February couldn't have started much worse as far as the Top 40 Prospects were concerned with four losers - two ran very well but the other couple ran shockers.
The Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown kicked off on Saturday with Honeysuckle extending her unbeaten record to eight wins when capturing the Irish Champion Hurdle. Henry De Bromhead's mare looked set for a comfortable win once taking over rounding the final bend from stablemate Petit Mouchoir. However, the daughter of Sulamani got in close to the last and lost her momentum. Rachel Blackmore's mount picked up well though and had enough in reserve to hold the late challenge of novice Darver Star. A half length winner, she will need to jump better if she heads down the Champion Hurdle route at Cheltenham. I think Honeysuckle is better than she showed today and will appreciate more ease in the ground at the Festival. Her jumping was nowhere near as good as it had been in the Hattons Grace Hurdle earlier in the season.
Chacun Pour Soi produced the performance of the day in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase. A Grade 1 winning novice chaser at the Punchestown Festival last spring, the ex-French gelding had found A Plus Tard too strong over C&D over Christmas. It was a different story on this occasion though as Willie Mullins' eight year old comfortably got the better of stablemate Min. Jumping well, Paul Townend's mount readily took over at the second last and was always in control thereafter. A reproduction of this performance will make him tough to beat in the Champion Chase with his trainer seeking his first win in the two miles event. As regards the runner-up, he is likely to contest the Ryanair Chase at the Festival but he appears better on a flatter track. I would be inclined to keep him fresh for Aintree in a bid to win the Melling Chase for a second consecutive year.
Similar to last year, the drying ground was an issue at the Dublin track - neither Fakir D'Oudairies or A Plus Tard were risked and their connections did the right thing with the future in mind. Le Richebourg won the Grade 1 Arkle Novice Chase last year and hasn't been seen since. It isn't a coincidence.
Itchy Feet provided Olly Murphy with his first Grade 1 winner as a trainer when coming from off the pace in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. Third in the Skybet Supreme NH at Cheltenham last spring, he had beaten two rivals by twenty six lengths on his chasing debut at Leicester in late December but this presented a much sterner test. The six year old proved up to the task though under a patient ride by Gavin Sheehan. Despite stumbling at the second last, he stayed on strongly after the final fence and easily swept past Midnight Shadow to win by three and a half lengths. While there is no doubt the pace collapsed in front following a frantic early gallop, it was still a good performance to win a Grade 1 on only his second run over fences and a terrific result for his young trainer. Midnight Shadow, a Grade 2 winner over hurdles and fences, ran well in second and there were no excuses. Sue Smith's gelding jumped well and held every chance but had no answer to the winner's turn of foot on the run-in. The pair were fifteen lengths clear of the third.
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