The two-day Dublin Racing Festival from Leopardstown is the highlight of a wonderful weekend of racing but we begin our preview at Sandown where Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air has his last run before the Festival in the listed Contenders Hurdle a race he won twelve months ago before going on to Cheltenham glory.
Five go to post in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase and Paul Nicholls steps Cyrname up to two-and-a-half miles for the first time following his impressive win over the minimum trip at Kempton over Christmas. His stamina has to be taken on trust, however, and he is overlooked.
The most interesting runner in the field is the chasing debutant No Comment but the vote goes to Kalondra (2.25) who belied his 10/1 odds when a fluent winner back in December. The selection is 3/1 with BetVictor and I was impressed with his jumping last time.
The form has not exactly been franked, however, with runner up Coo Star Sivola given a poor ride last weekend back at Cheltenham, but the same can be said of BetVictor’s 5/4 favourite Terrefort whose win at Huntingdon on his British debut was put into perspective when the runner up was brushed aside in a three-horse race at Catterick.
In the 3m Handicap Hurdle a chance is taken on Dr Richard Newland’s Dashing Perk (3.00) who might have been let in lightly off a mark of 127 for his handicap debut and he will carry just 10st 6lbs this afternoon. The selection was backpedalling when coming down at Cheltenham on his reappearance and there is a concern about his stamina but he gets the each way vote at 8/1 with BetVictor with Irish raider Folsom Blue 16/1 considered the main danger.
Palmers Hill went out like a light at Ascot last time and his 70-day absence from the track suggests there was something amiss although it is possible that his stamina gave way and this afternoon’s shorter trip will suit the Jingo O’Neill trained runner.
He must run well but Colonial Dreams (4.10) is another dropping back in distance and he will find this easier than when trying to keep tabs with Black Op at Doncaster last time. The winner was beaten less than a length in a Cheltenham Grade 2 last weekend and the selection receives 8lbs from Palmers Hill including James Bowen’s 3lb claim.
At Musselburgh, Another stowaway (12.55) will appreciate the drop back in trip in the opener and do note he has had a wind operation and is wearing a first-time tongue-tie this afternoon for Tom George.
Barney Dwan (1.30) is a horse I have plenty of time for and he can land a fascinating Novices’ Chase despite the fact that this 2m 4f trip might be on the sharp side.
The 4m Edinburgh National is a cracker and I’m going to take a chance on Nicky Richards’s Looking Well (3.15) who has a good record fresh and can run off the same mark as when runner up at Doncaster last January. The selection is 14/1 at BetVictor and is another each way recommendation.
At Wetherby Red Rising (3.20) can go one better than when second at Cheltenham last month when he travelled like a well-handicapped horse for much of the race. If he is over those exertions, he must go close and a 2lbs rise is fair.
At Lingfield, Master Archer (4.15) can end a run of frustrating seconds on the flat in the 12f maiden for James Fanshawe. The selection gets further and jockey Daniel Muscott must ensure the race does not become a tactical affair.
The feature race at Leopardstown today is the Irish Champion Hurdle and Faugheen could turn this into a procession if back to his best, but we did not see the real Defi Du Seuil (3.10) at Ascot on his sole start this season and Richard Johnson flies over to ride the five-year-old with Barry Geraghty making the trip to Sandown. At 5/1 with BetVictor he is another ew selection.
Nicky Henderson has a strong hand at Musselburgh on Sunday with Claimantakinforgan (2.00) having his Supreme Novices’ prep and Mr Whipped (2.35) impossible to oppose in the Albert Bartlett Trial.
If there is no further significant rain By The Boardwalk (3.45) can run well for Kim Bailey in the staying handicap chase and at Taunton I hope to see Vocaliser (2.15) follow up his recent course win stepping up in trip a quarter of a mile.
Samcro (1.50) steps back in trip for Gordon Elliot in the 2m Grade 1 Novice and the unbeaten six-year-old is considered something quite special by those close in and around the yard. This is his sternest test to date but one he is expected to pass with flying colours.
The 2m 5f Grade 1 Novice Chase is tone of the races of the weekend in my eyes and it is fascinating to see leading Irish handler Henry De Bromhead give Noel Fehily the ride on Monalee (3.00) after the 7-year-old crashed out here over Christmas.
This intermediate 2m 5f trip is ideal for Snow Falcon (10/1 with BetVictor) and this is a race with real strength in depth but Monalee (7/2 with BetVictor) gets a narrow vote.
I think Our Duke (3.35) is a worthy favourite (3/1 at BetVictor) for the Irish Gold Cup in a race that is not perhaps as it says on the tin given Gold Cup winner Sizing John and Coney Island miss the race. The Irish National winner is another on something of a retrieval mission on Sunday having run abysmally on his comeback.