With the Cheltenham Festival fast approaching, this weekend will see Leopardstown host its two-day Dublin Racing Festival, where more Cheltenham Festival clues will certainly be unearthed and can be recognised as one of the final stops before the Festival. 

Its relevance has played a major factor in terms of providing Cheltenham Festival clues and this year’s meeting should be no exception, as the likes of State Man, Blue Lord, Lossiemouth, Galopin Des Champs and many more ante-post favourites will be in action across the two days. 

I have picked out a handful of races and selections across the two-day programme in Ireland this weekend in the hope of not just finding us a potential winner or two but also finding those who could reaffirm their Cheltenham credentials with a good performance here. 

American Mike and Sandor Clegane appeal most in the opener

The first of the weekend’s Grade 1 races at Leopardstown, the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novices’ Hurdle, has attracted a really strong field to kickstart the high-class fixture. 

The betting is currently headed by Good Land, available at 2/1, who returned a good winner at this course over two-miles four-furlongs last time. Despite his victory, however, did his victory in what was a minor event justify his shortish odds for this race as he steps up considerably in grade?

I am not convinced.

Barry Connell’s seven-year-old seems a little too short for my liking, especially as his latest win isn’t that strong, as the runner-up has been beaten again since, though the fourth home that day, Embassy Gardens, has since boosted the form. 

He is seemingly priced up on potential basis rather than the substance of his overall form to date. Currently an 8/1 chance for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, I cannot understand why he is a single-figure price for that race either when others have achieved more. I am happy to oppose him for both events. 

Instead, Gordon Elliott’s AMERICAN MIKE, who’s available at 5/1 this weekend, has an excellent chance if able to jump with more fluency than last time. Last season’s Champion Bumper runner-up behind Facile Vega won on his hurdles debut but suffered a shock defeat to Dawn Rising last time. 

That said, he will improve in the jumping department, and enjoy the return to the longer distance. He remains a smart prospect and his three-length second in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham reads well in the context of this race. 

He holds entries in the Supreme, Ballymore and Albert Bartlett at the Festival in March but I am inclined to think he will go down the Albert Bartlett route, in which he is a general 12/1 chance, and that price could look huge should he return to winning ways this weekend. 

I think he is the best horse in the race, so if he can channel his true ability, with more to come, he should go close and be able to book his return to the Festival in March. 

Trainer Paul Nolan achieved Grade 1 glory with Latest Exhibition in this race three years ago and he will be looking to repeat the feat with SANDOR CLEGANE (best price 9/2), who is also available at 4/1 and arrives on the back of an easy success at Punchestown. 

A smart bumper horse, second to Facile Vega at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival, he relished the step up in distance last time when winning by 12 lengths, barely coming out of second gear.

He will be jumping up from a maiden hurdle straight to a Grade 1 so improvement is needed but that is highly likely and his only entry at the Cheltenham Festival is the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. 

He is 9/1 for that race and if he were to run a big race this weekend, his claims for that intended target will be strengthened. I really like this horse, so hopefully he can live up to Nolan’s expectations and go well.

Willie Mullins holds the aces in the Spring Juvenile

The second race at the Dublin Racing Festival is the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle, where the current Triumph Hurdle favourite at the Cheltenham Festival, Lossiemouth, bids to keep his unbeaten record intact. 

In essence, this race in particular has been a notable pointer towards identifying the Triumph Hurdle winner as seven of the last 11 Triumph Hurdle winners contested this race beforehand. This race is without question the best trial for the Triumph. 

Last year’s winner Vauban is a perfect example of what this race can produce. Lossiemouth, who is 4/9 favourite this weekend, has won all three hurdle starts to date and the form of her Fairyhouse success has been advertised since with the third Comfort Zone winning on Trials Day at Cheltenham last weekend. 

If Lossiemouth extends her unbeaten record here, there is no doubt she’ll be even shorter for the Triumph Hurdle betting and it’ll take a good one to beat her. 

However, her task won’t be easy, as stablemates Blood Destiny and Gala Marceau could lock horns with her in this race and are good horses. Blood Destiny has won easily the last two times and some will see him as value to upset the favourite.

He definitely needs to find more based on the numbers in comparison to what Lossiemouth has done and the latter will have a handy seven-pound mare allowance too, so that’s a massive advantage in itself without underlining the best form she has achieved.

Saint Roi a good bet in the Irish Arkle

The Irish Arkle Novice Chase has been a notable good guide to finding Cheltenham Festival winners over the years. Douvan, Un De Sceau, Footpad, Energumene are just a handful of winners of this race this century to have also scored at the Festival in March. 

Coincidentally, all of those mentioned were and are trained by Willie Mullins and it appears the champion trainer has a stranglehold on this year’s field as well, as four of the first five in the market are trained by the man himself. 

Appreciate It is the favourite at the moment at 5/4 and this former Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, who is unbeaten in two starts over fences, could be the main hopeful for the stable this weekend. 

He is four-from-four at Leopardstown, with two of those wins coming in Grade 1 company and whilst he hasn’t beaten much in both his chase starts and there is more to come. 

Paul Townend will most likely choose to ride him over his stablemates and it’ll take a good performance from anything else to see his colours lowered that’s for sure. 

However, if there is one horse to spoil his party it could end up being stablemate SAINT ROI (best price 7/1) who I have tipped as an ante-post bet in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival and has excellent claims here. 

Although he was only second on his chase debut behind Fil Dor, he comprehensively reversed that form when slamming his rivals in the Grade 1 Racing Post App Novice Chase over C&D. 

That form is stronger than what Appreciate It has achieved to date and this eight-year-old is improving as well. He is fast and slick at his fences and he strongly resembles past Arkle winners, whereas Appreciate It doesn’t, in my opinion. 

Interestingly, Saint Roi is the ONLY Grade 1 winner over fences in this field, which counts for plenty, and the fact he is still available at a juicy 7/1 makes him a standout each-way proposition here.

Could a future star emerge from the Future Stars bumper? 

The final race on Saturday at Leopardstown is the Grade 2 Future Stars INH Flat Race, where an exciting bunch of youngsters put their Champion Bumper credentials on the line. 

The entries are dominated by “Mullins” as Willie holds five intended runners, Emmet has two and Thomas is likely to rely on one runner. Given the potential most of these runners bring to the table, it is difficult to pinpoint which one will come out on top this weekend. 

There are two interesting possible runners this weekend though, who could end up being a huge player in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham if able to go close here. 

The first one of the two I like and is worth keeping an eye on is Willie Mullins’ FACT TO FILE (best price 7/1), who could offer some fair value. The JP McManus-owned youngster was sent off a warm favourite on stable debut at this course back in December, and won impressively too. 

He travelled very well and made good headway through the field and whilst it looked like the eventual second was going to win, he kept battling before sealing the deal in the closing stages to win going away under Patrick Mullins. 

The runner-up Irish Panther tried to go with him but the winner showed a great burst of speed inside the final 200 yards to win with quite a bit in hand. That was over two-miles four-furlongs but his proven stamina over further will definitely come into play in the Champion Bumper. 

He is 20/1 for that race at the Festival and if he does go and win the Future Stars at the weekend, he will then surely be a single-figure odds. I think he could be very good. 

Meanwhile, Thomas Mullins might have a special horse on his hands in the shape of FASCILE MODE, who was a very good winner over course-and-distance on his debut plus his winning performance was recorded in an exceptional time too. 

He travelled noticeably well and having joined issue with the front rank off the home bend when racing three-wide, he kicked in the turbo inside the final half-a-furlong to win by nearly three lengths on his debut.

The Champion Bumper at Cheltenham was nominated as his main target by his handler following that win as well and he is currently available at 10/1 for the Festival prize and 3/1 this weekend.

If he were to win this weekend, and win it impressively, we could be looking at the new favourite for that race at Cheltenham. I would highly recommend backing him now for that intended main target before this weekend as his price could be gone if he wins at Leopardstown. 

Whether we will see another scintillating performance like Facile Vega produced in this race 12 months ago, who knows, but either way this race is certainly going to provide a lot of Cheltenham clues for the Champion Bumper.

Is the Dublin Chase a penalty kick for Blue Lord?

It was revealed yesterday that BLUE LORD would face a maximum of four rivals in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase and a lot of critics were quick to react to the field being recognised as a substandard renewal. 

With the result of the Clarence House providing another twist in the tail for the Champion Chase market, some will now fancy Blue Lord to throw his hat into the ring with success this weekend.

A winner of all but one of his seven starts over fences, last season’s Irish Arkle winner won the Paddy’s Reward Club Chase here at Leopardstown over Christmas by 11 lengths and is classed as one of the bankers this weekend. 

Already a 7/2 chance for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, most will be surprised if he does not extend his sequence here and, if he does, he could end up favourite for that Festival race in the Cotswolds. A worthy favourite. 

The rest appear to be playing for minor honours, although Alan King interestingly sends over Sceau Royal, who could give the former plenty to think about but he isn’t as good as he once was. 

I would have liked to have seen connections test the water with him in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. He is still a good horse on his day but whether he has the pace to beat Blue Lord is another matter. If he finished in the first two, I am sure connections would be delighted. 

Pocket the each-way value against Vega

Facile Vega is unbeaten in six and has gained half of his career wins at this course, including on this card 12 months ago, where he returned a breathtaking winner of the Future Stars Bumper. He then won the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival and has been favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle ever since. 

He won at Fairyhouse in good style on his hurdles debut before winning in Grade 1 company here over the festive period. He wasn’t as impressive as displayed in previous victories but he still got the job done in a strangely run race and although this race will be tougher, it is hard to knock his credentials for this and the Supreme having beaten everything put in front of him to date. 

It would come as a major shock if he can’t remain unbeaten this weekend, though stablemate Dark Raven, who is also unbeaten, might have something to say about that. He won over course-and-distance on his hurdles debut and remains a smart prospect. 

He isn’t to be underestimated here and could be a spot of each-way value at 9/1 and also at 33/1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle if he runs well unless connections step him up in trip to contest the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, in which he’s entered in as well. 

High Definition, a 112-rated Flat performer, who won on his hurdles debut and Henry de Bromhead’s INTHEPOCKET (best price 10/1), who is two-from-two over hurdles, both add further spice to the race. I have tipped the latter in my Cheltenham Festival ante-post series for oddschecker in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 25/1. 

He has been shortened into 16/1 respectively and a good showing this weekend could see his odds shorten again, potentially to a single-figure price. I think he is the biggest danger to Facile Vega this weekend, especially if they go a good gallop, so keep an eye on him.