Galaxy of stars heading to Leopardstown next month

Edwulf (Derek O’Connor) winners of the Unibet Irish Gold Cup. Leopardstown. Photo: Patrick McCann 04.02.2018

The two-day Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday, February 2 and Sunday, February 3 boasts the strongest of entries. A wonderful renewal of the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle on the opening afternoon is on the horizon with star mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina featuring in the initial line up for Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins respectively.

Mullins might also call upon Sharjah, successful in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Last year’s first and second, Supasundae and Faugheen – winner of the race in 2016 – could also take their chance.

The first of eight Grade 1 races at the Dublin Racing Festival is the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle which has attracted 57 entries, an increase of 22 on last year.

Battleoverdoyen heads the way after his Grade 1 success in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle and his rivals could include the Pat Fahy-trained Dunvegan, Philip Dempsey’s Derrinross and the Henry De Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle. Willie Mullins has made 18 entries for the race including his Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle third Getareason, Annamix, Tornado Flyer, Relegate and Robin De Carlow.

The Ladbrokes Dublin Chase will be run as a Grade 1 for the first time and has attracted a strong entry from Britain with the Ruth Jefferson-trained Waiting Patiently, Nicky Richards’ course specialist Simply Ned, Saint Calvados, trained by Harry Whittington and the Harry Fry-trained Hell’s Kitchen among the 15 entries. Last year’s winner Min, Footpad, Un De Sceaux and Great Field look to give Willie Mullins every chance of success in the race while Jessica Harrington has entered the long-absent Sizing John.

British entries Knocknanuss, trained by Gary Moore, and the Nicky Richards-trained Reivers Lad are among 19 horses, up from 10 last year, in the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase. A formidable home team is headed by the Joseph O’Brien-trained Le Richebourg, the Terence O’Brien-trained Articulum and Aidan Howard’s Winter Escape. That trio is backed up by a Gordon Elliott quintet featuring the Limerick Grade 1 winner Hardline and Mengli Khan.

Day two of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Sunday, February 3 also features four Grade 1 races and the Unibet Irish Gold Cup has attracted an impressive entry of 24 horses.

Waiting Patiently, trained by Ruth Jefferson, which gets another entry here, the Nicky Henderson-trained Top Notch and Jonjo O’Neill’s Minella Rocco make up the challenge from the other side of the Irish Sea with leading Cheltenham Gold Cup fancy Presenting Percy, trained by Pat Kelly, heading a strong Irish contingent.

Last year’s winner Edwulf and the 2017 winner Sizing John have been entered by Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington respectively, while Willie Mullins has made five entries, headed by his impressive Savills Chase winner Kemboy, Al Boum Photo and Bellshill. Trumping them all with seven entries is Gordon Elliott who has entered the only mare in the field, Shattered Love. Noel Meade’s Road To Respect, Henry De Bromhead’s Monalee and the Tony Martin-trained Anibale Fly are three more notable entries.

Also over fences, the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase has proved popular with trainers with an entry of 25 comparing favourably with last year’s initial take up of 18. La Bague Au Roi, unbeaten in three starts over fences, including the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices´ Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, heads the way and is a likely runner for trainer Warren Greatrex.

Monalee won the race for Henry De Bromhead in 2018 and County Waterford trainer has made four entries for the latest renewal with Chris’s Dream and Paloma Blue making plenty of early appeal. Chief among a team of eight entered by Gordon Elliott look to be Christmas Grade 1 winners Delta Work and Hardline. Aidan Howard has given Winter Escape an entry while Terence O’Brien’s Articulum is another that has the two-mile, five-furlong event as an option.

The younger brigade get their chance to shine in the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle which boasts an entry of 27, an increase of 17 on last year.

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The Tom Mullins-trained Rocky Blue, winner of the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival could renew rivalry with Gordon Elliott’s Coeur Sublime in a race that could also feature a rematch between Joseph O’Brien’s Sir Erec and the Willie Mullins-trained Tiger Tap Tap, first and second in a maiden hurdle over the same course and distance late last month.

An entry of 25 was received for the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle last year but 32 horses are in line to take up the challenge this time. Battleoverdoyen is one of nine in Gordon Elliott’s squad while Aramon, another Grade 1 winner, is one of nine entered by Willie Mullins.

Pat Keogh, Chief Executive of Leopardstown Racecourse, said,

“We were delighted with the success of the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival in 2018 and are confident that 2019 will be bigger and better. The goal of this festival is to celebrate Dublin with the very best that National Hunt racing has to offer. We are delighted with the quality and quantity of entries and thank the owners and trainers for their support.

“After only one year the festival has established itself in the spring calendar and we are delighted to have eight Grade 1 races and an increased prizemoney purse of over €1.8m. This has only been possible through the ongoing support of our sponsors and Horse Racing Ireland. Dublin is one the most vibrant and enjoyable cities in Europe and we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors from around Ireland and overseas to the Dublin Racing Festival.”

Ed Nicholson, head of Unibet racing sponsorship and communications, said:

‘We are both delighted and honoured to continue our association with Leopardstown and the Unibet Irish Gold Cup. Previous winners of the Unibet Irish Gold Cup reads like a who’s who of jumps racing, and we are privileged to sponsor such a prestigious event; it’s a race that resonates both sides of the Irish Sea, and one that links in well with our other racing sponsorships.

“Once again, the Unibet Irish Gold Cup has attracted an incredible list of entries; but given the prize money on offer and the iconic nature of the race, that is no surprise. It’s a race that every owner, trainer and jockey yearns to win”

Ladbrokes Head of PR, Nicola McGeady said:

“We are really happy with the entries and another stellar weekend of racing is expected. We very much expect Apple’s Jade to continue her unbeaten streak, while it’ll be interesting to see if punters are willing to forgive Footpad.”