Willie Mullins in dominant position ahead of Dublin Racing Festival action

Champion trainer is just 6-1 to all eight Grade One races up for grabs at Leopardstown

Perhaps the most pertinent element to this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival is how Willie Mullins is just 6-1 to win all eight Grade One races up for grabs.

There are 15 contests in all during the two days at Leopardstown – worth over €2 million of prize money – in the sixth renewal of what has become a major event.

Even by standards that has seen him win 30 of the 75 ‘DRF’ races to date, though, Mullins appears to be in an overwhelmingly dominant position.

Galopin Des Champs is a red-hot favourite for Saturday’s €250,000 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup and the pair nearest to him in the betting are stable companions.


Separately, State Man tops markets for the following day’s feature, the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, where he takes on the superstar mare Honeysuckle.

However, it is the strength in depth of Mullins’s runners in other Grade One races that is truly startling.

Lossiemouth heads six horses from the champion trainer in an eight-runner Juvenile Hurdle surely already in the bag before it’s run. In the following Irish Arkle, Mullins has five of the eight contenders.

On Sunday, Facile Vega and Blue Lord are heavy odds-on favourites and while Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter tops betting for the big novice chase, all five of his opponents are Mullins trained.

In Grade One terms, it is the opening race of the weekend, the Nathaniel Lacy Hurdle, which could see Mullins’s opposition being most competitive.

Elliott holds a numerical edge in this with three runners to his rival’s two, although Barry Connell’s Good Land is favoured by the layers.

So, should either Quais De Paris or Grangeclare West emerge on top, an ultra-lopsided weekend’s action could be in store.

Such superior firepower might ordinarily suggest a certain parochialism but jump racing’s reality is that it isn’t confined to the local.

An unprecedented 10 winners for Mullins at last year’s Cheltenham festival underlined both his superiority, and that of a tiny cadre of other top Irish trainers.

It’s little surprise then that just three cross-channel raiders will make the trip to Leopardstown.

Despite that, lip-service about this weekend’s action being a stand-alone event ignores what the DRF isn’t rather than what it is.

With the best will in the world, what it isn’t is an aim in itself; no one buys a horse to win at the Dublin Festival winner. For better or worse, Cheltenham remains what it’s all about. No matter the prize money, this is still ultimately a lucrative trial for the big event in Gloucestershire in five weeks.

But what it has become is a crucial trial of Cheltenham credentials., concentrating most of the best of Ireland’s talent which, during the DRF’s existence, has come to mean much of the best of the sport’s talent anywhere.

That it is concentrated in so few hands will inevitably produce concerns about competitiveness.

During the Dublin Racing Festival’s existence, 45 of the 50 non-handicap races have gone to just a quartet of trainers – Mullins, Elliott, Henry de Bromhead and Joseph O’Brien.

Even with O’Brien out of the equation last year, 12 of the 15 races were scooped up by the other trio. Mullins landed seven of them, including half a dozen of the Grade Ones.

The counterpoint to such exclusivity is stamped all over Irish dominance at Cheltenham and once again Leopardstown’s two big days looks like serving its function as the best chance to be tried by fire before that.

An exception could be the big race itself. Since the major question surrounding Galopin Des Champs is his stamina for the extended three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, Saturday’s task will hardly provide a definitive answer.

What it will serve as is a lucrative guide to the horse’s wellbeing just five weeks from the ‘Blue Riband’ event, as well as a chance for his trainer to win the Irish Gold Cup for a 12th time.

Those who follow trends might pin their hopes on no favourite having won it in over a decade and there is certainly no stamina doubts about the second-favourite, Stattler.

Anything but a smooth success for Galopin Des Champs, though, will be a major surprise, as will defeat for Lossiemouth.

She has exuded authority in her pair of starts since coming to Ireland and should cement her status as Triumph Hurdle favourite.

How Mullins has divided his 10 novice chasers between the Arkle and the following day’s Ladbrokes Novice Chase is intriguing.

Appreciate It, in particular, could have run in either contest but is put over the minimum trip. The same applies to El Fabiolo, who will need to jump better than on his chasing debut but looks a horse of major potential.

There are a quartet of Mullins runners in the concluding Grade Two bumper, where Chosen Warrior might emerge as his best shot. It is his brother Tom’s Fascile Mode who will attract plenty of pre-race attention on the back of his winning course debut.

The single weekend race without a Willie Mullins runner is the two-mile handicap chase, where joint-topweight A Wave Of The Sea tries to win at the festival for a fourth year in a row.

His impressive record includes winning this race in its last two runnings, although it is another JP McManus-owned runner, Get My Drift, who can secure the pot in first-time cheekpieces.

His jockey Mark Walsh returns to action having been out since Christmas through injury.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column