Jane Mangan marks your card for the Dublin Racing Festival

Irish horses are the focus at Leopardstown with few challengers from England this year 
Jane Mangan marks your card for the Dublin Racing Festival

The Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Steeplechase winner Paul Townend onboard Energumene during the race. Picture: INPHO/Caroline Norris

LEOPARDSTOWN'S Dublin Racing Festival has quickly established itself as Ireland’s feature pre-spring festival, where many of national hunt racing’s biggest and best names draw swords for valuable purses and prestigious titles.

Ordinarily, the track would be working hard to attract some of Britain’s best to compete at the Dublin track but this year, the focus is very much on domestic battles. Mullins, Elliott and de Bromhead will dominate – probably in that order.

That said, we’ve become accustomed to very few overseas challengers venturing across the Irish Sea. They simply don’t want to play an away game. 

Who would blame them? 

Why travel to Ireland to be beaten when the Irish can just floor them at Cheltenham?

Without sounding overconfident in our own horses, this weekend’s concentration of quality emphasises our depth of talent in each division. For example, let’s start with the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Like Envoi Allen, Honeysuckle remains unbeaten but despite her flawless record, this mare is yet to gain the credit she truly deserves. Two Hatton’s Grace Hurdles, outgunned Sharjah in last year’s Irish Champion and outfoxed Benie Des Dieux at Cheltenham. Not impressed yet? Don’t worry, this seven-year-old mare is just getting started!

Sharjah may have proved his versatility on softer ground over course and distance at Christmas but he couldn’t pass Honeysuckle last year. With the exception of Petit Mouchoir, her other opponents like Abacadabras, Saldier and Saint Roi are all hold up style horses so it could transpire that Rachael Blackmore and her brilliant mare have an influencing role on the front end of the pace.

Happy in the knowledge that Patrick Mullins aboard Sharjah will be watching her every move, Honeysuckle will be the mouse but will the cat finally get his catch?

Speaking of cat and mouse, Delta Work edged out Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup 12 months ago and the same pair are set to battle this Sunday with the added intrigue of Minella Indo and Melon.

Minella Indo and Rachael Blackmore in action in December. Picture: Healy Racing.
Minella Indo and Rachael Blackmore in action in December. Picture: Healy Racing.

Less than an hour after celebrating aboard Delta Work last year, Jack Kennedy was lying in agony at the back of the final fence having broken his femur in the very next race. Since then, it has been a mixture of ecstasy and agony for Kennedy who missed out on a number of key engagements over the Christmas period, most notably on Delta Work in the Savills Chase.

Fresh from his Thyestes win aboard Coko Beach, Jack Kennedy has returned as good as ever and nobody would be surprised if his talents worked the oracle on Delta Work once again. Gordon Elliott’s charge has won five Grade 1 races but has failed to fire since his triumph in 2020.

Sunday’s renewal of the Irish Gold Cup has a small field, a factor that should suit Delta Work who will likely be ridden from off the pace but the main protagonists are all genuinely top class. 

Minella Indo is the key player who needs to take that next big step into open company. 

He fluffed his lines when falling early in the Savills Chase, let’s hope he gets involved here and establishes himself as a proper Gold Cup candidate.

Twelve months ago, Rich Ricci watched his awesome duo Chacun Pour Soi and Min dominate the Dublin Chase and while Ricci won’t be present to see this year’s race, I think the result will be the very same. 

Min made this race his own in 2018 and 2019 but couldn’t get near his stablemate 12 months ago. He’s an admirable horse who is probably best over the intermediate trip but at two miles, Chacun Pour Soi is un-opposable.

Energumene (Irish Arkle), Monkfish (Flogas Novice Chase) and Appreciate It (Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle) are all short odds for Willie Mullins over the weekend, the latter race is one in particular that Mullins has farmed over the last decade.

Only Samcro in 2018 could stop the Closutton steam train in this race and unless Ballyadam can find his Royal Bond form once again, Willie Mullins will likely add an eighth win in the last nine years to this list courtesy of Appreciate It.

It won’t be all about Mullins though, don’t forget that Gordon Elliott has dominated the juvenile hurdle throughout this season and while Zanahiyr is unquestionably his standout candidate for the Triumph Hurdle next month, I’m interested to see how Quilixios fares in the Grade 1 juvenile this weekend. 

Could he emerge as a meaningful opponent to his stablemate?

Sit back. Feet up. Fire lit and kettle on. The pace will be frenetic, the action fantastic and I’ll be there standing in my spot absolutely freezing!

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