, Fan De Blues, Cadmium, Guard Of Honour, The West Awaits, Blazer, Bellshill and even Min.  Any or all of those could step up this weekend on the performances that they put up on their respective seasonal returns. 

Simply too high 

Simply The Betts was impressive in winning the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, but if you were thinking of backing him for the Close Brothers Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, think again.

Strange that he is still included in some ante post lists, because a 9lb hike takes Harry Whittingdon’s horse up to a mark of 149, which is above the 145 ceiling for the novices’ handicap chase at the festival.

It is a pity, because the Close Brothers Chase is the obvious next step after the Timeform Novices’ Chase.  And there is precedent.  Mister Whitaker won the Timeform Chase in 2018 off a mark of 129, was raised to a mark of 137, scraped into the Close Brothers Chase, number 20 of 20, and got up late on to beat Rather Be by a head.  Irish Cavalier finished third in the Timeform Chase in 2015, was raised to a mark of 137 – in the days when the ceiling for the Close Brothers Chase was 140, not 145 – and duly won the Cheltenham Festival contest. 

Only two horses in Saturday’s race could realistically have gone through the 145 ceiling on the back of Saturday’s race, Champagne Court and Simply The Betts, and Simply The Betts duly did.  By contrast, Jarveys Plate finished ninth, and was consequently dropped from a mark of 147 to a mark of 143.  Fergal O’Brien’s horse is now eligible for the Close Brothers Chase.

Cloudy Glen was different again, he needed to win or run very well in defeat in order to be raised sufficiently from his mark of 132 to give himself a chance of getting into the Cheltenham Festival novices’ handicap.  Regrettably, his challenge ended when he ran out at the first fence.  He will have another chance to go up the ratings in this afternoon’s Betway Masters Handicap Chase over three miles at Sandown. 

Imperial Aura ran well to finish second, and was raised by 7lb to a mark of 143.  Just in under the ceiling.  Perfect.  Plan with certainty.

Of course, Simply The Betts can still run at the Cheltenham Festival, but it will now have to be either in open handicap company, or in a Grade 1 novices’ race.  He holds entries in the RSA Chase and in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the old JLT.  There is precedent for that too though.  Kildisart went through the 145 ceiling when he won the Timeform Novices’ Chase last year, and he could finish only fourth in the JLT Chase.

Novices looking good now

There was a time, not too long ago, when the quality of last season’s top staying novice chasers was being questioned.  RSA Chase winner Topofthegame had been beaten at Aintree and was out for the season, RSA Chase runner-up Santini had scraped home by a head from the 144-rated Now McGinty at Sandown, and RSA Chase third Delta Work had been well beaten by Road To Respect at Down Royal.

Different story now though.  Delta Work battled on well to win the Savills Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, and he is no better than 9/1 now for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Santini stayed on strongly to beat Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase on Saturday.  He may not have impressed everyone, but the true measure lies in the figures: 6/1 second favourite for the Gold Cup.

Topofthegame is still out for the season but, add Lostintranslation, and second-season chasers now occupy three of the top six places in the Gold Cup market.

Wise-guy Cheltenham Festival mares’ treble:

Benie Des Dieux – Stayers’ Hurdle (6/1)

Honeysuckle – Champion Hurdle (13/2)

Stormy Ireland – Mares’ Hurdle (9/1)

© The Irish Field, 1st February 2020