It was viewed as a risky move in some quarters, but last year’s inaugural staging of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, which effectively condensed three stand-alone days of racing at the venue into a single weekend, was undoubtedly a success.
A huge crowd, bolstered by a strong contingent from Britain, excellent prize-money, top-class racing and fine weather all played their part in ensuring that everything went well. We are set for more of the same this time around.
GOING REPORT for 2nd & 3rd February
GOING: Hurdle & Bumper – Good to Yielding. Chase – Good.
FORECAST: Staying mainly dry for the next couple of days. Weather changing Thursday with possibility of between 10-20mm of rain which could turn to sleet or snow. #DRF pic.twitter.com/sxOiG3DKDH
— Leopardstown RC (@LeopardstownRC) January 28, 2019
This year’s Grade One count has risen to eight from seven and prize-money has increased by over €300,000 to more than €1.8 million. No race this year is worth less than €87,500, the main handicaps are worth €125,000 and the Irish Gold Cup, Sunday’s feature race, is now worth €225,000.
The Nicky Richards-trained Simply Ned will certainly be there on Saturday to try and build on his second in last year’s Grade One Dublin Chase (1:25pm). His conqueror that day, Min, will also be there, as will the third and fourth, Special Tiara and Ordinary World.
Heading the race’s betting, though, is last season’s top two-mile novice chaser, Footpad, who fell on his return to action this season, but then, last-time out, was caught on the line by Simply Ned in the Grade One Sugar Paddy Chase over Saturday’s course and distance on December 27th. In third was Ordinary World.
Also set to line up on Saturday are Gordon Elliott’s exciting and unbeaten Battleoverdoyen in the Grade One Nathaniel Lacy & Partners €50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle (12:50pm), a race that has been won by Willie Mullins in six of the last seven years, including in 2017 with Let’s Dance, who landed the sponsor’s generous bonus by going on to score at the Cheltenham Festival.
Also on Saturday is the Grade One Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase (2pm), which has been won in the last three years by some of the best chasers we’ve seen – Footpad, Douvan and Un de Sceaux.
This year’s betting is headed by Joseph O’Brien’s hugely promising Le Richebourg, who followed up a narrow defeat to Delta Work in the BarOneRacing.com Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on December 2nd with an impressive Grade One win over Saturday’s course and distance on December 26th.
Delta Work is also set to appear at Leopardstown, on Sunday in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase (3pm).
Following back-to-back Grade One wins, including the BarOneRacing.com Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, he has franked himself as this season’s leading staying novice chaser in Ireland.
Among his opponents at Leopardstown could be the Grade One-winner La Bague Au Roi, who is unbeaten this season and is trained in Lambourn, England, by Warren Greatrex.
The star turn on the opening day, though, is surely Apple’s Jade, the nine-time Grade One winner that has won her way into the affections of the racing public with some stirring performances, not least via this season’s 20-length success from Supersundae in the Grade One BarOneRacing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on December 2nd.
She heads the betting for the Grade One BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle (Saturday, 3:10pm).
Sunday’s Irish Gold Cup (3:35pm), which was won in 2017 by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John (who may run on Sunday), could well bring together the first four – Kemboy, Monalee, Road To Respect and Bellshill – from the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown (run over Sunday’s race distance) at Leopardstown on December 28th, as well as last year’s surprise winner Edwulf and last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third, Anibale Fly.
Much as this is a stand-alone meeting of huge prestige and quality, it is also ideally positioned in the run-up to Cheltenham to provide very good clues for the famous Festival that runs this year from March 12th to 15th.
As a case in point, Sunday’s card will also contain the Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle (1:!5pm), which has proven to be a good guide to the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Our Conor (who won in 2013) went on to win the Triumph; Guitar Peter (2014) finished third at Cheltenham with the Spring Hurdle second that year, Tiger Roll (who won last year’s Aintree Grand National), winning at Cheltenham.
Last year’s winner, Mr Adjudicator, finished second in the Triumph at Cheltenham, and in 2016, the Spring Hurdle was won by Footpad, who went on to finish second in the Triumph, with the Spring Hurdle fourth, Ivanovich Gorbatov, winning at Cheltenham, and the Leopardstown third, Let’s Dance, finishing fourth at Cheltenham.
The 2017 winner, the ill-fated Mega Fortune, finished second at Cheltenham, with the Spring Hurdle runner-up that year, Bapuame, finishing third in the Triumph.
Whether it’s for Cheltenham clues or to witness high-class, competitive and quality racing over a weekend of racing that has few equals, Leopardstown on Saturday and Sunday is a meeting of huge importance and one that racing fans await with a great sense of anticipation and excitement.