A key weekend of Cheltenham Festival trials crosses the Irish and rolls on to Leopardstown on Sunday afternoon, with the Foxrock track getting revved up to stage a highly informative seven race card, on a day laden with star names.
It’ll have to go some to match some of the excitement and drama witnessed on Saturday afternoon, with the Oliver Sherwood-trained Many Clouds powering up the Cheltenham hill in the Argento Chase to strengthen his Gold Cup claims, a contest for which he is now no bigger than 10/1, with the top price available with any of Betfred, BetVictor, Paddy Power and William Hill.
On the same card Nicky Henderson’s Peace And Co boosted his already weighty Triumph Hurdle claims, winning his trial race of the same name by three lengths, to prompt quotes of no bigger than 9/4 with the likes of Boylesports and Paddy Power for March’s four-year-old shootout.
Also contracting in price was the Paul Nicholls inmate Saphir De Rheu, who justified the decision to revert to the smaller obstacles after a fall over fences, digging deep to chin Reve De Sivola in a stirring finish to the Cleeve Hurdle.
A similar story prompted the same stable’s Big Buck’s, who like Saphir De Rheu raced in the familiar Andy Stewart colours, to embark on a record breaking sequence of wins over hurdles.
Saphir De Rheu has got a long, long way to match those exploits, but he was good here, and is now 7/1 with the likes of Hills and Ladbrokes for March’s World Hurdle.
On to Dublin then, and after the Saturday that was in the UK and a Leopardstown Sunday that gave us Katie T, Vautour and Foxrock a week ago, the D4 venue has plenty to live up to…
You’ll see four races live with us on RTE2, with the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase the first of the terrestrial quartet, set to jump off at 1.40pm.
It’s very definitely a case of quality not quantity, with just three runners lining up for this, but what a three they are!
The 156-rated Clarcam announced himself on the big stage when slamming Vautour and Ted Veale here by 17 lengths at Christmas time, and with that form franked last weekend by Vautour, it’s not hard to see this lad playing his part given that he gets 10 pounds from both of his rivals as the sole five-year-old.
Odds-on favourite Un De Sceaux has never been beaten when completing, with his only defeat in 11 starts to date coming when falling at Thurles on his chase debut.
He made up for that when bolting up at Fairyhouse five days before Christmas, and given how easily he saw off Smashing that run looks even better now, in light of how readily Smashing applied gloss to the form when he scored at Gowran Park three days ago.
The trio is made up by Gilgamboa, a horse trainer Enda Bolger says is the fastest he has ever trained.
He’s two from two over fences, and won the Boylesports Hurdle here a year ago.
All three could be set to scale the heights, but something has to give!
Un De Sceaux is the favourite for the Cheltenham Arkle at 2/1 across the board, while Clarcam is 8/1 for the same prize, and Gilgamboa only two points bigger.
That’s three of the front five in the market in a domestic face-off, but at the prices surely it makes sense to go with the 9/2 outsider of the three in Clarcam?
Already a class act, he’s a Grade 1 winner getting a 10lb weight for age allowance.
Next up at 2.10pm is the Sandyford Handicap Chase over 2m 1f, in which Kildare trainer Christy Roche has two of the nine runners, in the shape of the JP McManus-owned duo of Golden Ticket and Sitcom.
Both look live dangers to my colleague Ted Walsh’s top weight Champagne James, who looks certain to go off favourite after his second placed effort at Fairyhouse 14 days ago.
The one I like is Golden Ticket, who appears to go on pretty much any ground and is up five after winning at Punchestown last time out.
He’s becoming more consistent and could have too much speed in a very open contest.
Just over 35 minutes later we are treated to another sighting of the remarkable Hurricane Fly, as he bids to win the Grade 1 BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle for an extraordinary fifth time.
Currently he sits on four wins in the race alongside the mighty Istabraq, but a win here will put him out on his own.
It’s also the seventh chapter of his ding-dong battle with Jezki, with the 2014 Champion Hurdle hero trailing by a deficit of 4-2.
The Fly is unbeaten at Leopardstown with a flawless nine wins from nine visits, and has an astonishing 21 Grade 1 victories to his name to date.
Perhaps the drying ground gives Jezki a better chance of beating his rival for the first time since March, but it’s a race to savour rather than to invest.
Enjoy him while you can.
Sunday’s best bets at Leopardstown:
1.40 – Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase – 3 Clarcam (win) @ 9/2 (Paddy Power)
2.10 – Sandyford Handicap Chase – 3 Golden Ticket (win) @ 9/2 (Boylesports or BetVictor)