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Cheltenham ante-post fancies and the Dublin Racing Festival in review



Cheltenham ante-post pick:

Ballyburn really silenced his doubters, myself included, with a near flawless display on Sunday. He was imperious.

He showed speed, a propensity for jumping at pace and a massive engine. This is a lovely mixture to have for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and I’d be shocked if he doesn’t head for the opener at Prestbury Park. 

Last week I put Daddy Long Legs up, and while he dropped out tamely, I wouldn’t dismiss him just yet. 

Word at Leopardstown was that the hurdles course was extremely soft and it definitely seemed this way. When you watch the handicap hurdle on the Sunday back you can see how legless most of the field finished. 

The winner, Lord Erskine, has done most of his winning on soft/heavy going and this told in the finish as the placed horses were gasping for air.

If it ended up drying out at Prestbury Park, I firmly believe we would see a much better Daddy Long Legs, albeit Ballyburn will be hard to beat regardless – I do believe we saw the 2024 Supreme Novices Winner.

I don’t, however, believe we saw the Baring Bingham or Albert Bartlett winners.

Dancing City was good, but benefitted massively from a superb Danny Mullins ride and he saw off Predators Gold who simply pulled too hard over this trip. 

My fancy, Loughglynn, ran no sort of race which the market told us well in advance as he drifted like a barge all day on betting apps.

I think the Albert Bartlett winner will come from elsewhere.

Slade Steel is plenty short enough as well now for the Ballymore after chasing home Ballyburn who beat that rival with a degree of comfort. Given the latest Cheltenham odds I am happy to take on Slade Steel as well.

Of the remainder, El Fabiolo is streets clear in the Champion Chase. State Man is a fantastic horse cursed to have bumped into Constitution Hill and Sir Gino’s connections won’t have lost any sleep watching the Spring Juvenile.

Cheltenham ante-post fancies

I am still happy with my position on Monty’s Star in the Brown Advisory as I’d fancy Fact To File to go to the Turners, but even if he went to the Brown Advisory it is very hard to know what he has done so far.

First time out he beat Zanahiyr who isn’t a chaser and this time he beat Gaelic Warrior who simply sulked when jumping badly and losing the lead when doing so. Fact To File is vastly talented, but it is hard to put a finger on what he has actually achieved.

Of the others, I thought Absurde, who finished behind Ballyburn, could be interesting in the Martin Pipe and if the weather continues to dry out, I really like the look of Magical Zoe at 20/1 on betting sites for the County Hurdle.

She was so unlucky when seeing off her market rivals, only to bump into one on a going day who came over the top to take her.

On nice ground she could go very close in the County Hurdle and 20/1 looks big.

In the Gold Cup picture, I am going to take a swing on Nassalam at 33/1 each-way on horse racing betting sites

I think Galopin Des Champs takes a lot of stopping after another brilliant victory and I don’t see how the likes of Bravemansgame or Fastorslow can turn that form around. 

The others like L’Homme Presse, Gerri Colombe and Shishkin are obviously interesting, but I do feel their ceiling of ability is lower than that of Galopin Des Champs over this trip, who should take the world of stopping.

I do however see a scenario where the main protagonists battle with each other three or four out, and after seeing off his market rivals valiantly, a long season tells on Galopin Des Champs as the likes of Nassalam come to take him late on. 

Watch back the Lord Windermere victory in 2014 and you will see the type of race I can see unfolding.

As per Provence Racing founder Steve Jones, the last five horses before Nassalam to win the Welsh National carrying 11st 6lbs or more were Elegant Escape, Native River, Synchronised, Master Oats and Carvill’s Hill. Three of these went on to win Gold Cups. 

There is a case to be made that what Nassalam achieved isn’t being taken seriously.

He’ll need the rain to keep falling for him to have any chance, but with the way the heavens have been opening up over the last few months, that is more than possible. 

Lack of competition in Irish racing

Plenty of us had billed the Dublin Racing Festival as the weekend where the remaining questions lingering over the Irish National Hunt season would be answered. How foolish we were.

After an intriguing two days of racing in South Dublin, we now have a plethora of new questions to solve.

Leopardstown deserve huge credit for what they have achieved with the Dublin Racing Festival.

Crowds of 20,000 in one day is amazing, especially considering this festival is only six years old. Of course, this huge crowd did expose some frailties in the facilities on Saturday, but we can expect these to improve as the years and crowds continue to roll on.

Overall, away from the racing, you can only tip your hat to the marketing team at Leopardstown Racecourse.

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On the track however, it was seriously disappointing.

No matter what way we break this down, it is extremely concerning how little competition there was at the weekend with Willie Mullins taking all eight Grade Ones at ease. 

There were several races at the weekend that were glorified schooling bumpers in which the Closutton brigade took each other on, with varying results.

Every sport thrives on competition, but at the moment every other yard are miles away from what Mullins can offer up.

Some say we should be celebrating Mullins, rather than focussing on the complete collapse in competition, as he’s grown this yard from humble beginnings. While that may be true, it also misses the point.

It’s not Mullins’ fault and he deserves the utmost respect for what he has achieved, but this is a point in time where the authorities must act. 

Imagine an alternative reality where Manchester City’s owners have bought two other Premier League clubs and, every season, we’re expected to watch the three of them compete to win the league. That’s pretty much where Irish racing is at right now. 

While there are clashes and Mullins isn’t afraid to let them have a go at each other, it is very hollow competition as at the end of the day the same trainer is collecting every prize.

Trying to find a solution to this problem is not an envious task.

The most concerning aspect for semi state-funded body Horse Racing Ireland is that several political entities are now questioning the finances being pumped into the sport, asking why so much prize money is being ringfenced for a dominant force.

It’s a valid argument and I can’t help thinking Irish racing is sleepwalking into a disaster.

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