elcome to the first of a new daily series from Standard Sport as we countdown to the Cheltenham Festival.
Every day, we’ll be rounding up the latest news, marking your card with key runners and races, reflecting on notable performances and throwing in a few tips along the way, too.
Where better place to start than with perhaps the best weekend of National Hunt racing of the year in the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.
It was the Willie Mullins Show once again as the Irish champion trainer won nine of the meeting’s 15 races, including six of its eight Grade 1s.
The likes of Chacun Pour Soi (Champion Chase), Monkfish (Festival Novices’ Chase) and Appreciate It (Supreme) all solidified their positions as ante post favourites for the Festival while Gaillard Du Mesnil and – perhaps most impressively of all – Kilcruit, moved to the head of the markets for the Ballymore and Champion Bumper, respectively.
Away from the Mullins’ fill-your-boots buffet, Honeysuckle’s win in the Irish Champion Hurdle was the most taking performance of the weekend and probably the one with the biggest implications as far as the Festival is concerned.
Her runaway win was reminiscent of that of another great mare, Apple’s Jade, in the same contest two years’ ago, a display that ultimately convinced her connections to roll the dice and opt for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham rather than the Mares’ race. It sounds as if Honeysuckle will be going the same way – her owner’s racing manager says there is now only “one option” for March.
Weather conditions are likely to kibosh much of this week’s racing, but Fairyhouse’s card this afternoon does feature the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle. Willie Mullins’ Gauloise is the 5-1 antepost favourite for the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham, but at the time of writing looks set to be sent off second-favourite today behind Royal Kahala, who has won three times at the track but is a point or two bigger in the Festival betting.
It’s also worth noting Hook Up’s strong fourth behind Appreciate It at Leopardstown yesterday – she horse finished second to Royal Kahala at Fairyhouse last month and is still available at 20-1 for the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham.