This weekend’s inaugural Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown, formed by merging two traditional meetings into one big weekend, might lack British entries but will certainly go some way to answering many of the questions surrounding the Irish challenge for March’s Cheltenham Festival.
That’s not to say it’s all about the Festival, as this new meeting is truly top-class and features many of Ireland’s biggest races, such as the Irish Champion Hurdle and Irish Gold Cup, formerly known as the Hennessy.
It’s fairly nailed on that the ante-post markets for Cheltenham will look plenty different come this time next week, and there might be some bets worth taking before some of those questions get answered.
Probably the highest profile horse with an unclear Cheltenham target is Yorkhill, a two-times Festival winner over middle distances who was originally aimed at the Gold Cup this season but patently didn’t stay in his first try at three miles in the race formerly known as the Lexus Chase this Christmas.
His trainer Willie Mullins was quick to state he never fancied him to be a Gold Cup horse and since then it’s been announced he’s going to be aimed at the two-mile Champion Chase, taking on Altior and possibly his stablemates Douvan and Min.
The first thing I want to say about that is I strongly believe he would get hammered by Altior – in my opinion the best horse in training and the best horse we’ve seen since Sprinter Sacre – and an on-song Douvan would probably also beat him.
I don’t fancy him for the Champion Chase one iota if the big guns show up – and there’s very little reason to expect Altior not to given he was given a glowing report by his trainer Nicky Henderson this week.
Altior is my banker bet of the Festival at this stage, and I do fail to see how someone as smart as Willie Mullins can really fancy Yorkhill’s chances in that race.
Yorkhill’s D-day is this weekend when he runs over two miles and a furlong in the Dublin Steeplechase, at a track where his record is far less imposing than at Cheltenham.
He’s got a proper race on to beat Min and I’d fancy that horse to land the spoils, which would really throw a spanner in the works regarding his Cheltenham target.
Right now you can back Yorkhill at 7/1 non-runner-no-bet for the middle-distance Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and if he were to run over that distance – where he’s already won twice at the Festival – then that would rank amongst the best bets of the whole week.
He would 100% go off shorter – far shorter – and I just can’t see any negative to taking that price, safe in the knowledge his absence would return our stake back.
2pts win Yorkhill @7/1 non-runner-no-bet, Ryanair Chase