The Jane Mangan column: Festival at Leopardstown will banish the winter blues for racing fans

The Jane Mangan column: Festival at Leopardstown will banish the winter blues for racing fans
Davy Russell wins on Envoi Allen early in January. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

IT’S the first weekend in February and what better way to say goodbye to our January blues than with the third running of Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival?

Eight Grade 1 races and over €2 million in prize money, this two-day racing bonanza provides some of the most competitive action of the season and plenty of questions will be answered!

Is Honeysuckle Champion Hurdle material?

She meets Klassical Dream and Sharjah for the first time in tomorrow’s PCI Irish Champion Hurdle. It will take a brave punter to bet against her considering she is in receipt of 7lbs from the geldings. She’s rock solid and while she remains unproven against top opposition over two miles, she was very impressive in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse and comes from a predominantly flat German family. All factors considered, she’s got my vote!

Sunday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup is the richest prize of the two-day feast and the line-up isn’t too shabby either! The rematch is on between Delta Work, Presenting Percy and Kemboy and the main question to be answered is - can Delta Work confirm the Christmas form?

While I expect an improved performance from Presenting Percy, it is actually Kemboy who boasts the best form. Last season, he beat Monalee, Road to Respect and Bellshill over course and distance in the Savills Chase, hammered Clan Des Obeaux by nine lengths at Aintree and made all when bettering Al Boum Photo in the Punchestown Gold Cup. That’s the standard bearer in my book. Delta Work was brilliant last month but Kemboy can be expected to improve greatly and he’s my bet this weekend.

Then we come to the star novices. I believe Irish trainers hold all the aces in this category this season. Hurdlers and chasers, we have brilliant depth in both brackets from two miles to three.

Can anyone burst the Envoi Allen bubble? The French-bred won his third bumper at this meeting last year before going on to conquer Cheltenham. 

Ground and going descriptions have been on Leopardstown’s agenda since Christmas and while this guy won on good to yielding 12 months ago, his trainer Gordon Elliott will be making sure the terrain isn’t too quick for Envoi Allen and Battleoverdoyen in particular this weekend.

The latter competed on unsuitable ground at Christmas when landing the three runner Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase but I doubt connections would be willing to tempt fate twice.

Jockey Darragh Allen holding onto Sweet Street after jumping the last in the maiden race for 5-yr-o mares at the Dungarvan Point-to point. Picture: Dan Linehan
Jockey Darragh Allen holding onto Sweet Street after jumping the last in the maiden race for 5-yr-o mares at the Dungarvan Point-to point. Picture: Dan Linehan

Battleoverdoyen looks a genuine RSA contender but will face his stiffest task to date with the prospect of meeting the mighty Faugheen. Team Willie Mullins didn’t fire on all cylinders over Christmas but Faugheen still shone bright. He’s a star and will put it up to the Elliott giant in what could be the match of the weekend.

Sunday’s Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle looks the ideal race for Abacadabras. Run over the minimum distance, this horse was extremely impressive over course and distance at Christmas in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (Grade 1). That was against much inferior opposition considering Blue Sari didn’t run his race on the day. That said, this guy was awesome when beating Latest Exhibition in the For Auction Hurdle at Navan in November.

After digesting all the action over Christmas, Notebook emerged as a horse I’d like to keep on my side heading into the spring. I though his jumping technique combined with obvious natural talent culminated in one of the most impressive displays by a novice over the festive period.

He lines up in the Arkle Novice Chase tomorrow and with the possibility of Fakir D’Oudairies and Willie Mullins’ improver Cash Back also in there pitching, it promises to be a furiously run gallop and the perfect test for speed loving chasers!

The reality of racing suggests that all these stars won’t align. There must be a weak link somewhere? That probably is the case but these Grade 1 races are probably not a race for punters. There are a number of competitive handicaps to get involved in and accumulators might be the order of the day when getting involved in the top races.

A Grade 2 bumper rounds off the action each day, for which I really fancy two Joseph O’Brien trained/Gigginstown owned youngsters. I think Eric Bloodaxe might be the best bumper horse we’ve seen in Ireland this season and his stable companion Castra Vetera was very smart on her only start to date, beating subsequent winner Carrigeen Lotus by seven lengths at Fairyhouse in December.

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