Faugheen the star turn as Mullins-Elliott duel heats up
What a day's racing ahead with Faugheen one of many star attractions as the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival looks set to light up Leopardstown while providing more valuable clues on the road to next month's Cheltenham Festival.
Crowds of up to 24,000 are expected to flock to the Foxrock track over the weekend with the €1.5 million prize money creating a clearer picture in Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott's battle for the Irish trainers' championship - 11-time champion Mullins currently trails by €606,820.
Faugheen won the Irish Champion Hurdle in emphatic fashion two years ago and is the headline act on day one as he bids to bounce back to his best form but the presence of Yorkhill, Melon and Footpad make this one of the finest day's National Hunt racing on these shores in recent memory.
1.10 Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Grade 1 Novice Hurdle 2m6f
An intriguing Grade One to open affairs with Dortmund Park returning just 13 days after his impressive Thurles win. Elliott's charge is well respected but preference is for the Mullins-trained Fabulous Saga. Paul Townend's mount can build on a battling Grade Two win at Limerick to get things off to a flier.
SELECTION: Fabulous Saga
1.45 Coral Grade 2 Dublin Chase 2m1f
ONE of the most anticipated races of the week as the enigmatic but brilliant Yorkhill steps down to the minimum trip with Mullins having a possible crack at Cheltenham's Champion Chase in mind after flopping over three miles on his last run. Stablemate Min - which renews acquaintances with his Christmas conqueror Simply Ned - will give him plenty to think about along with reigning champion chaser Special Tiara but if Townend gets Yorkhill into a rhythm early on, he should be the one to beat.
2.20 Frank Ward Solicitors Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase 2m1f
A DAZZLING display from Footpad over course and distance in December has him already well clear at the head of the Arkle market - as short as 5/4 with some firms for next month's Festival - and his credentials will be well tested by last year's Irish Champion Hurdle winner Petit Mouchoir. Gigginstown have been clear that today is not the end game for Petit Mouchoir, however, so further improvement will be expected from him while the consistent Any Second Now can be in the mix.
2.55 Sandyford Grade B Handicap Chase 2m1f
A MINI charge of the light brigade as 20 go to post in an ultra-competitive handicap with the JP McManus quintet of runners - led by Thomas Mullins' That's A Wrap - looking particularly strong but preference instead is for Gigginstown's Bel Ami De Sivola, which performed well when second at the Christmas Festival with many of today's opponents in behind on that occasion.
SELECTION: Bel Ami De Sivola
3.30 BHP Insurance Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle 2m
SUPERSTAR hurdler Faugheen was friendless in the market earlier this week drifting to as big as 7/4 but confidence seems to be gathering that the 'Machine' is back to his best. He'll need to be in top gear, however, with stable companion Melon and last year's Triumph Hurdle hero Defi Du Seuil in opposition. Faugheen has nearly a stone in hand on ratings and if he returns to his best there is only one winner.
4.05 Coral Hurdle (Grade B Handicap) 2m
ANY Charles Byrnes runner in a handicap should always be watched closely and Off You Go is a worthy favourite off bottom weight but preference is for Henry de Bromhead's Mind's Eye, beaten just once in three runs over hurdles when chasing home the brilliant Samcro, and there may be more to come from him.
SELECTION: Mind's Eye
4.40 Goffs Future Stars Grade 2 Flat Race 2m
BLACKBOW was brilliant on his racecourse debut at Christmas but Elliott looks to have something special in Rapid Escape, which oozed class at Navan to score easily, and Lisa O'Neill can steer Elliott's charge to his fourth consecutive victory.
SELECTION: Rapid Escape