POSSIBLE CHELTENHAM BANKERS
Of the 17 Irish-trained winners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, eight had their last run at the Dublin Racing Festival, a figure sometimes used as proof that the first running of the new meeting was a success. Praise for this year’s meeting was less universal, owing mainly to the ground, and it might be optimistic to expect the same level of achievement for the DRF horses at Cheltenham 2019 with many of last weekend’s fields hit hard with non-runners; where 189 horses ran over the two days last year, 147 took part this time.
I would set the line for DRF horses going onto Cheltenham victory this season around 4.5 and the four I have in mind at this early stage are Le Richebourg (Arkle), Sir Erec (Triumph), Apple’s Jade (Champion Hurdle) and something to emerge for a handicap.
The first two are trained by Joseph O’Brien and his Dublin Festival 2019 was both the same and different to last year. As in 2018, he won a pair of Grade 1 races but while last year’s winners were surprising, Tower Bridge winning at 25/1 and Edwulf at 33/1, and came at the end of a winter when the trainer had largely struggled against Mullins and Elliott, the wins of Le Richebourg and Sir Erec were much more predictable.
Big-priced winners of major races have been a feature of O’Brien’s early training career on the flat as well as over jumps (his four Group 1 wins to date for Intricately, Rekindling, Latrobe and Iridessa all came at 14/1 or bigger) but we may already be entering a phase where he is going to be sending out short-priced Irish ‘bankers’ at Cheltenham.
Since training Ivanovich Gorbatov to win the 2016 Triumph in all but name, he has had 14 Festival runners with one placing; that is underwhelming on one level but an aggregated Betfair SP of that group only comes out at 0.78 expected winners so the market didn’t anticipate much more. That will change next month but high expectations are hardly new to the trainer.
Of his two short-priced runners Festival runners, Le Richebourg looks the better bet (if not the better chance) at the moment and it was a little surprising he wasn’t shortened more for the Arkle after his win in the Irish equivalent. It could be argued that the race fell to pieces with non-runners and non-completers and he only had to beat the same horses as at Christmas but he jumped better than ever and the time was excellent, basically the same as that achieved by Min in the Dublin Chase.
Sir Erec was excellent in his own way but perhaps the most interesting part of his easy win in the Spring Juvenile is what will happen to his stablemate Fakir Doudairies at Cheltenham. The yard is endowed with significant juvenile talent and these two look the pick but unlike Sir Erec, Fakir D’Oudairies has a Supreme entry and his seeming preference for softer ground might be best served by the heavily watered going early in the week. Along with that, none of the current market leaders for the opening race seem particularly intimidating.
The equine star turn of Dublin Racing Festival was Apple’s Jade and I feel a little churlish for having crabbed her hurdling in the lead-up to the meeting; she was still shifting right before her hurdles on Saturday but she was notably slick through the air. Thankfully it seems likely she will go for the Champion Hurdle now and it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that the O’Learys were trolling us all by initially sticking to the Mares’ Hurdle hymn sheet post-race!
She is the one to beat in Tuesday feature now, having had a smoother season than Buveur D’Air and possibly just being a better racehorse getting an allowance, and there are two other takeaways from her likely participation here.
The first is that the Champion Hurdle is no longer an appealing each-way race as should the big two run to form there is only one place on offer and the second is that the Mares’ Hurdle is now very open. Despite news that Benie Des Dieux is on track for the race with a prep run imminent, I suspect Willie Mullins has had Jared Sullivan on speed-dial over the past few days in the hope that Laurina could be aimed at that race.
Mullins had three Grade 1 winners over the weekend but it was hard to escape lingering concerns about stable form and it is easy to pick holes in those wins; Min had little to beat, Bellshill had only one meaningful rival while Klassical Dream’s main danger was a stablemate. Certainly there were plenty of disappointments, among them Relegate, Come To Me, Melon, Tiger Tap Tap and Rebel Og, and while Elliott had only one more winner over the two days, his disappointments were rare.
CHELTENHAM HANDICAP POINTER
Spotting the Festival handicap winner(s) at Leopardstown can be a fun game but sometimes the obvious shouldn’t be ignored and Whisperinthebreeze was particularly good in winning the Leopardstown Chase with the novice handicap chase looking made for him. Post-race talk of the National Hunt Chase seemed well off unless getting Finny Maguire back on top is the angle but he has looked much improved since the cheekpieces have gone on and he’s been sent front-running.
The Cheltenham handicaps are so competitive now trainers often need a graded horse to even run in them and two from the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle over 2m6f who looked like the Martin Pipe might suit were Gallant John Joe and Dorrells Pierji . Both were varying degrees of non-stayer in the race, that latter making a good move from rear only to fade close home, the former up with pace but keen and not lasting the trip, and the shorter distance of the Cheltenham race should suit. Irish-trained novice hurdlers have a fine record in the race too.