Willie Mullins has won the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival four times in the past and the champion trainer will fancy his chances of making it a fab five next month after Gaillard Du Mesnil’s stylish success in Saturday’s Novice Hurdle, the first of eight Grade One contests at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Despite racing a little keenly, Gaillard Du Mesnil had plenty in reserve at the business end of proceedings to justify 13-8 favouritism, a fine effort that saw him cut to 7-2 for the opening Festival race on St Patrick’s Day.
With fellow Grade One starlets Bravemansgame and Bob Olinger lying in wait, Gaillard Du Mesnil will face a tougher task at Cheltenham but he’s progressing rapidly and looks sure to play a meaningful part in what promises to be one of the races of the Festival.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the few major National Hunt prizes not yet on Willie Mullins’ CV but that glaring omission will surely be corrected next month.
Yes, Chacun Pour Soi’s task was helped by an uncharacteristically sloppy round of jumping by stablemate Min but he couldn’t have won the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase with any more authority.
In the past, he has looked something of a weak finisher but that wasn’t the case on this occasion as he powered home up the straight to beat Fakir D’Oudairies by eight lengths.
An 11th hour withdrawal from last year’s Champion Chase, Chacun Pour Soi will be a warm favourite to set the record straight next month and it will take an awesome effort to lower his colours. As for Min, being pulled up was obviously far from ideal ahead of his Ryanair Chase defence but he has the class and the Cheltenham CV to bounce back at the Festival.
A week after star British novice chaser Shishkin strengthened his position as favourite for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase by winning at Doncaster, Energumene confirmed himself the best of the Irish by making all in the Leopardstown equivalent.
In doing so, he set up what promises to be one of the most compelling duels of the week. He’ll have to improve again to deny last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero a second Festival success but Energumene will take a fair amount of passing, even for a horse with the star quality of Shishkin. These two speedsters trading blows will be some sight.
Honeysuckle went into the Irish Champion Hurdle defending a nine-race unbeaten record, a winning sequence that included victory in this race last year, one of five Grade One successes.
And yet there was a sense she might just be vulnerable back over two miles. How wrong we were. In making it a perfect 10, Honeysuckle produced a 10 out 10 performance to win by – you guessed it – 10 lengths.
Last year connections opted for the Mares’ Hurdle instead of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but they won’t be swerving the big one this time. Given the authority of her success, the slickness of jumping, and the completeness of her superiority, they simply can’t.
After all, Sharjah got within three lengths of Epatante when runner-up in last year’s Champion Hurdle. The same Sharjah was beaten 19 lengths into third by Honeysuckle on Saturday. And Epatante has something to prove now after a shock reversal at Kempton over Christmas. She’ll have to be better than ever if she is to deny Honeysuckle on March 16.
Away from the Grade One feast, it was a day to savour for Simon Torrens. It began with victory on the Joseph O’Brien-trained A Wave Of The Sea in Matheson Handicap Chase before Torrens got the better of Irish Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore when landing the fiercely competitive Ladbrokes Hurdle on Drop The Anchor for Pat Fahy an hour later. He’s seriously good value for his 5lb claim.