Willie Mullins dominated the opening afternoon of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown with 4 winners, including a trio of Grade 1 victories. Vauban (9/4) stepped up on his hurdles debut at Punchestown on New Year's Eve at Punchestown when narrowly beaten by Pied Piper by taking the Spring Juvenile Hurdle in convincing fashion. Despite showing a tendency to jump to his right, he quickened up smartly between the final two flights before being pushed clear for a three lengths win from the previously unbeaten Fil Dor. Taken wide throughout by Paul Townend, he has speed and stamina and his rematch with Pied Piper in the Triumph Hurdle next month is something to look forward to. The four year old looks another top-class prospect for Rich and Susannah Ricci.
Declan Phelan's Irish Pointers have been in superb form all season and Minella Cocooner (11/1) took the opening Grade 1 staying novice hurdle which kicked off the meeting. The Flemensfirth gelding jumped superbly and repeated made ground on his opponents with some excellent leaps before staying on well to beat Minella Crooner by nearly three lengths. He will presumably tackle the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle next.
In addition to Vauban, the Top 40 Prospects was also on the mark at Sandown as Shallwehaveonemore scored at the third time of asking over obstacles. Gary Moore's gelding had got bogged down in the heavy ground in the Tolworth Hurdle over the same C&D last time. Dropped in class, the son of Authorized made the most of this much easier opportunity in a two miles novice hurdle making all and never looking like he would get caught. Having raced too keenly on his previous two races over jumps, he settled in front and never saw another rival. The Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton (26th February) will be next and then it is possible he will skip Cheltenham and be saved for Aintree. Having shown a tendency to jump to his left at the Esher track, he ought to be even better when racing left handed for the first time in the spring. As discussed, he possesses a big engine and is a Graded horse in the making.
The hard luck story of the day at Sandown was Gunsight Ridge's defeat in the two miles handicap chase. Olly Murphy's seven year old had won over C&D four weeks earlier and was only five pounds higher. However, his jockey elected to go head to head with old rival Bun Doran from the outset and the pair paid the price late on. Despite still being in front between the final two fences, Gunsight Ridge faded on the run-in which was understandable having gone too fast too soon. He remains an interesting prospect for races such as the Grand Annual and Red Rum Chases at Cheltenham and Aintree respectively.
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