1.05 - Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors '50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff' Novice Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m6f)
GRAND JURY finished a spot ahead of Hollow Games in last month's Lawlor's of Naas Grade 1 novice at the Kildare track, neither having the answers to impressive winner Ginto on the day.
Only a neck split the pair in second and third, with Hollow Games closing back up on Rachael Blackmore's mount late on.
That was the first defeat of Hollow Games' career (fifth start under rules) and he's fancied on the betting to get back on track. This longer trip should suit him, but Henry De Bromhead's charge also is unlikely to put off on account of stamina and, set to go off three times the price, could be the value in this opening Grade 1 novice contest.
Eric Bloodaxe suffered his only defeat in three hurdles runs behind the aforementioned Ginto at Navan (2m4f, yielding) in December and was a comfortable winner of a Limerick Grade 2 over Christmas at this trip, so he's entitled to claims for Joseph O'Brien.
Selection: Grand Jury
Next Best: Hollow Games
1.35 - Racing TV '12 Per Month This Weekend Only' Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m)
Gordon Elliott's juvenile team is strong and FIL DOR found himself usurped as Triumph Hurdle favourite last weekend when stable/owner mate Pied Piper scooted in over at Cheltenham.
The ball is back in his court now and he can return serve. He was a very ready winner of a Grade 2 over C&D at the Christmas Festival here and can make it 4-4 over hurdles now.
This is, though, a tougher race on paper. Vauban pushed Pied Piper to the pin of his collar in a heavy-ground Punchestown maiden on New Year's Eve, form that looks good now, despite a mistake at the last. He was a Listed winner on the Flat in France and looks a sure-fire improver for Willie Mullins in the Rici Ricci silks now.
Stablemate Icare Allen won a maiden over C&D at Christmas and should improve, while The Tide Turns and Ben Siegel aren't here to make up numbers. Vadaly and Il Etait Temps are French imports debuting for Ireland's champion trainer and add plenty of unknown to the mix.
Selection: Fil Dor
Next Best: Vauban
2.10 - Patrick Ward & Co Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1, 2m1f)
Willie Mullins fires three at this Irish Arkle target, a race he has won four times in the last seven years. There are certainly echoes of 2018 winner Footpad with BLUE LORD.
They are under the same ownership of Simon Munir and Isaac Suede and are treading similar paths in being very impressive novice chasers - seemingly with more to give at this game compared to their earlier hurdles form.
Blue Lord has won both starts over fences at Fairyhouse and Naas without exiting third gear. This is his biggest test so far, and he is forecast to pass with honours.
It would be churlish to suggest Closutton stablemates Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam aren't principle dangers, though Paul Townend has forsaken both.
With Ferny Hollow out of Cheltenham, Blue Lord has taken his place as Arkle favourite. The former defeated Riviere D'etel over this C&D in St Stephens' Day and was value for more than the 1½-length winning margin. Gordon Elliott's mare got 13lb from that rival, though she only receives 9lb today from the market leader here.
Selection: Blue Lord
Next Best: Saint Sam
3.15 - Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m)
Eight runners going for the ?142,500 bounty on offer in the Irish Gold. They include former winners of this in Delta Work (2020) and Kemboy (2021) as well as the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup kingpin Minella Indo and the intriguing British raider, Frodon.
It's fabulous to see Paul Nicholls embracing the challenge of taking the Irish on in their own backyard and Frodon has already bagged a Grade 1 at Down Royal this season, with Galvin and Minella Indo behind - that's excellent form.
Bryony Frost's mount got drawn into a cut-hroat pace battle with Minella Indo in the King George on Boxing Day at Kempton, both horses failing to give their best as a result.
The consequence of that seemingly was Rachael Blackmore losing her perch on Minella Indo, with Robbie Power on board here. Both those runners must bounce back and, with Kemboy around, another frantic pace could be on the cards.
It wouldn't be a shock if any of that trio emerge best, nonetheless.
Instead, a chance is taken with ASTERION FORLONGE - and it really is a chance. The Willie Mullins inmate has bags of talent but fences seemingly get in his way. He's had nine starts over fences and has more falls/unseats (four) than wins (two)
Despite that, he is a real talent as he showed last spring at Punchestown. He was having his first crack at this trip in the King George and was the closest pursuer of Tornado Flyer when his race ended at the final jump.
Who knows what might have unfolded had he cleared that. It's sure to be a bare-knuckle ride at times, but he is good enough to win a race such as this and the others could set it up well for him if he gets around safely.
Selection: Asterion Forlonge
Next Best: Minella Indo
4.25 - Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race (Grade 2, 2m)
What an absolute belter of a bumper to conclude day one. Seven runners, they've combined to win eight times already in this code - each tasting success - and five are yet to sample defeat.
The Big Doyen and Sandor Clegane have impressed in their wins thus far but Patrick Mullins was very effusive in his praise of FACILE VEGA before the son of Quevega won so well over C&D at Christmas.
He delivered in good style and reports since are excellent. He's the one to beat under the top amateur pilot, with the Closutton operation so dominant in bumpers this season.
Selection: Facile Vega
Next Best: Sandor Clegane
1.20 - Ladbrokes Novice Chase (Grade 1, 2m5f)
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS was different class when making his chasing bow at this venue over Christmas, jumping away in the lead and thrashing his rivals with a performance that oozed quality.
Runner-up Ain't That A Shame (beat 22-lengths) went very close at Navan last month, while third home Floueur (beat 38-lengths) won his next start at Fairyhouse. Galopin Des Champs should book his spot on the boat to Cheltenham with another smooth success.
Stablemate Capodanno couldn't go with Bob Olinger at Punchestown last time but remains promising and could be second-best if he takes his chance.
Selection: Galopin Des Champs
Next Best: Capodanno
1.50 - Ladbrokes Dublin Chase (Grade 1, 2m1f)
The second assault on a big prize of the weekend for Paul Nicholls as he sends over Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen to tackle this Grade 1 contest. That was his second top-tier success of 2021, having sent Altior into retirement in defeat when he won the Celebration Chase at Sandown in April.
His subsequent second to Shishkin at Kempton over Christmas isn't a stick to beat him with and he was clear of Sky Pirate - the other British challenger here - that day. The Ditcheat inmate is a key player.
CHACUN POUR SOI was a massive disappointment at Sandown in the Tingle Creek but he was never his usual self in that race and, given he missed Christmas afterwards, something must have been troubling him. He's 0-2 in the UK now and, at 10, perhaps unlikely to dramatically alter his standing across the water.
Around here it's a different story. A Plus Tard is the only horse to beat him in four runs over C&D, with three wins including the last two renewals of this race. If he's back in form, this big and bold jumper can put them to the sword a fair way from home before probably dossing his way up the home straight and making it look a lot closer than it really is.
Selection: Chacun Pour Soi
Next Best: Greaneteen
3.00 - Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m)
The Queens' of jumps racing are in tandem here as HONEYSUCKLE and Rachael Blackmore look to win their third Irish Champion Hurdle and continue their unblemished record together.
The star mare was faultless in the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse in November's comeback and should complete her preparation for Cheltenham next month with victory. There are no reasons to doubt her and, at 8YO, she's probably arriving at her peak years.
Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle score Appreciate It adds some spice to the race, though his intention this season was to go novice chasing and the aborting of that plan presumably was after some sort of minor setback.
Zanahiyr, Saint Roi and Echoes In Rain were second, third and fourth behind the irrepressible Sharjah in 'his race' at Christmas and could all be hoping for a silver medal.
Next Best: Zanahiyr
3.35 - Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m)
Mighty Potter won a C&D Grade 1 in December but connections ruled him out of this race in midweek.
SIR GERHARD toyed with his rivals in a maiden on soft on St Stephen's Day and is open to plenty progress. We should know plenty more about his Cheltenham Festival credentials once this race is run. He's going to be a short-price favourite, in all probability, and is the one to beat.
Willie Mullins has won 22 of 60 previous races run at the Dublin Racing Festival entering this year and the Closutton maestro will add handsomely to that tally over this weekend.
El Fabiolo made a very pleasing start for him at Tramore on New Year's Day and while that form isn't anything to get excited about, there's plenty untapped potential for this son of Spanish Moon, who was Listed-placed in France before Simon Munir and Isaac Suede snapped him up. He could improve generously on better ground.
Three Stripe Life for Gordon Elliott and Joseph O'Brien's Lunar Display are others that can play their part in the final Grade 1 of a scintillating weekend at Leopardstown.
Selection: Sir Gerhard
Next Best: El Fabiolo