Monday, we start at Dundalk. After his earlier wins aboard Doyouthinkso and Never Seen Before, Chris Hayes completed a 359/1 treble when partnering the 4/1 favourite Gatsby Cap to victory in the Find Us On Facebook @dundalkstadium Handicap (Div II). Twice a winner for Fozzy Stack as a 3-year-old, including a victory at this venue, Gatsby Cap was having his second outing for current trainer Paddy Hayes, brother of the winning jockey. At Lingfield, there was a jumpers bumper card Adrian Keatley was on target with Socks Off. At Wolverhampton, Lottie Marie took the feature race under Rhys Clutterbuck. The meeting at Sedgefield was abandoned.
Tuesday, we start at Newcastle. There was a jumpers bumper card. It was a double for Dan Skelton with Not That Fuisse and Proschema. At Southwell, the feature race went to Brian The Snail for Richard Fahey. The meeting at Limerick was abandoned.
Wednesday, we start at Warwick. Annie Mc had her connections dreaming of Cheltenham success after powering home in the Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase. Annie Mc was advised 2.5pts win at 7/4. There was a double for Jonjo O'Neill Snr and Jnr with Uptown Lady and Annie Mc. There was also a double for Dan and Harry Skelton with Supremely Lucky and Cabot Cliffs. At Lingfield, there was a double for Simon Pearce with Noble Peace and Full Intention. At Kempton, there was a double for Hollie Doyle with Twilight Madness and Beauty Stone.
Thursday, we start at Meydan. Mouheeb provided jockey Ryan Curatolo with his first winner at Meydan in the UAE 2000 Guineas. There was sad news on the day as Former Cheltenham racecourse chairman Lord Vestey died at the age of 79. At Down Royal, Jack Hendrick, a 2nd cousin of Jamie Codd, rode his first track winner aboard the gambled-on and impressive Longque in the Molson Coors INH Flat Race. At Wincanton, there was a double for Paul Nicholls with Lucky One and Sametegal. At Southwell, Mark Johnston was on target with Desert Boots. At Ffos Las, Franco D'aunou was on target for Venetia Williams. At Chelmsford, there was a treble for trainer Michael Appleby with Szarratu, Channel Packet and Edraak.
Friday, we start at Dundalk. The Mouse Doctor edged a good duel with Pempie in the closing stages of the mile-and-a-half handicap. There was little to choose between that pair on the run to the line with Tony Martin's charge just ahead at the line to record a short-head victory under Siobhan Rutledge. It's great to see this Siobhan Rutledge has become a big part of our team. Blackstone Cliff defied a drift in the market to claim the second division of the ten-furlong handicap for John McConnell. At Lingfield, Ryan Moore was on target with Royaume Uni. At Catterick, Quick Wave was on target for Venetia Williams. At Chepstow, Easy As That made it an across the card double for Venetia Williams. At Newcastle, Starfighter and Imperial Command gave Daniel Mark Loughnane a double.
Saturday, a brilliant days racing. It was day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. It was to be another memorable day for the Willie Mullins team. There was a Willie Mullins one three in the Grade One Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors '50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff' Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown as 13/8 favourite Gaillard Du Mesnil led home a field of thirteen in impressive style. Paul Townend’s mount had to chase down his stable companion and pacesetter Stattler in the straight, and Gentlemansgame eventually came through for the second, five lengths off the winner. There was a short head to Stattler in third. I was quite impressed with Gaillard Du Mesnil who wore a hood, he is a free goer. Cheltenham will be a different ball game. I would prefer Bravemansgame in the Ballymore then Gaillard Du Mesnil right now. I loved the run of Gentlemansgame he looks like he will make a nice chaser next season.
The Ladbrokes Dublin Chase saw Willie Mullins and Paul Townend complete an opening races Grade One double with the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi (2/5 favourite). A bad mistake five out by Min ended his chances pulling up. Chacun Pour Soi took command after the last in impressive style for an eight-length win from Fakir D’oudairies. They went a good gallop here. I thought Chacun Pour Soi was really impressive here his Cheltenham chances are obvious. The only thing opposition can possibly point to as a chink is Chacun Pour Soi has not been the most robust. Chacun Pour Soi has also never raced at Cheltenham. I have several each-way ante-post positions on Fakir D’oudairies for the Champion Chase (including one at 50/1). I thought he ran well, the hope is he has booked his ticket to Cheltenham. Fakir D’oudairies has a good record at Cheltenham 3 runs 142. The fourth came in the Supreme and the second in the Arkle. As for Notebook, he is probably not as good as first promised. It looks like Notebook is an early season type. Min, if he is alright, should go for the Ryanair, however Melon and Allaho would have better credentials in my view.
A Grade One treble in the first three races for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend was completed by a Closutton one two three led home by the hugely impressive Energumene (8/11 out to 5/6 favourite) in the Grade One Patrick Ward & Co. Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase. Eventual second Franco De Port did well to survive a bad mistake at the fence past the stands, but there was no disguising the superiority of Energumene from the front as he scored by ten lengths. Blackbow was three parts of a length back in third. Energumene actually bettered star stable companion Chacun Pour Soi’s time thirty-five minutes earlier, by 1.3 seconds. Energumene goes to the Arkle at Cheltenham with outstanding credentials. However, Shiskin will be a whole different ball game. Franco De Port is solid he could place in the Arkle. The third horse Blackbow is really interesting to me I hope he goes for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
The fourth Grade One on the card was the feature race the Grade One Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle. Honeysuckle (10/11 favourite) went back-to-back in the Grade One Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown to stylishly keep her career unbeaten record very much intact. A career-best was produced from the Kenny Alexander-owned and Henry de Bromhead-trained star, as Rachael Blackmore’s mount slammed Abacadabras and Sharjah by ten lengths and nine lengths. The hugely talented daughter of Sulamani really put it to her rivals from before two out and they were soon chasing shadows. She was able to fiddle the last and the race was in the bag at that stage.“That was brilliant, she was brilliant. It was what we hoped she'd do and she did it,” said de Bromhead.“Rachael was brilliant on her and she's just class.“It's lovely the way she picked up, she's not slow either, and you could see the speed of her there.“She jumped great and she just let her fiddle the last.“I'm very lucky to have Rachael and I've said it all before. She's just brilliant to have on the team.”On the Champion Hurdle, he added:-“We'll enjoy today. We've won a Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle which is amazing.“There is a lot of relief after that and I don't feel as sick as I did ten minutes ago.“I'll have to speak to Kenny (Alexander) and Peter (Molony) but you'd have to feel that we'd be leaning that way (Champion Hurdle).”
As for the rest in the context of the ten lengths beating Honeysuckle handed out. Abacadabras ran perfectly fine I could see him being placed in a Champion hurdle. Sharjah seems to save his best effort for Christmas at Leopardstown. Sharjah has run well before in a champion hurdle again he has place prospects. Saint Roi has been incredibly disappointing. I really believed his County hurdle performance, however, he has not kicked on. I have given him enough chances. I am done with him now. Honeysuckle and Epatante is a very intriguing clash at the moment I couldn't say which one I would favour. I am grateful I do not have to!! at this moment.
Simon Torrens was in dreamland after adding to his earlier gains on A Wave Of The Sea at the Dublin Racing Festival, doubling up in Leopardstown’s Grade B Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle aboard Drop The Anchor. The pair are owned by J P McManus. Once again the JP McManus handicap team did a fine job landing these big handicaps. Simon Torrens is a very good rider. You have to admire McManus's team's planning. The finale on day one a Grade 2 Bumper went to Kilcruit who put up a hugely impressive display, to complete a four-timer at the Dublin Racing Festival for Willie Mullins. Kilcruit absolutely bolted up this was impressive. Kilcruit was advised to our members 2.5pts win at 7/4.
At Sandown, JP McManus secured Grade One honours with Sporting John. I found this a hard result to take. I love Shan Blue he jumped superbly again. I think the ground pulled it out of Shan Blue on the day. Shan Blue is one of the best jumpers I have ever seen he was a joy to watch over the Railway fences. I hope Shan Blue still goes to the Marsh at Cheltenham. I think his jumping would make him very competitive. I know Envoi Allen will be a large looming presence, however shan Blue will make them all go in my view. It was Sporting John's day however I suspect this will be as good as it gets this season.
The rescheduled Cotswold chase. Native River put himself back in the reckoning to regain his Cheltenham Gold Cup title with a brilliant victory. Rescheduled following the abandonment of Cheltenham’s Trials Day last weekend, this three-mile Grade Two is a recognised Gold Cup trial. This time, it was run in very testing conditions — much to the liking of Native River the 2018 Gold Cup hero, who put in a typically assured round of jumping and raced prominently throughout under Richard Johnson to win at 13-2, by nine and a half lengths from Bristol De Mai. Bristol De Mai loomed large turning in. But a fine leap at the last saw Native River stride clear, and he went further away up the hill to score with plenty to spare. Santini stuck to the task but was a further seven and a half lengths back in third. The way the Gold cup looks now. I would be inclined to back Native River I must admit at 16/1. Santini is a real puzzle he likes Cheltenham, he was very laboured again here. The more you look at it Al Boum Photo's credentials look solid as the others have lots of doubts.
Sunday, it was day two of the Dublin Racing Festival. Trainer Gordon Elliott registered a first winner in the ninth race of the 2021 Dublin Racing Festival today as his Quilixios maintained a four-race undefeated record in comfortably landing the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Ridden by Jack Kennedy, Quilixios had previously won on his French debut at Compiegne last March and has followed up with Irish wins at Punchestown and Down Royal, today successfully stepped up to top-level when beating Saint Sam by five and a half lengths. I couldn't have Quilixios over Zanahiyr here the 5/2 on Zanahiyr looks generous. I was very interested in the runner up Saint Sam. I really hope this horse goes for the Fred Winter. I thought he was very very keen, however, in a strongly run race, he will drop the bridle. I think Saint Sam has a serious engine.
Appreciate It gained consecutive Leopardstown Grade 1 wins today as the Willie Mullins trained gelding enhanced his Cheltenham credentials in winning the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle in the Kilcruit colours of owner Michael Masterson. Ridden by Champion Jockey Paul Townend, the son of Jeremy today made most of the running in beating previous Grade 1 winner Ballyadam by three and a quarter lengths. Townend was not initially taken by Appreciate It's performance, reporting “he wasn't as breath-taking as he was at Christmas but he ground it out which is the sign of a good horse.“He didn't jump with as much fluency and was never in control of the race like I thought I could have been but the good ones get it done and thankfully he has done it.” I like Appreciate It he still has the favourites chance in the Supreme. I would like to see Master McShee have a crack at the County hurdle.
Willie Mullins compared Monkfish to his star chasers Florida Pearl and Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown today as the Champion Trainer's Rich Ricci owned gelding maintained his unbeaten chase record with a taking display in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase.Ridden by Paul Townend, the old-fashioned-looking-chaser son of Stowaway made all, jumped well and handed Latest Exhibition a third career beating, proving 11 lengths too strong in another show-no-mercy display. Afterwards, Mullins, with his third win of the day, stated: “what can you say after a performance like that — Paul thought he should be in the next race (the Irish Gold Cup)!“I was more impressed with him today than any day. It looks like he’s getting better with each run. The ease of it was impressive.“This fella has the same potential (as Florida Pearl and Al Boum Photo); everything is so effortless, and he has huge scope no matter how he meets a fence.”
Once again Latest Exhibition ran really well in second. It is incredibly unlucky to run into Monkfish. I was blown away with Monkfish he looks very special. He looks to be nailed on to win at Cheltenham. However, the date I have in mind is 28-12-21 at Leopardstown for the Savills Chase. Monkfish v Envoi Allen in front of packed Grandstands at Leopardstown. One can only hope this comes to pass.
Kemboy made every yard of the running to win the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. Agonisingly caught close home by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, this time he was allowed to dominate throughout. Ridden by Danny Mullins, with Paul Townend preferring the claims of the unplaced Melon, Kemboy only briefly looked in danger on the run to the second last. Rachael Blackmore moved the favourite Minella Indo to within a length of Kemboy but hit the fence hard, handing back the initiative to Kemboy and he never looked likely to relinquish it. Willie Mullins, who has mopped up the Grade One contests over the weekend, had feared the ground would be too soft for the nine-year-old, but he did not look inconvenienced in the slightest. Kemboy jumped the last in fine style and kept up the gallop to win by two lengths from The Storyteller, with Delta Work third.
Kemboy loves Leopardstown, he is a really nice horse but I can't have him in a Gold cup. The Storyteller ran on well a great money-spinner. Delta Work does not jump well enough at the top level. I was very disappointed with Minella Indo his jumping is not as fluent as is required at the top level. The positive for Minella Indo and his connections are his Cheltenham form. In two visits to the Festival, Minella Indo has won the Albert Bartlett and got run down into second late on by Champ in last seasons RSA. That is the only positive. As for Melon, he has been stuffed at this meeting in 2018, 2019, 202o and now 2021. It has had no bearing on his running at the Cheltenham Festival where he has finished second in four grade ones. I still think Melon will win the Ryanair I am on at 22/1 and would not swap Melon.
Leading figures from the greyhound industry were on the mark in the opening Grade B Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins (Mares) Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown today as Heaven Help Us was an appropriate winner for 'both codes' trainer Paul Hennessy. Champion Trainer Willie Mullins who swept all before him at the Dublin Racing Festival and squeezed in a 40/1 winner of the Grade B William Fry Handicap Hurdle with Conor McNamara-partnered Maze Runner, in the colours of his wife Jackie. Embattled trainer Charles Byrnes today registered a big-race winner at the Dublin Racing Festival for the fourth consecutive year, as his Off You Go landed the Grade A Gaelic Plant Hire Handicap Chase for owner J.P. McManus and jockey Mark Walsh. Again a hat tip to the McManus team another well-executed plan.
Willie Mullins wiped the floor with his rivals for a second consecutive day at the Dublin Racing Festival today, completing a five-timer in the concluding Grade 2 Coolmore NH Sires EBF (Mares) INH Bumper with 18/1 'rag' Grangee. Yesterday's four-timer by Mullins with top-notch performers Gailaird Du Mesnil, Chacun Pour Soi, Energumene and Kilcruit was bettered by five more winners today, three of which Appreciate It, Monkfish and Irish Gold Cup winner Kemboy were in Grade 1s. Mullins ran 60 horses in total for the 15 races at Leopardstown with just the Irish Champion Hurdle (won by Honeysuckle) and Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Quilixios) the only truly meaningful races which eluded him.
As I reflect the weekend the racing was top class. The Dublin racing festival is going from strength to strength. This was a fantastic idea to combine Leopardstowns three post-Christmas meetings into two great days. The weather was kind at Leopardstown got nice winter jumping ground. This needs to be the goal going forward. The Dublin Racing Festival will get bigger and bigger. It has an excellent list of races that encourage competition. No mares races is a massive positive meaning the Mares have to take on the boys. Cheltenham will always be Cheltenham, however, the Dublin Racing Festival is setting up to be a serious rival for the showpiece fixture. It can only be good for jump racing and our sports future prospects. A golden age for Irish jump racing fans, there is no doubt about that.