Kemboy and Frodon ready to vie for Irish Gold Cup glory

Nicholls’s raider could strike a blow for cross-channel morale

Some 'old normal' looks set to return to Leopardstown when the Dublin Racing Festival starts on Saturday.

For one thing this weekend’s action sees spectator limits removed for the fifth renewal of Irish jump racing’s shop-window event.

Since Leopardstown hasn’t had significant spectator numbers since this meeting two years ago, and given the quality and value of the racing, total weekend attendance forecasts of up to 20,000 could be regarded as underwhelming for a facility that can cater for 18,000.

It perhaps underlines the view of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive, Suzanne Eade, that getting people to abandon viewing habits built up through the pandemic and go to the track again is a priority.

On the actual racing front, those going to Leopardstown over the two days might see things remaining very much as they remembered. Willie Mullins has dominated the previous four years of the festival, winning 22 of the 60 races that have been up for grabs.

His great rival Gordon Elliott has won 11 and numerically both look they could exert huge influence once again. Henry De Bromhead, the third figure among a trio of dominant Irish trainers, has the superstar mare Honeysuckle in Sunday's feature and no less than Minella Indo for Saturday's Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.

There is still too an unavoidable sense that even with €2.1 million in prizemoney up for grabs, and eight of the 15 races being Grade Ones, this weekend's action mostly represents a stepping stone to Cheltenham in five weeks' time.

The absence of star names such as A Plus Tard and Bob Olinger despite the riches available suggests ambitions for the Dublin Racing Festival to be a standalone event have some way to go. It could be the case however that Saturday's €250,000 feature gets fought out between two horses for whom it is very much a priority.

Neither last year’s winner Kemboy nor the cross-channel star Frodon hold Cheltenham festival entries.

So if the Irish Gold Cup will be widely viewed through the Cheltenham prism for Minella Indo, and even the 2020 winner Delta Work, it is reasonable to assume the here and now is on Paul Nicholls’s mind in particular.

British interest

Britain's champion trainer injects some valuable British interest into a weekend that will be shown live both on RTÉ and ITV. Greaneteen will take on Chacun Pour Soi on Sunday but it is Frodon in particular that could strike a blow for cross-channel morale.

Nicholls has already sent the hugely popular chaser into the Irish back-yard this season and gained a memorable success over Galvin at Down Royal in October.

Frodon has previously failed to measure up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but a mixture of three miles on ground that still needs selective watering after 2,000mms already put on since Christmas, as well as going right-handed, looks perfect.

Kemboy too has thrived in the past in these conditions and there is a potential scenario where both take each other for the lead. That could leave the door open for one of six others although a peak-form Frodon can be very difficult to peg back.

It’s easy to see Saturday’s three other Grade One races turn into a Mullins V Elliott show. Mullins has a numerical edge in terms of runners but Elliott supporters will still fancy their chances.

The sex allowance Riviere d’Etel gets from her male rivals in the Irish Arkle is a major plus in her favour given an admirable attempt to beat Ferny Hollow at Christmas. Fil Dor has run up an unbeaten record over flights while giving the impression there is significantly more to come. That could get underlined in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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