Although many National Hunt racing fans have been looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival since the beginning of the new year – there have been plenty of quality meetings that have taken place in January and February that are worth dissecting.
Once such meet which has proven crucial in the wider context of this jumps racing season is the Dublin Racing Festival – which boasted fields filled with Cheltenham Festival hopefuls whose trainers were looking to get their thoroughbreds in good nick leading up to the four-day event at Prestbury Park in March.
Therefore, without further ado, read on as we take an in-depth look at who impressed at Leopardstown and improved their stock less than six weeks out from Cheltenham.
Although there was plenty of hype and anticipation already surrounding the Willie Mullins-trained State Man, he further displayed his promise in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown with a nearly five-length win over the great mare Honeysuckle and stablemate Vauban.
It marks the six-year-olds sixth consecutive victory, five of which have come over hurdles. Mullins was pleased with his performance, noting that his gelding “did everything right”.
“We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he said.
“He jumped like a champion hurdler, I thought, all the way down the back. Paul asked him some big questions and he came up every time. I’m very happy.”
State Man’s win sets up a mouth-watering clash with Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle winner Constitution Hill – whose dominance over the past 15 months has seen him recognised by Timeform as the highest-rated novice hurdler (177p) in its 74-year history.
If State Man can build on his form from Leopardstown and defy the racing odds to defeat Constitution Hill at Cheltenham – it will go down as one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
A Dream To Share
The John Kiely-trained A Dream To Share surprised fans and pundits alike at the Dublin Racing Festival with a superb win in the Future Stars fixture. After kicking off proceedings towards the rear of the field, jockey John Gleeson made smooth headway before challenging two furlongs out from the finish.
The promising five-year-old then showed a strong turn of the foot up the straight to overtake then-leader Fact to File and win the bumper contest by nearly three lengths. As a result of his win, A Dream To Share’s odds has been slashed from 40/1 to 8/1 for the Cheltenham Festival’s Champion Bumper.
Gentleman De Mee
In what was a fantastic return to form, the Willie Mullins-trained Gentleman De Mee upset a short-priced Queen Mother Champion Chase hopeful in Blue Lord to win by an impressive seven lengths in the Dublin Racing Festival’s Grade 1 Dublin Chase.
Mullins will be particularly pleased with his thoroughbred’s showing given his form prior to February’s Leopardstown meet, as it snapped a three-race losing streak in which the gelding lost by 41 lengths, 16-and-a-half lengths and by way of UR (unseated rider) respectively.
Similarly to the aforementioned A Dream To Share, Gentleman De Mee’s performance has excited punters, with the seven-year-old firming from 66/1 to 10/1 for the Cheltenham Festival’s feature race on day two – the Queen Mother Champion Chase.