Leopardstown hosts the Dublin Racing Festival over at that represents two days of racing of concentrated quality barely rivalled by the Cheltenham Festival yet also serves up copious clues for those looking to get a handle on the pecking order for the big races in March.
The Grade 1 events are so stocked with tough to split Willie Mullins’ stars that we’re leaving them to the master of Closutton – our best bets for the DRF come in the handicaps and all wear the colours of legendary owner JP McManus.
Leopardstown Dublin Racing Festival best bets
All prices are forecast and subject to change
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Liz Doyle’s big meet handicap hurdle specialist a belting bet
JP McManus is typically well represented in the three-mile Race And Stay At Leopardstown Handicap Hurdle (3.00 ) with three runners including potential favourite Canal Turn, Park Of Kings and BALLYBAWN BELTER.
The latter is likely to go off much the longest priced of the trio but there can be no denying the mare’s suitability for this assignment.
She’s got previous for taking out handicap hurdles at big meetings having followed victory in the £53k 2m mares event at last year’s DRF with further honours in a 16 grand race on Punchestown Gold Cup day last year over 2m4f.
A comfortable scorer over 2m6f at Ballinrobe two starts back she has the potential for further improvement at this 3m trip.
Low mark to counteract the effect of the passing years for Birchdale
The Grade 3 O’Driscolls Irish Whiskey Leopardstown Handicap Chase (3.20 Sunday) has become an annual pilgrimage for Enda Bolger’s BIRCHDALE since winning the 2022 edition off a mark of 133.
Fourth off 135 in last year’s running he’s back again at the age of 10 and while he’s not getting any younger, he has a mark of only 130 to contend with as he bids for a second win in the race.
Off the track since getting back to winning ways over banks at Punchestown in late November under Simon Torrens, 3lb claimer Mark McDonagh is back aboard to lighten his burden further. There may be younger more up and coming rivals to contend with, but place claims are more than realistic.
Triumph Hurdle third can reap reward for forsaking the larger obstacles
Willie Mullins appears to have decided that fences may not be for ZENTA who returns to hurdles after one race over the larger obstacles, in which she finished a modest fifth.
Third in last season’s Triumph Hurdle behind Lossiemouth, her stablemate has already advertised the quality of that form with an effortless win in open Grade 2 company on Cheltenham Trials Day.
Like the latter Zenta is a juvenile Grade 1 winner having followed up her Festival bronze with a win in the Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree. However, while Lossiemouth is likely to be rated a lot higher than the 147 she was before her last start when reassessed by the handicapper Zenta has a mark of just 138.
Hurdlers are often considered to be up against it in their first season outside juvenile company but several months into the season Zenta has had time to strenghten and should go well.