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PAT HEALY: This week Pat Healy reflects on the weekend that was at the Dublin Racing Festival and shares his excitement at the prospect of the Irish horses heading to Cheltenham next month.

Dublin Racing Festival

The Dublin Racing Festival was again an absolutely outstanding two days. As an overall spectacle, all bar nine of the top horses didn’t show up for one reason or another and to think how many top horses lined up, shows just quite how spectacular it was. We were missing Al Boum Photo, Envoi Allen, Bob Olinger, Allaho, Zanahiyr, A Plus Tard, Benie Des Dieux, Concertista and Sir Gerhard. To be honest I think that every year you are going to be missing a few of the big names as at the end of the day you are dealing with animals which are all trained differently with different schedules. The majority of the headlines have been about Willie Mullins and rightly so. He’s carried on his form from the Christmas period and to train nine winners, six of which were in the Grade 1s, is a massive achievement.

It was a fantastic two days and, for me, it’s on a par with Cheltenham now. The excitement and the spectacle of the top National Hunt horses competing against one another, and the fact it is not as diluted as Cheltenham means all the big guns have to take each other on. Don’t get me wrong Cheltenham is the Olympics and always will be for the horsemen, but the two days at Leopardstown are getting bigger and bigger and hopefully in 12 months’ time, we’ll have some English horses and spectators over here.

You have to be impressed by all the winners over the weekend. Chacun Pour Soi, Monkfish, Honeysuckle (pictured below), Appreciate It and Kilcruit were all superb and you’d have to think all five will take a heck of a lot of beating in a few weeks’ time in March. Of the 28 races at Cheltenham, Irish-trained horses are favourite for 22 of them which is quite incredible and just shows the strength in depth that the Irish handlers have this season.

If you had to look at horses that didn’t win, one horse to look forward to is Blue Lord, another Mullins horse. I thought he is one to keep a close eye on, especially when stepped up in trip. I also think it’s too soon to write off Abracadabras, who was second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle. When Gordon Elliott’s horse meets some better ground I think we’ll see an entirely different animal. You don’t see many horses swing into the straight the way he did in the Supreme last year and yes he was just touched off by Shishkin that day, but as we know that rival is a proper superstar so to get a close to him as he did was some effort.

Irish Horses at Cheltenham

According to Willie, he has the best group of horses ever, which is some statement for a man as successful as he has been over the years. Cheltenham as always will tell us where the English and Irish horses stand, as they haven’t been able to go against each other since the beginning of the Jumps season. If the Cheltenham matchups that are on paper come to fruition – Honeysuckle and Epatante in the Champion Hurdle, Shishkin and Energumene in the Arkle, Chacun Pour Soi taking on Politologue and Altior in the Champion Chase – it is going to be hugely exciting, and we’ll see how good the Irish horses are and if the form stacks up.

The big owners are now based in Ireland so it does make sense that the best horses are going to be in Ireland too. The number of top-class horses over here is quite staggering at the moment and I’d be shocked if the Prestbury Cup doesn’t come back to Ireland this year.