Since its inception, form from the festival has carried through to Cheltenham
The impact of the Dublin Racing Festival has been significant in just five years. It was established as a prestigious weekend of elite racing that, significantly, is now drawing more cross-channel visitors with every renewal.
As well as the attraction of Dublin’s social life and the cheaper hospitality rates on track compared to similar festival fare in England, there is the lure of competitiveness in most contests, be they any of the eight Grade 1s or the valuable handicaps.
That competitiveness is equine, of course. That Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott or Henry de Bromhead claim the vast majority of the top prizes is a little more predictable.
While a festival that has earned a high status very quickly — in jump racing, every race is viewed through a Cheltenham lens.
Since the inaugural festival in 2018, the graph of Irish-trained performance in the shadow of the Cotswolds has had a consistently upward trajectory.
Some have credited DRF with this phenomenon, and gathering so many of the major Irish contests at open and novice level to a period five weeks before Cheltenham is ideal in terms of preparation.
And after many years of our favourites failing to fire, having earned the status from dotted around and then scooted away in a two-furlong sprint, the Irish horses travelling to Prestbury Park nowadays head there after at least one serious dust-up with quality opposition.
Many of those shootouts are at Leopardstown on the February bank holiday weekend. But then, do Mullins, Elliott and De Bromhead just have the best horses anyway? Well, they do, but lots of them will be taking each other on, and that makes us all winners.
It’s worth looking at how form from the festival has carried through to Cheltenham. Seven horses that ran at the first DRF went on to do the business at Cheltenham. Only three of those had won at Leopardstown.
Only Klassical Dream and Envoi Allen emanated from 2019, both as winners, that tally increasing by just one 12 months later, when Honeysuckle and Min did doubles, while Concertista improved from being beaten in Foxrock.
This was a period when the ground tended to be pretty lively at Leopardstown. This has not been such an issue in recent times. Maybe that’s why the returns were so spectacular in 2021, when a staggering 12 horses followed up with Cheltenham triumphs.
This, of course, was the year when there were a record 23 Irish-trained victors there. They were split evenly between horses that had won at DRF and those that had not. Last season, that figure was back down to a quartet, with only Delta Work improving positionally for the outing, having finished sixth of eight in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup before slaying Bambi and denying Tiger Roll in the Cross-Country Chase.
There has been one Gold Cup winner, when Minella Indo scored in 2021 after being fourth of five back home. Honeysuckle did the Champion Hurdle double the last two years, after scoring in the Mares’ Hurdle following her maiden success in the Chanelle Pharma-sponsored Irish version.
Though Flooring Porter has won the last two Stayers’ Hurdles and Energumene took the Champion Chase last year, neither ran at DRF and no winner of those championship races has come out of the weekend.
The Triumph Hurdle and Champion Bumper are the two races that have been won most by immediate DRF graduates at three from five.
Vauban and Quilixios have done the double with the Donohue Marquee Spring Juvenile Hurdle in the past couple of terms, while Farclas improved from second in 2018.
Relegate, Envoi Allen and Facile Vega all completed bumper doubles, though Relegate did it via the mares’ contest.
One imagines that it might take a lot of racing people a few picks to identify the one individual race over the five years that produced the most winners at Cheltenham the following month. The honour goes to the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle, which, in terms of status, is the lowest-rated affair on Sunday’s card.
But in bountiful 2021, it was won by Heaven Help Us, with Telmesomethinggirl third and Mrs Milner falling at the fifth flight. That trio landed the spoils in the Coral Hurdle, the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and the Pertemps Final.
Of course, many have run really well and been placed at Cheltenham and others have been unlucky, such as Galopin Des Champs, who knuckled a stride after landing safely at the last in the Turners last year, when going to prevail doing handstands.
Ultimately, it’s just a great weekend’s racing. I’m going to enjoy it for that.
From DRF to Cheltenham
2018 (7): Footpad, Rathvinden, Samcro, Bleu Berry, Relegate, The Storyteller, Farclas.
2019 (2): Klassical Dream, Envoi Allen.
2020 (3): Honeysuckle, Min, Concertista
2021 (12): Appreciate It, Honeysuckle, Monkfish, Heaven Help Us, Facile Vega, Mrs Milner, The Shunter, Telmesomethinggirl, Quilixios, Minella Indo, Vanillier, Galopin Des Champs.
2022 (4): Honeysuckle, Sir Gerhard, Delta Work, Vauban.