It’s a day of Leopardstown Grade 1 goodness with us on RTE, with Cheltenham pointers likely to be on display in the Spring Juvenile (2.30), Deloitte Novice Hurdle (3.00), Flogas Novice Chase (3.30), and in the big one at 4.00pm, the Stan James Irish Gold Cup.
It’s also a day where Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott once again go toe-to-toe in their private battle at the top of the trainers’ standings, especially in the second of the aforementioned contests, in which the two men field a collective nine of the 10 runners!
One race where they might not have it all their own way however is the last of those listed above, the wide open Stan James Irish Gold Cup…
In Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt, Elliott clearly has a seriously powerful hand, one which occupies the first two places in the betting.
Don Poli is a three time Grade 1 winner, off the back of a cracking run in the Lexus, a dour stayer, a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner, and one who has been there and done it at Leopardstown.
However, he’s also capable of throwing in a stinker, as demonstrated when running no race at Down Royal back in November on his first run for Elliott.
For his part, Empire Of Dirt (also relatively new to Elliott) is a Cheltenham Festival winner with a different complexion, a fast improving handicapper who deserves his chance in a big one such as this…
Both will have plenty of fans, but this is an especially open running, particularly with Carlingford Lough going for a third consecutive win after successes at 4/1 in 2015 and 20/1 in 2016.
He’s the choice of Barry Geraghty, who could also have opted for Minella Rocco or More Of That.
That pair both cross the Irish sea for Jonjo O’Neill, bidding to become the first British-trained winner of this prize since Neptune Collonges triumphed at 8/13 back in 2009.
Both are former Cheltenham Festival winners, and neither should be discounted.
However, with the exception of hat-trick chaser Carlingford Lough, the top-rated horse in the line up isn’t any of those stars, but the Jessie Harrington inmate Sizing John, a quality horse who has numerous experiences of chasing Douvan home in the bank, but has never, until now, been allowed to show what he can try and do over further than two and a half miles.
The risk is clearly that he won’t get today’s extended three mile journey, but the odds of reward (11/2) look a reasonable trade-off for a talented horse who stayed on strongly when winning at Thursles in the Kinloch Brae last time out.
Despite being 7-0 down in head-to-head meetings with Douvan, Sizing John is still three from eight over fences and could be explosive if the stamina holds out.
At 11/2 with Paddy Power that’s what I’ll be paying to find out!
Today’s best bet at Leopardstown:
4.00 – Stan James Irish Gold Cup – 7 Sizing John (each way) @ 11/2 (Paddy Power)