Concern over Leopardstown conditions ahead of Dublin Racing Festival

Mullins may withdraw horses from Ladbrokes Novice Chase if conditions get too quick

  Leopardstown’s efforts to address the famously fast draining surface have included the appointment of a turf consultancy firm last year. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Leopardstown’s efforts to address the famously fast draining surface have included the appointment of a turf consultancy firm last year. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

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Willie Mullins has described uncertainty about the state of the steeplechase course at Leopardstown ahead of next week’s Dublin Racing Festival as “very worrying”.

The champion trainer is pointing many of his top chase stars at the €2.1 million showpiece event but ground conditions could decide if they line up.

The going on the chase track has proved contentious in recent years including at the 2019 Dublin Racing Festival when the day-two action was decimated with 22 horses taken out due to ground conditions getting quick.

They included six of the 10 declarations for the featured Irish Gold Cup.

Leopardstown’s efforts to address the famously fast draining surface have included the appointment of a turf consultancy firm last year.

However, the continuing problem was highlighted at the recent Christmas festival when despite 45mm of rainfall on Christmas Day, watering still had to be resumed by day two of the festive action.

Continuous watering is taking place on the chase course ahead of Irish jump racing’s shop-window meeting on Saturday and Sunday week.

However Mullins, who has attractions such as the star novice Galopin Des Champs and the King George winner Tornado Flyer in line to appear over fences at the festival, is reluctant to risk some of his powerful team if he feels conditions get too quick.

“It is very worrying. They were very lucky to get two inches 48 hours prior to the meeting [at Christmas]. Otherwise I’d say there would have been a lot of withdrawals.

“It’s been hugely dry. I don’t know what the long range forecast is – who does – but the near future is dry anyway,” said the man in charge of the sport’s most powerful string.

Concern

Asked if Galopin Des Champs was an intended runner in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase on Sunday week, Mullins replied: “That’s our aim at the moment but we’re keeping a good eye on the ground and the weather to see what’s happening.

“Everything at this point in time is in the mix. But it [the ground] is certainly going to be bearing on our minds a lot.”

The official ground description on the chase course currently is “yielding” and “good to yielding” in places.

Mullins’s great rival Gordon Elliott has also expressed concern about the surface on the chase course ahead of next week’s action.

Gigginstown Stud’s Eddie O’Leary has suggested one solution to the problem could be moving the fences at Leopardstown from the outside of the course closer to the inner where more water is retained.

Leopardstown officials confirmed on Tuesday that they plan to continue a watering policy into next week with an “uncertain” weather outlook ahead.

“We’ve got an intensive watering programme carrying on during the course of this week. It will carry on all over next week.

“I think you’ve seen that in the gradual relaxation of the going. That’s the way that we intend to go,” chief executive Tim Husbands said.

The Leopardstown boss has said that appropriate National Hunt going is the target.

One chaser that is likely to turn up is Chacun Pour Soi who has recovered from the setback that ruled him out of the Christmas action.

He will try to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Grade One Dublin Chase.

“He is back doing full work. Our aim is to go to Leopardstown with him. He’s a good ground horse and loves Leopardstown so I’m keen to get him there if I can at all,” Mullins said.

Chacun Pour Soi missed out on the Christmas contest won by Envoi Allen due to what Mullins described as a hamstring issue.

The €200,000 Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle could see Honeysuckle faced with a new opponent in last season’s leading novice Appreciate It.

The wide-margin Supreme winner was set to go to over fences this campaign but a setback meant a call was made last month to keep him over flights.

Appreciate It is second favourite to Honeysuckle in ante-post betting for Leopardstown and Mullins said: “We’ve entered him in it and we’re working towards it. A lot will depend on how he works – [but] it’s not the furthest thing from our minds.”

‘Capacity event’

Last year’s Dublin Racing Festival was held behind closed doors but on the back of the Government’s scrapping of most Covid-19 restrictions Leopardstown officials are planning for what they called “a capacity event”.

Although the Co Dublin track can cater for up to 18,000 spectators, it is expected a combined crowd in the region of 25,000 over the two days could attend.

However, Husbands was reluctant on Tuesday to pin too precise a figure on the likely crowd sizes.

“I think it’s still probably a little too early to say. We’ve sold about 4,000 over the last few days so that’s encouraging. We’re planning for a capacity event.

“You can definitely feel a pent-up demand [but] remember we’ve only really got 10 days selling notice so we obviously have got campaigns starting this week and we’ll see how it goes.

“We don’t want to set unrealistic targets but we’re selling as many as we possibly can do,” he said.

Husbands also said he doesn’t expect the Ireland-Wales rugby international in Dublin on Saturday week to have much of an impact on crowd levels.

There was a total attendance of 26,474 at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival, the biggest crowd since the event started in 2018.

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