The fantastic new Dublin Racing Festival is now fast approaching, and Joseph Smyth has picked out seven horses to follow at Leopardstown...
Leopardstown stages a fantastic two days racing as part of the new Dublin Racing Festival at the beginning of February and it provides many high class horses with their last chance to boost their Cheltenham Festival claims.
Below are just some of the horses who will be trying to bounce back or press on and ensure their place at the March showcase.
Coney Island - Irish Gold Cup (4th Feb)
Off the track a total of 359 days, Coney Island was a striking nine-length winner on his return in the Graduation Chase at Ascot in December.
Trained by Eddie Harty the seven-year-old looked a high end performer before picking up an injury, when a general 6-1 ante post second favourite for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival last season.
A peerless winner of the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on just his second start over fences, the Flemensfirth gelding demonstrated his ability to stay the three-mile trip when beaten just half a length by Our Duke at Leopardstown last Christmas, with the exciting Noel Meade-trained Disko back in third.
Coney Island looks to have a real touch of class and has two options when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival. At Ascot he showed that he unquestionably has the speed for the Ryanair Chase and the ground he made up from the back of the third last fence on that day was savage.
We know he stays the three mile trip from previous efforts but a gruelling three miles and two furlongs around Cheltenham may not be to his liking and his Gold Cup aspirations will probably hinge on how he performs at Leopardstown next month.
Melon – Irish Champion Hurdle (3rd Feb)
Melon is a horse that has divided opinion. Trained by Willie Mullins, the hype surrounding the six-year-old when he arrived at the Mullins yard was phenomenal. Favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before even spotted on Irish soil, he nearly fulfilled that hype when finding just one too good in the Cheltenham opener last year.
Despite winning first time out this season at Down Royal, again he divided opinion as the performance lacked fluency and that touch of class. From there he went to Cheltenham for the Grade 2 International Hurdle. Sent off the 7/4 favourite, having raced far too freely throughout, to his credit he still looked the likely winner jumping the last.
Having wasted so much energy fighting jockey David Mullins from flag fall, he was outgunned in the closing stages by the seasoned professionals in My Tent Or Yours and The New One.
Melon has the Irish Champion Hurdle as his next target. This run for Melon may be crucial with March in mind. Not only will it give him more experience, having had only five starts over hurdles, but as we seen last time out he can race keenly and this run is sure to take the freshness out of him.
The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham looks to be lacking depth and if there is an improver in the field, it may well be him. If Faugheen lines up at Leopardstown and runs his race, we will know a lot more about the ability of Melon. Maybe then we can start to believe the hype.
Petit Mouchoir – Arkle Novice Chase (3rd Feb)
Now trained by Henry De Bromhead, this son of Al Namix has done nothing but improve since winning his maiden hurdle at Thurles for trainer Willie Mullins back in November 2015. The Gigginstown recruit is a two-time Grade 1 winner since being switched to De Bromhead and ended last season by finishing third in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival behind Buveur D’air.
Having not jumped a fence in public since his point-to-point days with Gordon Elliott, Petit Mouchoir looked destined to take high rank among the two-mile novice chasers this season when opening his account with a facile seven-length victory in a beginners chase at Punchestown in October. Unfortunately the horse suffered a setback and had an issue with a joint, which has kept him from the track since.
He looks set to reappear in the Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown where he is likely to meet Footpad who has looked sensational this season. A fully fit Petit Mouchoir taking on Footpad would be a monumental clash, given the grey finished ahead of Footpad three times over hurdles last season.
It may be too much to ask for Henry to have Petit Mouchoir fully wound up coming back after a layoff but if he puts in a clear round and shapes well, the clash is well and truly set up for March.
Sharjah – Deloitte Novice Hurdle (4th Feb)
Sharjah will do well to notch up as many victories as his namesake has complied on the all-weather for trainer Andrew Slattery. The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is likely to be well fancied for the Deloitte Novice Hurdle on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, with a number of the more high profile two mile novice hurdlers not likely to show up here.
Two from two over hurdles since joining the Mullins yard, the Doctor Dino gelding looked likely to remain unbeaten until falling at the final hurdle in the Grade 1 Future Champion Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Reportedly fine in the aftermath and with the Deloitte being changed from a two mile two furlong race to a two mile race this season, Sharjah has the opportunity to bounce back here and put himself right into the Supreme Novices picture.
Monalee – Flogas Novice Chase (4th Feb)
Trained by Henry De Bromhead, Monalee produced one of the most impressive chasing debuts this season when beating Any Second Now by six-lengths in a beginners chase at Punchestown.
Well fancied on the back of that effort at Leopardstown over Christmas having been foot perfect on debut, it was a surprise to see him make a mistake and take a heavy fall. De Bromhead has reported the son of Milan to have schooled well since and he will be hoping that he can make amends for his most recent mishap.
Monalee has been to the Cheltenham festival previously and put in a fine performance finishing second in the Albert Bartlett last season. The RSA Chase looks his most likely target and providing he can bounce back and is none the worse for his fall, he will be well fancied for the three-mile chase come March.
French import, Stormy Ireland has had only the one start since joining trainer Willie Mullins. A winning distance of 58-lengths in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse, albeit the strength of that form remains to be seen, she could not have been anymore impressive.
Mullins has a good recent record in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle having won the race with Footpad and Petit Parisienne. Stormy Ireland is stepping into the unknown and will have to take on the unbeaten four-time winner Espoir D’allen and the improving Farclas from the Gordon Elliott yard. The vibes from Mullins yard have been nothing but positive and at the minute she looks their leading juvenile.
Hopefully she lines up here and we will know a lot more about her and whether or not she has serious claims in winning the Triumph Hurdle in March.
Our Duke – Irish Gold Cup (4th Feb)
Our Duke is a really interesting prospect when it comes to the top staying chases this season. What he did on just his fourth start over fences, to win the Irish Grand National by an eased down 14-length margin was breath-taking.
Prior to that, he won the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas on just his second start over the larger obstacles. That form looks red hot with Coney Island and Disko filling the places on that occasion.
Big things were expected from the Jessica Harrington-trained gelding this season and it was a huge disappointment when he failed to run any sort of a race on his reappearance in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in November. Having scoped dirty after the race and not jumping with his usual fluency, it transpired he had a back problem and has since undergone an operation on his back to rectify any problem.
The vibes since from the Harrington yard have been nothing but positive and as a result Our Duke heads the ante-post market from the Irish Gold Cup. It will be really interesting to see how he performs and hopefully after a solid performance he will head to Cheltenham with a good chance in March.