We're all set for a fantastic weekend of racing at the Dublin Racing Festival, and here with his Saturday tips is ITV Racing pundit Kevin Blake...
"Granted he is ridden with more restraint, Darver Star will be well suited by what could well be a strong pace and he can be expected to finish off his racer strongly."
The Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase (14:10) is an absolute cracker of a contest in terms of depth of quality. As well as that, with nine runners and an odds-on favourite, it has a very appealing shape from a betting perspective for those that are happy to take on the favourite.
The favourite is Energumene and I won't spend too long throwing stones at him. He has been impressive in winning both his starts over fences, both in visual terms and on the clock. He is a low, aggressive jumper that seemed well suited by making the running in both those starts over fences.
However, he is likely to find himself in a far more competitive environment on Saturday, as Felix Desjy is likely to keep him company on the front end. This will also be the least testing ground that Energumene has encountered over fences. He might well face down those potential stumbling blocks and still win well, but he looks an opposable fav at odds-on.
Darver can Star in the Irish Arkle
The one I like against him is Darver Star. He improved into one of the best hurdlers in Ireland last season, finishing a close second in the Irish Champion Hurdle and a solid third in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
His transition to fences has been solid rather than spectacular to date, but he has taken a step forward with each of his three starts. He had a minor breathing operation prior to his latest run in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting and he ran a stormer in defeat when second to Franco De Port.
Darver Star jumped better than ever, but he was put into what was a strongly-run race at a very early stage and seemed to pay for those exertions on the run-in, with the much more conservatively ridden Franco Do Port swooping past him late on.
Granted he is ridden with more restraint, Darver Star will be well suited by what could well be a strong pace and he can be expected to finish off his racer strongly. At the current odds - 13.012/1 to back on the Exchange - he is an attractive proposition in both the win and place markets.
Neige looks spot on for Ladbrokes Trophy test
The Ladbrokes Hurdle (15:50) is just as competitive as we have come to expect from the race and the one that I am siding with is the Willie Mullins-trained Ciel De Neige.
The six-year-old has been threatening to win a big one for a couple of years now, finishing third in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 and just being touched off in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last year. The latter defeat was particularly tough, as he was left in front much earlier than ideal and looked to idle before being nailed by Pic D'Orhy.
He closed out last season with a disappointing run in the County Hurdle back at the Cheltenham Festival, but he has got back on track this season. A solid return in a handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse was followed by a belated first victory over hurdles in a maiden at Limerick's Christmas meeting. That should put him spot on for this race and the test it presents promises to play to his strengths. He can be supported both in the win and place markets.