What a tremendous weekend of horseracing we have ahead of us. Leopardstown has put together a couple of days of absolutely top-class sport, and come Monday morning we should have a fairly good idea what the final plans are for most of the races at next months Cheltenham Festival.
Before that, let's take a look back at last Saturday's Trials Day at Cheltenham, and - the the 2nd year running - I drew a blank; but then last year I went on to have what was probably my best ever Festival. So, fingers crossed, let's hope the gambling gods are on my side again. My early wager on Protektorat for the Gold Cup looks cooked. I thought he'd improved over the summer to put in a career-best effort in the Betfair Chase - but perhaps the result flattered him. The 1st-3 home on Saturday - Ahoy Senor, Sounds Russian, and Noble Yeats - will all be looking for a stamina-sapping strong pace on rain softened ground in March, but I fear they will all be struggling come the final 2 fences. Maybe it's time to look again at Bravemansgame? One notable performance, and there were a few, was from Stage Star who carried 11:10 to win the novice h'cap chase in some style. The form looks rock solid, and he looks certain to go well in the "Turners" on Cheltenham Thursday, as that's a race that should cut-up. Trainer Paul Nicholls also sent out Il Ridoto to win over the same trip later in the afternoon, and he looks really interesting going forward, and keep an eye out for the 3 who finished in from of him on New Years Day: Midnight River, Stolen Silver, and Nassalam. The 3-mile Stayers Hurdle was thrown a curved ball when French-trained Gold Tweet won the Cleeve Hurdle. With Teahupoo elevated to being the antepost fav after a fairly facile win in the "Galmoy" - and I'm not really convinced by either Teahupoo or Home By The Lee - I think this Grade 1 race is primed for a surprise result.
The Irish Arkle on Saturday looks like being a race to savour - what a field! In my opinion, Appreciate It is not a 7/4 chance with this opposition, and if I'm having a wager it won't be on him. It's the other Mullins entries I'm interested in: Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, and Saint Roi (Flame Bearer is the one Mullins entry that I think isn't good enough to be in the field and will likely be used to set the pace). I'm not yet convinced Dysart Dynamo can jump well enough at speed to win this race, but if he does then he will likely win. Ditto El Fabiolo, who I have already punted on for the "Arkle" in March. The one Mullins horse that can jump, and was a very good hurdler (we can only guess how good Appreciate It could have been as a hurdler), is Saint Roi. He was ridden with a lot of confidence on Boxing Day here at Leopardstown, in a race with good pace - and if he doesn't win this then he should be in the 1st-3, and there are 3-places in this 8-runners race. I'm not convinced that this trip of 2m1f is long enough to see Banbridge at his best, and he will likely struggle in this race. For me, the best value in the race is EL FABIOLO; he's generally 5/1 (Bet Victor have him at 11/2) as we know he has speed, and has shown he can jump. Like the others, he now has to combine these skills - there will be mistakes, almost certainly one will fall - and I'd rather be on a 5/1 chance to find out than one at 7/4. If Appreciate It wins today then, at as a 9yo, we could be looking at another Moscow Flyer.
The Irish Gold Cup is all about Galopin Des Champs, but he won't have it all his own way. The 11yo Kemboy will ensure that this is a proper test, as will Stattler (who I have already punted on for the Gold Cup in March), but do not overlook the only entry by Gordon Elliott: Fury Road. He's not top-class, and at OR158 is just a bit too good for anything but the very best handicaps, but he goes well over this C&D as shown when he beat Run Wild Fred who went on to chase home Stattler in the NH Chase at Cheltenham. If Galopin Des Champs wins today by more than 10-lengths, then he could start odds-on in the Gold Cup. If he only just scrapes home, or is beaten, then we could see a big shake-up in the betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Let's be honest: he's unlikely to be beaten on merit as he looks an exceptional horse. God forbid that he falls today, that is no way to win a wager on a horserace. However, it is still 6 weeks to the Gold Cup in March, and horse's do get injured on their home gallops - that's the risk the odds represent. Come 3:15pm today and you could wish that you have £5,000 on at 13/8 for the Gold Cup - but, personally this is a race for watching.