Danny Mullins excelled as Minella Cocooner started the Dublin Racing Festival with a bang for Willie Mullins in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle. Sporting a hood for the first time, Minella Cocooner was allowed an easy lead at the head of affairs, with his rider injecting pace into the race at various stages before easing off again. Although he looked like a sitting duck with three furlongs to run, with Davy Russell moving up menacingly on the favourite Hollow Games, Minella Cocooner (11-1) was just waiting in front. When Mullins pushed the button he took three lengths out of the field and immediately had the rest in trouble and his jockey was once again celebrating Grade One success on a supposed second-string from the stable. Paul Townend had chosen stablemate Bronn and while he briefly threatened, he eventually faded out of contention. It was Gordon Elliott's Minella Crooner who stayed on best to take second from his stable companion Hollow Games, but they were two and three-quarter lengths behind the impressive winner, who was cut to 8-1 from 16s for the Albert Bartlett by Coral. Betfair was more impressed in going 6-1 from 20s.
Danny Mullins continues to impress he really is a top-class jockey. He is very dangerous when allowed to dictate I thought of the others Hollow Games looked really slow. That said it would surprise me if an attritional race at Cheltenham really suited Hollow Games. I think Minella Cocooner will be going to the Albert Bartlett with a chance, however, he may just have got a really clever ride here. It still looks open for Cheltenham.
Blue Lord held off the late rally of Riviere D'etel to claim the Patrick Ward & Co Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown. Willie Mullins' seven-year-old arrived unbeaten in two starts over fences, but he did not jump as slick as he had done previously in the early stages as stablemate Saint Sam set a strong early gallop under Rachael Blackmore. The pace caught out another Mullins runner, Haut En Couleurs, who was an early faller. By halfway Saint Sam had really strung the field out, but Jack Kennedy was intent on keeping tabs on the leader aboard Gordon Elliott's Riviere D'etel. The mare took up the running and held an advantage running to the last, with Paul Townend at pains to keep in touch on Blue Lord (5-2) which proved vital as Riviere D'etel made a mistake and lost all momentum. Blue Lord got away from the fence the quicker but crossed in front of Riviere D'etel, causing Kennedy to switch on his mount and she then began to rally, closing to within half a length. But while the stewards had a look, the placings remained unaltered.
I think Blue Lord was lucky to keep this race. I think Riviere D'etel was inconvenienced by Blue Lord. It was clever race riding from Paul Townend. I think both go with real chances in the Arkle at Cheltenham. I would just favour Riviere D'etel of these two. I think that the UK have a great Arkle prospect in Edwardstone he may be too good for them all.
Willie Mullins also took the second race on the card as Vauban paid a handsome compliment to Pied Piper with a smooth success in the Racing TV Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. Beaten on his only previous start by Gordon Elliott's Pied Piper, who has subsequently bolted up at Cheltenham, this time Elliott took him on with Fil Dor. Fil Dor had done nothing wrong over hurdles prior to this Grade One assignment, winning all three starts including a Grade Two over Christmas. Understandably he was sent off the 6-5 favourite with Willie Mullins' Vauban a 9-4 chance on just his second start. Vauban's jumping could have been slicker, but when Paul Townend moved him into contention on the turn from home, he made Fil Dor looked decidedly one-paced. The Rich Ricci-owned Vauban pulled three lengths clear and is now 11-4 second-favourite for the Triumph Hurdle with Betfair behind 5-2 market leader Pied Piper. Fil Dor was pushed out to 6-1.
It was interesting that the Mullins team thought Vauban would improve a lot for this. There was very little between Pied Piper and Vauban at Punchestown when they clashed on New Year's Eve. The rematch looks like one to savour at Cheltenham.
Conflated burst into the big time with a dominant display in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. Trained by Gordon Elliott, who had endured a frustrating day up until this point, Conflated had been on the fringes as a novice hurdler, just behind the likes of Latest Exhibition and Envoi Allen. Sent over fences last season the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding showed ability without suggesting he was capable of winning a race of this nature. However, last time out, albeit in handicap company, Conflated looked a different proposition, bolting up and earning a 12lb rise in the process. Connections decided to roll the big dice and see where he stood on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival - and were rewarded with the biggest prize in Irish steeplechasing. Never far from the pace-setting Frodon and Kemboy, Conflated (18-1) was always travelling sweetly for Davy Russell before hitting the front down the back straight. Having seemingly put the race to bed a long way out, he understandably got tired on the run to the line and Minella Indo, who bounced back from his disappointing effort in the King George, closed to within six and a half lengths, albeit without looking like getting to the winner. Janadil was third, faring best of the Willie Mullins runners, with the favourite Asterion Forlonge fourth.
Betfair slashed the winner to 8-1 from 66-1 for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham."
Conflated has always been capable and it looked like a really good performance. I think this was down to some great race riding from Davy Russell. I think the people who will be most happy will be the connections of Minella Indo who is the reigning champion. Minella Indo also has excellent Cheltenham form 121 and Robbie Power will be a very good partner.
Good Time Jonny took the three-mile Handicap Hurdle. I thought Enjoy D'allen ran a super race in fifth. I think this horse is a massive player in the Aintree Grand National. A Wave Of The Sea won the Grade B handicap chase on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival for the second year in a row. It was a typical team McManus effort. Grange Walk was a little unlucky with the jockey dropping his stick at a vital moment in a driving finish. Facile Vega lit up Leopardstown in the concluding Grade 2 bumper with a breathtaking display. The five-year-old readily went on in the final quarter of a mile and shot clear over a furlong from home. The Walk In The Park five-year-old did his mother, the mighty Quevega proud, in coming home by an eased down 12 lengths to justify 8/11 favouritism. Facile Vega looks the real deal.