Kevin Murphy previews a feast of racing at Leopardstown

Cork's Paul Townend and Davy Russell are expected to feature among the winners across the two days
Kevin Murphy previews a feast of racing at Leopardstown

An Tobar on the way to a comfortable win by 20 lengths after clearing the final hurdle at Carrigtwohill. Picture: Larry Cummins.

THERE is a galaxy of stars on show this weekend as the Irish horses compete for huge prize money at the two-day festival at Leopardstown.

Irish punters will be looking for big performances and clues as the eagerly awaited Cheltenham Festival approaches.

Champion Jockey Paul Townend will have plenty of top-class rides across the two-day meeting while Davy Russell has been picking his mounts wisely since his return from injury.

This meeting turned into a Willie Mullins bonanza last year with the Champion trainer winning nine of the 15 races. But Gordon Elliot has a lot of very exciting young horses entered while Henry De Bromhead will be hoping that stable star Honeysuckle will keep up her winning run under Rachael Blackmore.

The Irish Gold Cup is the feature race of the weekend, and it promises to be an intriguing contest. Kemboy could bid for back-to-back wins in the Irish Gold Cup against Frodon, who seeks to land another big-race success in Ireland following victory at October’s Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Paul Nicholls is brilliant at placing his horses so Frodon deserves massive respect.

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, who was fourth in last year’s contest, holds an entry for Henry de Bromhead while Mount Ida and the enigmatic Asterion Forlonge, who has been the subject of significant market support, this week are also entered.

 Clearing the final hurdle is PA King riding Colonel Harry on the way to a win by six lengths in the second division of the second race, the O'Connell Group Maiden Race. Picture: Larry Cummins.
Clearing the final hurdle is PA King riding Colonel Harry on the way to a win by six lengths in the second division of the second race, the O'Connell Group Maiden Race. Picture: Larry Cummins.

The juvenile hurdlers contest might see unbeaten hurdler Fil Dor bid to extend his streak to four this season in a first step up to Grade 1 company. He could meet the exciting Willie Mullins-trained prospect Vauban, a half-length second in December on his rules debut to Pied Piper, who has since gone on to win impressively at graded level.

With Ferny Hollow set to miss the rest of the season, Paul Townend will take the ride on Blue Lord in the Irish Arkle. This horse is progressive and was third at the Cheltenham Festival last season over hurdles. The Elliot team will rely on Riviere D’Etel who suffered a first defeat over fences to Ferny Hollow over Christmas and could be the one to take on the all-conquering Mullins’ squad.

After a flawless debut over fences, Galopin Des Champs is the headline entry in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase and could hand Mullins’ his third win in a row in this contest. The trainer may also saddle New Year’s day winner Jungle Boogie while recent Grade 1 winners Master McShee and Fury Road remain in contention. But Gallopin Des Champs has that wow factor and looks destined for the highest stage of all in the coming years.

Another race dominated in recent years by the Irish Champion trainer is the two-mile chase division and his dual Dublin Chase winner Chacun Pour Soi could bid for a third straight win in the race, although he must bounce back from a disappointing Tingle Creek. He will have to reverse the form with Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen, who is set to reoppose for Paul Nicholls while the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Sky Pirate remains in contention.

Expect Paul Townend to be very positive here and let Chaqun Pour Soi stride on. Although Shiskin and Energume served up a classic recently the 12/1 about Chacun for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham may not last long if he bolts in here.

 Michaela Ahern, Mary-Jane Casey, Martha Ahern and Aideen O'Doherty were enjoying the racing on Sunday at the Carrigtwohill Point. Pic: Larry Cummins.
Michaela Ahern, Mary-Jane Casey, Martha Ahern and Aideen O'Doherty were enjoying the racing on Sunday at the Carrigtwohill Point. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore captured the hearts of sports fans last season and they look set to for a hat-trick in the Irish Champion Hurdle. This magnificent duo have been brilliant and star hurdler Honeysuckle, who has yet to be defeated in 13 starts under rules, including an astonishing nine Grade 1s. She demolished last year’s field by 10 lengths and may face a first meeting with Appreciate It, who looks poised to return from injury having not been seen since a 24-length romp in last year’s Supreme.

Another Cheltenham winner who will attract huge interest is the Cheveley Park-owned Sir Gerhard who looked very good in opening maiden hurdle over Christmas. This is a step up to Grade 1 company with the Gordon Elliot-trained Mighty Potter, a Grade 1 winner at the course over Christmas.

Finally, Innishannon’s Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park claimed their third successive victory in the Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle with an astonishing run that saw him almost left at the start. It was a brilliant performance which puts them right back in the shortlist for the Stayers Hurdle.

Coleman said: “He’s tried that a few times, he has that in him. I was waiting for him and he still did it. I thought I was doing enough, but he’s just probably getting a bit older and a bit wiser. 

He’s a very good horse, people have been writing him off this year. This is really special, the longevity of this horse is just a testament to his ability and his character. 

This is his track, I know he’s won two Long Walks at Ascot, but he’s won three Cleeves now and a Stayers’.

“I said to Paddy (Brennan) at the top of the hill that I was still in it, even though I’d whipped around. They weren’t getting away from me and I knew he’d hit the line. 

"He’s just different around this track, regardless of what goes before or after, this is just very special. It’s very special for a multitude of reasons, mainly just how much of a champion he is."

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