Saturday’s racing at Newbury and Sunday’s racing at Punchestown could provide loads of pointers to races at the Cheltenham Festival and also the Grand National, whilst we also take a look back at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival.
Dublin Racing Festival Reflection
The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival produced a variety of thrills and spills last weekend, with Samcro looking like a sure-fire future superstar. He sauntered to an easy 5½ length victory in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle and, though who knows how good the opposition will prove, connections must be wondering whether he would have won the Irish Champion Hurdle if they’d allowed him to take up his entry.
The Irish Champion Hurdle was won by Supasundae who is more likely to run in the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Meanwhile, the favourite Faugheen wasn’t at his best for the second run in a row, but connections are hopeful that a bit of sun between now and the Cheltenham Festival may rekindle his enthusiasm.
Willie Mullins looks sure to have one of the favourites for the Champion Chase though as Min won his grade 1 after being disqualified from a course and distance success in December. However, it’s worth remembering that he was well-beaten by current Champion Chase favourite Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Perhaps the most interesting race of the weekend was the Irish Gold Cup, a race in which Willie Mullins (and followers of my tip Killultagh Vic) were cursing when that horse came down at the last with the race seemingly at his mercy. However, it was a memorable victory for Edwulf who looked down and out last season after a horrific fall at the Cheltenham Festival. However, the one to take out of the race in regard to the Cheltenham Gold Cup could be Our Duke. Sent off favourite for the Irish Gold Cup, he did well to stay on his feet after a horrendous blunder two fences from home but stayed on again in determined fashion. He looks just the type to relish spring ground and two extra furlongs at Cheltenham.
UK Racing Saturday 10 February
Newbury looks the place to concentrate on this Saturday, with the Denman Chase being a recognised trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There’s also the Game Spirit Chase, a trial for the Champion Chase that looks sure to feature several aspiring Champion Chasers. There’s also the Betfair Hurdle, the UK’s most lucrative handicap hurdle and a race many of the field will have been plotted at for a long time.
Betfair Cash Out Handicap Hurdle (1.50)
This 3-mile handicap hurdle is only worth just over £12,000 to the winner, but its noteworthy because it features the return of Barters Hill after 456 days off the course, an absence that followed him sustaining an injury in his first novice chase at Cheltenham. He had also been somewhat of a flop at the previous season’s Cheltenham Festival, but his reputation has always been big ever since he made his racecourse debut. Personally, I’m not sure Cheltenham suits this long striding sort, and he’s already proved that Newbury does having won twice here already. The horses he beat in those two runs look seriously good on his CV, as he beat Politogue over hurdles, and Altior and Buveur D’Air in a bumper.
Denman Chase (2.35)
Named after the 2008 winner Denman, this race has been used as a stepping stone to Cheltenham Gold Cup success by its eponymous winner as well as Long Run and Coneygree. This year it features two horses who finished third and fifth in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup in Native river and Saphir Du Rheu, though make their first appearance of the season. Native River is fancied to come out on top again though as, as an 8-year-old, he could well have progressed again this season, and has already proven he loves Newbury with a Hennessey win and a win in last year’s renewal. The race-fit Cloudy Dream could give them something to think about though, especially with Definitely Red boosting his latest form with a win in the Cotswold Chase.
The Game Spirit Chase also only features three runners, one of which has no chance, but this could still be a fantastic battle between last year’s Arkle winner Altior and this season’s big improver Politilogue. Altior has reportedly blossomed after a wind operation but, as both horses like to race prominently, Politologue look sure to give Altior’s breathing a serious workout.
There’s a first prize of over £88,000 for the Betfair Hurdle, so don’t be surprised that loads of the runners have been plotted-up significantly for the race. However, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious grade 1 race masquerading as a handicapper such as Zarkandar and My Tent Or Yours proved to be in winning past renewals. Jenkins has started to live up to his big reputation, and has won both previous starts at Newbury, but Nicky Henderson hardly looks convinced by his credentials as he saddles five runners. If you’re a stats person – you might want to take note that 6 of the last 8 winners have been aged five or six, rated between 132 and 137, and have carried 11-1 or less. That would narrow down the field to just Lalor, Silver Streak and Nietzche.
Big Race Pointers In Ireland
This Sunday’s meeting at Punchestown may be a far cry from the brilliant racing served up at the Punchestown Festival in April, but there a couple of races that look worth watching with one eye on the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National.
Punchestown.com Hunters Chase (3.45)
Hunters Chases aren’t everybody’s idea of a betting medium, but this Hunters Chase is interesting because the highly-rated Gilgamboa looks set to try and make it three Hunters Chase wins in a row. He doesn’t appear to be entered for the Cheltenham Foxhunters but, as he’s trained by Enda Bolger, he looks a potentially big price for the Cross Country Race at the Festival.
Boylesports Grand National Chase (4.20)
The Boylesports Grand National Trial poses something of a quandary for trainers as, whilst it carries a first prize of €50,000, winning it could seriously jeopardise a horse’s chances of winning the Grand National with the announcement of the Grand National weights just around the corner. Therefore, the likes of the interestingly weighted 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup third Road To Riches and 2015 Irish Grand National winner Thunder And Roses may not be seen at their best. However, this race does look an interesting target for 2016 winner Pertemps Final winner Mall Dini who is only 4lb higher here.