Five to watch at the Dublin Festival

Cilaos Emery has been deeply impressive in his two outings over fences so far this season.
Cilaos Emery has been deeply impressive in his two outings over fences so far this season.

Following the release of the entries for the 2020 Dublin Festival at Leopardstown, Sean Raymond has taken a look at the intended runners and picked out five to keep an eye on with Cheltenham in mind, providing his musings on each…

Envoi Allen

Alright, so we will start with an obvious one.

This year’s sexy novice hurdler is Envoi Allen, and the Dublin Racing Festival looks like being the next chance to see one of the most exciting young horses in training. The six-year-old is unbeaten in seven starts under Rules, including when winning the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival last season, and all the signs at this stage are suggesting that he could be a special talent.

The Gordon Elliott-trained animal has two options at Leopardstown, with the two-mile six-furlong novice hurdle on the first day of the meeting looking the likely target at the time of writing. Connections have also decided to give the horse an entry in the Irish Champion Hurdle in open company - which might prove tempting given the lack of depth in the division - but taking his chance against the novices looks the more likely route.

There is no doubt that Envoi Allen is going to be one of the key Cheltenham Festival runners this year, with most assuming he will be the banker of the week in the Ballymore, which ensures he is likely to come under the microscope once again before he heads back across the water to England in March.

Aspire Tower

The Triumph Hurdle picture remains a murky one at this stage of the season, with no one horse separating themselves from the rest in the ante-post market.

That could all change in the next few weeks, though, as we get to run the rule over some of the key trial races in both the UK and Ireland. The Spring Juvenile Hurdle tends to be among the best of the prep races, with Our Conor, Footpad and Sir Erec three notable recent winners, meaning the Leopardstown contest is always one to watch.

The horse that may just be the best of the Irish juveniles this season is the fascinating Aspire Tower, who has won both his starts since joining Henry De Bromhead. The juvenile has won his two starts over hurdles by a combined 31-lengths to mark himself out as a major Cheltenham threat, and although the Grade 1 contest at the Dublin Racing Festival will be his biggest test yet, expect him to pass with flying colours.

Aspire Tower might just be about to inspire punters and clear up the murky Triumph hurdle picture at the same time.

Notebook

Another one in the care of the brilliant Henry De Bromhead, Notebook didn’t necessarily stand out as a novice hurdler despite the fact there was clearly a certain amount of talent in the locker.

A twelfth-placed finish in the Ballymore at Cheltenham last year was nothing to write home about, but the Gigginstown-owned animal has flourished over fences this winter and now looks a potential star. Three wins on the bounce over the bigger obstacles have seen the horse jump into favouritism for the Arkle at the Prestbury Park spectacular, but even taking that into account, the seven-year-old continues to fly slightly under the radar in the UK.

His Grade 1 win over Christmas at Leopardstown took the eye, as the excellent Fakir D’Oudairies was firmly put in his place. Notebook has been excellent over his fences this season, and with plenty of pace also on his side, a further win at the Dublin Racing Festival would cement his place as the premier two-mile novice chaser in training heading to Gloucestershire.

A rematch with Fakir D’Oudairies will be interesting if they both turn up next month in the Irish Arkle, while potential opponents like Melon and Bapaume would also offer a stern test to a horse that seems to be on a sharp upward curve.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle is a name that will be known to many readers already, with the exciting mare building quite the reputation over the past year or so.

Superstar mares are always popular, with animals like Apple’s Jade and Annie Power just two to have captured the public attention over the past decade. Honeysuckle looks to have all the ability in the world, which means it is easy to imagine her name being mentioned alongside that illustrious company in the future, and all roads look set to lead through Leopardstown on the way to Cheltenham.

Yet another horse trained by De Bromhead, the six-year-old is unbeaten so far, with her emphatic success in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle last time out a stunning performance. Bacardys was nine-lengths behind a horse who appears to have pace and stamina to burn, which means the future is clearly looking bright.

At this stage it looks as though connections are tempted to throw her in the deep end at the Dublin meeting, with the Irish Champion Hurdle down at two miles looking like the target. A good run in that contest will set her up brilliantly for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle itself - with that market looking extremely thin on the ground on both sides of the Irish Sea.

The back-up option of staying against her own sex at Prestbury Park will also be there, but for now this hugely exciting horse looks on the fast track to stardom and it will be at Leopardstown at the start of February where we can next follow her stratospheric progress.

Cilaos Emery

It would be impossible to do a list such as this without mentioning a Willie Mullins-trained horse, and so that has proven as we take a closer look at Cilaos Emery.

The eight-year-old may not be the obvious pick from the Closutton handler’s battalion heading to Leopardstown, but he remains of huge interest with the rest of the season in mind. This a horse who was good enough to beat Melon in a Grade 1 novice hurdle back in 2017, and although his career has been held back with injuries since then, there is no doubt there is plenty of talent in the locker.

Fences have been kind to Cilaos Emery so far, too, with three successive wins to his name, although injury once again interrupted his progress as a novice chaser last term. He returned before Christmas with two bloodless wins, and there are now real hopes that Cilaos Emery could prove to be a threat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

A crack at the Dublin Chase would be his toughest test yet, but his jumping has been supreme up to this point and with the division also lacking a clear and obvious star at the moment following the travails of Altior, it could be that Cilaos Emery is the one who can step up to the plate.

A clash with stable-mate Chacun Pour Soi is a mouth-watering prospect at Leopardstown, and the winner is likely to head to Cheltenham as genuine contender to be crowned the Champion Chaser.

 

Champion Chase
Cilaos Emery silk

Cilaos Emery

2020 Kim Muir Odds
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