Despite the lack of crowds in the stands due to current Covid-19 regulations in Ireland, the Dublin Racing Festival again lived up to its billing with some magnificent equine and human performances, with many of the Grade 1 winners now being touted as potential Cheltenham Festival stars next month.
One name dominated the action at the South County Dublin track on both Saturday and Sunday, that of Willie Mullins. From a famous racing dynasty, with his late father Paddy having trained the only mare to win both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, Willie Mullins is Ireland’s perennial champion jumps trainer and the Cheltenham Festival’s leading handler an incredible seven times since 2011.
Last weekend was dominated by the success of the Mullins horses, with the County Carlow genius winning three of the opening day Grade 1 races. Gaillard Du Mesnil got proceedings underway with a victory in The Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle over 2 miles 6 furlongs. The French-bred won under jockey Paul Townend in the colours of the Donnellys, the silks carried to victory in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups by Al Boum Photo.
Gaillard Du Mesnil has been installed as joint second favourite at 6/1, behind his stable companion Appreciate It for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over 2 miles half a furlong, the first race on Day 1 of Cheltenham 2021. He is favoured at 5/2 ahead of the same Appreciate It for the longer distance Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f) on the second afternoon.
The brilliant Chacun Pour Soi cruised to victory for the second year in a row in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase by eight lengths ahead of Fakir D’oudairies, the runner-up trained by former Breeders’ Cup-winning rider Joseph O’Brien. This was a hugely impressive winning performance in the 2m 1f race, again under the Mullins stable jockey, Paul Townend, in the colours of American-born investment banker Rich Ricci. The display saw Chacun Pour Soi tighten in the betting market for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, he is now 4/6f with his nearest rival Altior at 7/1.
Arguably the most visually impressive performance of Day 1 came from another Mullins inmate, Energumene, who led home a 1-2-3 for the stable in the Grade 1 Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase. Now unbeaten in his three runs, the French-bred Energumene won by 10 lengths at the wire and is 4/6 favourite for the Arkle Novice Chase at Cheltenham.
Rachael Blackmore and multiple Grade 1-winning mare Honeysuckle demonstrated their superiority in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle. The winner of the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year, the Henry de Bromhead-trained super mare is now 9/4f for the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. Connections had seen last weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle as her final trial for the 2 mile championship in March.
Willie Mullins continued to demonstrate his dominance on Day 2 of the Dublin Racing Festival. Kemboy won the Grade 1 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, a performance that has seen him shortened to 10/1 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting market, a race his stable mate Al Boum Photo has won each of the last two years.
Appreciate It, current favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and second favourite behind another Willie Mullins-handled horse Gaillard Du Mesnil for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, was the victor in the Grade 1 The Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
Last season’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, tasted more Grade 1 glory when winning the Flogas Novice Chase in an effortless display for the Mullins-Townend combination, with his handler describing his 11 length victory as “flawless”. Layers reacted accordingly by cutting his price into 8/11f for the 3 mile half a furlong Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Chase.
Gordon Elliott, the main training rival to Mullins in Ireland and leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in both 2017 and 2018, managed to win just one of the Grade 1 races at the Dublin Racing Festival, the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle. In the colours of Cheveley Park Stud in England, more renowned for their flat-bred and owned horses, the Jack Kennedy-ridden favourite Quilixios gave the County Meath-based trainer some consolation on a weekend of W.P. Mullins domination.
So impressive has the form of the Willie Mullins-trained horses this season, with his horses claiming eight of the events at the 15-race Dublin Racing Festival, the bookmakers are offering 4/5 that he will train more winners at the Cheltenham Festival in England next month than all the other Irish trainers combined.