First staged just three years ago, the Dublin Racing Festival has already become one of National Hunt's biggest meetings of the season, and as well as being a top class festival in its own right, also acts as a perfect warm up for the Cheltenham Festival in March.
But just like doing the Cheltenham/Aintree double in March and April is tough, completing the Leopardstown/Cheltenham double in February and March is no easy task either.
Although many winners at Cheltenham in the last three years raced at the Dublin Racing Festival, only half a dozen actually won at both meetings in the same year:
2018 - 2020 (Dublin Racing Festival win / Cheltenham Festival win)
- Footpad (2018) - Arkle Novice Chase / Arkle Novices' Chase
- Samcro (2018) - Deloitte Novice Hurdle / Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
- Relegate (2018) - Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race / Champion Bumper
- Envoi Allen (2019) - Matheson I.N.H. Flat Race / Champion Bumper
- Klassical Dream (2019) - Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle / Supreme Novices'Hurdle
- Honeysuckle (2020) - Irish Champion Hurdle / Mares' Hurdle
A different feel, the same top class action
This year's Dublin Racing Festival will be different for two reasons. One is that it will be staged behind closed doors because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the other is that connections of next weekend's entries don't even know for certain that they'll be able to travel over to Cheltenham in March.
Of course, the picture is starting to look a lot brighter, and with the Festival still more than six weeks' away there's no reason to think that Irish-trained horses won't be at Prestbury Park - 1.051/20 is the last price matched (currently 1.041/25) on the Yes option in the Will Irish Horses Run At Cheltenham market on the Exchange.
So it's all systems go for the 2021 Dublin Racing Festival on Saturday and Sunday, with the prospect of seeing some top class action and Cheltenham Festival clues aplenty coming from the eight Grade 1 races alone.
Form lines make Stattler vulnerable for Leopardstown and Cheltenham
Race: Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle
Main pointer towards: Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
Sportsbook odds: Gaillard Du Mensil 7/2, Stattler 9/2, Cape Gentleman 6/1, Farouk Dalene 7/1, Ashdale Bob 8/1, Holymacapony 8/1, BAR 10/1
Willie Mullins has a strong hand here being the trainer of both Gaillard Du Mensil and Stattler, but it's the latter who heads the market for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, currently trading as the 11.010/1 favourite on the Exchange.
Betfair Ambassador Gordon Elliott has plenty of entries for Saturday's race but is likely to rely on the 140-rated Farouk Dalene, a winner of four of his five starts under rules including a Grade 2 at Limerick last time, just touching off Vanillier who re-opposes here.
In fact the Gavin Cromwell-trained Vanillier is a key form angle having beaten Stattler comfortably in November, giving both he and Farouk Dalene the edge over the Mullins runner. It's perhaps surprising then that Farouk Dalene can be backed at 20.019/1 for the Albert Bartlett, while Vanillier is available at 29.028/1.
A straightforward task for Champion Chase favourite?
Race: Dublin Chase
Main pointer towards: Champion Chase
Sportsbook odds: Chacun Pour Soi 4/9, Min 7/2, Notebook 5/1, BAR 14/1
All eyes here will be on the current 2.546/4 Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi, who beat Min in this race 12 months ago and is a red hot favourite to get the better of his stablemate again on Saturday.
Chacun Pour Soi has tasted defeat just once since making his debut for Willie Mullins two years ago, and was a strong contender to win last year's Champion Chase at Cheltenham before being ruled out of the race just hours before post time because of an abscess in his foot.
He has returned to action with two bloodless wins this season, including a Grade 1 victory over course and distance before Christmas where he easily got the better of Saturday's third favourite Notebook.
Will a challenger to Shiskhin emerge?
Race: Arkle Novice Chase
Main pointer towards: Arkle Noivces' Chase
Sportsbook odds: Energumene 5/6, Unexcepted 4/1, Andy Dufresne 8/1, Captain Guinness 8/1, BAR 10/1
Saturday's Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown is potentially looking like a match between the very exciting Energumene - yet another favourite for Mullins - and his stable companion Unexcepted, but the real question is can either of them win this and emerge as a serious rival to Shiskhin at Cheltenham.
Energumene certainly looks out of the top drawer judging by his effortless victories over fences this season, impressively quickening clear when challenged in his latest win, and he's currently the second favourite at 6.611/2 to win the Arkle Novices' Chase at the Festival, behind the 1.845/6 odds-on jolly Shiskhin.
Super mare back to defend her crown
Race: Irish Champion Hurdle
Main pointer towards: Champion Hurdle
Sporsbook odds: Honeysuckle 11/8, Sharjah 9/4, Saint Roi 6/1, Abacadabras 8/1, BAR 12/1
Saturday's Grade 1 action concludes with another potential match, and yet another fancied Mullins runner in the shape of Sharjah, though he's only the second favourite on this occasion behind the super mare Honeysuckle.
Winner of this race 12 months ago, Henry De Bromhead's unbeaten 7yo is likely to take the world of beating again before going to Cheltenham in March, but sadly, her target is unlikely to be the Champion Hurdle - for which she can currently be backed at 16.015/1 - and instead she is expected to defend her Mares' Hurdle crown where she is the 5.39/2 second favourite behind Concertista (3.55/2).
The next three in the betting for Saturday's race are all entered, and expected to go for, the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and they are currently trading at 10.09/1 (Sharjah), 12.011/1 (Abacadabras) and 14.013/1 (Saint Roi) respectably behind the 3.412/5 favourite and reigning Champion Hurdler Epatante.
Unbeaten juveniles set to clash
Race: Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle
Main pointer towards: Triumph Hurdle
Sportsbook odds: Zanahiyr 15/8, Quilixios 9/4, French Aseel 11/4, Youmdor 6/1, BAR 12/1
Sunday's Grade 1 action starts with a fascinating Triumph Hurdle trial where two of Gordon Elliott's star juveniles take on two from the Willie Mullins yard.
Zanahiyr has looked very exciting in winning his three starts over hurdles to date and he's currently the 3.814/5 favourite to win the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, but he has no easy task here should his also-unbeaten stablemate Quilixios (14.013/1 for the Triumph) line up.
French Aseel and Youmdor - 8.27/1 and 21.020/1 respectively for the Triumph - also bring unbeaten records (when completing) to the table on Sunday so this looks like being a very hot renewal that will undoubtedly make the juvenile hurdle picture a lot clearer.
Supreme favourite looks a star in the making
Race: Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle
Main pointer towards: Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Sportsbook odds: Appreciate It 8/11, Ballyadam 5/1, Blue Lord 8/1, Irascible 8/1, BAR 12/1
The traditional curtain-raiser for the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, has a hot antepost favourite in the shape of the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It, and he's also a very warm order to take Sunday's Grade 1 contest en route.
A winner of the Grade 2 National Hunt Flat race at the Dublin Racing Festival 12 months ago, Appreciate It went to Cheltenham with a tall reputation and did little wrong in finishing second in the Champion Bumper.
He's two from two over hurdles this season, including giving a thrashing to Irascible and Ballyadam in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown just after Christmas, and his price of 3.55/2 to land the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham looks fully justified.
Old enemies do battle again
Race: Flogas Novice Chase
Main pointer towards: Festival Novices' Chase
Sportsbook odds: Monkfish 8/11, Latest Exhibition 11/4, Pencilfulloflead 11/2, Colreevy 8/1, Janidil 8/1, BAR 14/1
Another Grade 1 and yet another Willie Mullins-trained hot pot in the shape of Monkfish, who will be bidding to maintain his 100% start over fences with victory here before going for the Festival Novices' Chase (formerly the RSA Chase) at Cheltenham, where he is a strong 2.915/8 antepost favourite.
Winner of last season's Albert Bartlett, where he narrowly edged out Latest Exhibition, he will face the same opponent again on Sunday after comfortably beating him in a Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. Paul Nolan's charge is 12.011/1 to win at Cheltenham, while Gordon Elliott's Pencilfulloflead can be backed at 16.015/1. The latter is unlikely to run next week having been engaged at Naas on Sunday.
Open-looking Irish Gold Cup to end the weekend
Race: Irish Gold Cup
Main pointer towards: Cheltenham Gold Cup
Sportsbook odds: Minella Indo 5/2, Kemboy 3/1, Melon 4/1, Delta Work 5/1, Castlebawn West 6/1, BAR 12/1
The highlight of the Dublin Racing Festival, the Irish Gold Cup, is undoubtedly one of the more open graded races of the weekend with all the entries having a chance of some sorts.
Perhaps that suggests there isn't an outstanding Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate at this stage - defending champion Al Boum Photo is the 5.14/1 favourite - but should one of the fancied runners win Sunday's race in convincing fashion then they will shorten dramatically to win at Cheltenham in March.
Favourite Minella Indo, who has a fine record at Cheltenham, will be looking to make amends for a fall when favourite to land the Savills Chase here over Christmas. He was two from two this season prior to that mishap and looks to be a genuine Gold Cup contender in six weeks' time, for which he can be backed at 10.09/1.
Delta Work, Kemboy, Melon and Castlebawn West will be looking to enhance their Gold Cup claims with victory on Sunday, with the quartet currently trading at 26.025/1, 36.035/1, 46.045/1 and 50.049/1 respectively to win Cheltenham's blue riband contest.