What a weekend of sport! England cricket and Joe Root. Six Nations Rugby, Man Utd v Everton, Liverpool v Man City and the Superbowl. But for me it’s all about the Dublin Racing Festival. What lockdown?

Leopardstown

The going is soft (yielding in places) on the chase course and and soft, soft to heavy in places for the hurdles and bumpers. First, a Saturday spectacular with four Grade 1s.

13:05 Nathaniel Lacy Novice Hurdle 2m 6f (Grade 1)

Gaillard Du Mesnil is the current 9/4 favourite for Mullins/Townend. Won a maiden here in December and is progressive. However he was beaten by 8 lengths by Holymacapony (8/1) at Punchestown. Holymacapony was pulled up in his next race but that was too bad to be true and I’m relying on him to bounce back to form.

13:35 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase 2m 1f (Grade 1)

This is not a betting option but features the best horse of the day in the shape of Chacun Pour Soi (1/2). Rated 185p by Timeform and the defending champion in this race. He is confidently expected to win again and justify his current position as 6/5 f for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

14:10 Patrick Ward Irish Arkle 2m 1f (Grade 1)

Another odds on favourite – Energumene (5/6). This is a very exciting horse. Unbeaten over fences and won very impressively at Naas last time out. Currently 6/1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham, if he wins well today he will be the main threat on either side of the water to Shishkin (currently 8/11 for the Cheltenham equivalent). I’m hoping to watch a really impressive performance.

14:45 Matheson Handicap Chase 2m 1f (Grade B)

This is a very competitive race and I’m siding with Port Stanley (9/1) for Jessie Harrington and Robbie Power. Others to consider are Entoucas (current 5/1 favourite) and Pont Aven (7/1).

15:15 Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle 2m (Grade 1)

Honeysuckle is an amazing mare with a blemish free record of 8 wins from 8 races. She won this race last year but I thought that her win last time out in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse was a bit workmanlike. She gets the 7lb mares’ allowance and the ground is not a problem. If she wins today the owner has confirmed that she will take her chance in the Cheltenham equivalent.

However, I think that Patrick Mullins has now worked out how to get the best out of Sharjah (3/1). He won the Matheson for the third time over course and distance in December and is never better placed to add this to his roster of wins.

Willie Mullins had made no secret of the fact that he really rates Saint Roi (6/1) and this was confirmed again by Ruby Walsh a few days ago. However, he is yet to bring his A game to the racetrack and is best watched.

It’s a great race and even the outsiders Saldier (12/1) and Petit Mouchoir (18/1) are not without a chance.

15:50 Ladbrokes Hurdle 2m (Grade B)

A wide open race and not one that I’ll be getting particularly involved in. I like Ciel de Neige (10/1) and Buildmeupbuttercup (16/1) and might back both each way.

16:25 Goffs Future Stars Bumper 2m (Grade 2)

Kilcruit is the right favourite at 9/4. Timeform top rated at 120p but my preference is for another Willie Mullins horse, Ramillies (9/2) (114p). Letsbeclearaboutit (15/2) was a creditable second to Sir Gerhard last time out and could well be in the mix.

Sandown

An all-chase card should provide some exciting racing, particularly when facing the challenge of the railway fences.

13:15 Virgin Bet Handicap Chase 1m 7f (Class 2)

I prefer Dolos (3/1) ahead of current favourite Caribean Boy (5/2).

13:50 Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase 2m 4f (Grade 1)

This is an excellent race and should help to sort out the pecking order for novice chasers over this distance. Paul Nicholls is very keen on Hitman (9/4f). Shan Blue (5/2) is an excellent jumper and won the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase impressively at the Kempton Christmas meeting. Messire Des Obeaux (4/1) has clearly had training issues but was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Dipper and is looking to make it three from three over fences.

The Timeform ratings demonstrate what a good and close race this is likely to be:

  • Shan Blue (168p)
  • Messire Des Obeaux (167p)
  • Hitman (166p)
  • Dame de Compagnie (164p)
  • Paint the Dream (160)

14:20 Virgin Bet Cotswold Chase 3m (Grade 2)

Thank goodness this race has been saved by being transferred from Cheltenham’s abandoned meeting and the move to Sandown plus the ground should favour my nap Bristol De Mai (5/2). Santini (11/4) beat him in this race last year but he’s a confident selection to reverse the form.

Native River (11/2) is getting on a bit and the Tizzard horses have just not fired this season. If the ground was really bad then Yala Enki (11/2) might stay on past them but he’s had two hard races in recent weeks.

Ruby Walsh has put up Saint Calvados (13/2) as one to pick up the pieces while Lake View Lad (18/1) beat both Santini and Native River in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree on 5 December.

Overall, an exciting race that I’m really looking forward to.

14:55 Virgin Bet Warriors Handicap Chase 2m 4f (Class 3)

Alnadam and Benatar are the current 100/30 joint favourites and I prefer the latter.

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