SHAMROCK Sat: There’s a huge weekend of racing at Leopardstown with the two-day Dublin Racing Festival kicking off, providing a chance to see many of the stars of the National Hunt scene clash before Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins plundered six of the eight Grade 1s on offer last year and the Closutton maestro looks to have every chance of equalling or remarkably exceeding that total this weekend.

⭕ We go straight into Grade 1 action on Saturday, with a novice hurdle (1:20pm) over 2m6f. Nigel Twiston-Davies is one of only two British trainers – the other being Phil Kirby – to have sent raiders across to Leopardstown and he must think his runner Weveallbeencaught has a strong chance. The Gloucestershire-based trainer has a respectable 12% strike rate with runners he sends over to Ireland and has always been clear he holds this son of Getaway in the highest regard. A very strong stayer, as he showed when beating a subsequent Grade 2 winner over 2m4f last time out at Cheltenham, he should relish this extra distance and could upset the Irish in the opener.

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⭕ The Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle (1:55pm) over 2 miles follows and this looks like it could be one for the Willie Mullins benefit fund. He saddles the first three in the market, with the hot-favourite Lossiemouth the choice of stable jockey Paul Townend. This daughter of Great Pretender has won with the minimum of fuss on her two hurdle starts in Ireland to date, most recently beating Gala Marceau in Grade 2 company over this course and distance. She won that by over seven lengths, and the fact that rival is second favourite in the market, suggests she should take some stopping.

⭕ Next up is one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the weekend, in the Grade 1 Arkle Novices’ Chase (2:30pm), as Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It and Dysart Dynamo go head-to-head. However, there may well be a bit of the surprise on the cards here. With both set to go off quickly from the front, if Daryl Jacob can give Fabiolo a nice patient ride in behind, then he might be the one to pick up the pieces. The stablemate of Appreciate It and Dysart Dynamo was a facile winner on chase debut, and has shown a level of form at least on a par with the second named over hurdles, so looks to offer far more value in the market.

⭕ Another huge moment for the Willie Mullins yard, as their new stable star, Galopin Des Champs steps up to 3 miles for the first time over fences in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup (3:05pm). Since crashing out with the race at his mercy at Cheltenham last season, the seven-year-old has been flawless. The way he dismantled the field in the John Durkan last time suggested a horse of the highest calibre and earnt him a rating of 175. That’s well above the next highest rated, Stattler at 163, so the only question seems to be whether he’ll see out this new trip over fences. He was a 3-mile winner over hurdles though, which effectively answers that question.

⭕ The first handicap on the card is a 3-mile hurdle (3:40pm), where some of the smaller yards will surely be eager to get a look in. That may still be difficult though, judging by the strength of the Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins challenge here. The Cullentra handler has the likely favourite in impressive last-start winner Maxxum, but it may pay to take a chance each-way with one of his other runners. Au Fleuron was a good staying-on fourth in a similar event over 2m3½f at Punchestown in December and looks ready for this step up in trip. The excellent Kieran Buckley takes off a handy three pounds.

⭕ A Grade B handicap chase (4:10pm) over 2m1f follows. Final Orders has won four on the bounce and must be respected, but Mouse Morris could have one that’s nicely treated here in the form of Get My Drift. This son of Spanish Moon wasn’t disgraced behind Appreciate It and Top Bandit at Punchestown in December. Now starting off life in handicaps off a mark of 130, he should have potential off that sort of a rating. One at a much bigger price to keep an eye on is Battleoverdoyen.

⭕ A brilliant card concludes with the Grade 2 bumper (4:40pm) over 2 miles. Willie Mullins has won four of the five renewals of this race, but it might be his brother Tom Mullins’ chance to claim a victory here. He saddles son of Walk In The Park, Fascile Mode, who was a visually impressive winner of what looked a good Leopardstown bumper in December. There should be plenty more to come from him and he can take another step up the rankings here.

PAT HEALY: Cheltenham Festival Recap
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