Rightly or wrongly, the focus of the Jump’s calendar is very much on The Festival at Cheltenham, so it was interesting to witness how Leopardstown’s new Dublin Racing Festival fared. I enjoy Leopardstown, I’ve been there many times, but I’m still left unconvinced why this fixture has been added. It does allow some horses to get a run in before March’s premier meeting, but some trainers felt it didn’t fit ideally in to their preparations. The one to take away from the meeting was Footpad who now looks a very solid favourite for the Arkle.
Taking a look at this weekend’s action, with the exception of the Betfair Hurdle, many of the top races are lacking in numbers. For instance, at 2.25 we have the Denman Chase with a measly three runners. It’s not attractive for punters and it’s not going to be much of a spectacle for race goers. Native River is firmly the one to beat, given his good record at Newbury and his liking for soft ground. He won the race last year and he’ll probably do it again, despite a long time off the track. Cloudy Dream is a lovely horse and for the sentimental, following trainer Malcolm Jefferson’s sad passing, it would be great to see him put in a big run. The outsider of the trio is Saphir Du Rheu who has never convinced me as a chaser.
Switching to Warwick briefly, the 2.40pm Betway Kingmaker Novices’ Chase looks interesting from a betting perspective. Saint Calvados has been running really well, but there’s no way he should be odds-on for this. On what we have seen I really think North Hill Harvey might have his measure, especially given he has won a Grade 2 at Cheltenham and finished second in a Grade 1 contest for novices at Sandown. Diego Du Charmil is unexposed over fences and wouldn’t be without a chance either.
At 3pm, the Game Spirit (officially the Betfair Exchange Chase), will hopefully go the way of the amazing Altior. He’s been off since April, had a wind op and he might be a bit rusty, but I quite genuinely think he’s a superstar and I really hope he’s up to his best. Politologue has been in excellent form this term and could be a danger if the pistons aren’t firing with Altior. Paul Nicholls’ chaser won the Tingle Creek in December so must be respected, while Valdez hasn’t run since 2014!
The big race of the day is the Betfair Hurdle. Irish Roe is technically 11lbs well in for this race, but I don’t think I’d be the only one questioning whether that is actually the reality. She quite simply got put up in the ratings due to finishing close to a 152-rated mare and due to the conditions of the race she gets to run off 134 as opposed to 145. Personally, I’m not swayed towards her cause, despite the fact she’s favourite.
High Bridge has a 3-3 record at Newbury and must have claims, although a big weight will be difficult to carry in such a hot contest. That’s something that is also true for Jenkins, who is in flying form after a good win at Ascot. Verdana Blue made a good impression after a third at Ascot and Davy Russell is a notable booking, while stablemate Kayf Grace makes appeal after an eye-catching win over the festive period at Kempton.
Bleu Et Rouge must be respected for Willie Mullins, as he has plenty of class including a novice Grade 1 win. He shaped very well at Ascot on his most recent run and I really rate his chances of winning.
Knocknanuss has been in decent form recently for Gary Moore and is one of the main contenders in the market. Moon Racer has never been easy to get right and is a nine year old with just eight races under his belt. If he’s sound and at his best then 33/1 is massive. The fact he’s that kind of price and the yard haven’t driven the odds down, has to be a concern.
For the purposes of this column I’m going to take two Hail Mary shots (American football fans will be aware this is an all-or-nothing glory play). Coeur Blimey wears first time cheek-pieces that I think will help, he likes soft ground and he doesn’t have much weight to carry. He is the first each-way, while the second is Divin Bere. He’s not the most obvious pick but he’s the only runner for Paul Nicholls, he’s placed at the Cheltenham Festival, he’s placed in a Grade 1 and I think 40/1 is a big price. Those two will be on the betting slip, but Bleu Et Rouge is the one I’d fancy most for a win.