Dublin Racing Festival feature meeting on Saturday
Kev likes a Gordon Elliott-trained handicap hurdler
Marathon trips bringing out the best in Slipway
The Dublin Racing Festival is here! The meeting is still in its relative infancy with it only having started in this form in 2018, but it has already become a hit on many fronts.
With the Cheltenham Festival having grown into a 28-race monster, the 15 races of the Dublin Racing is seen by many as a much leaner event that caters to all of the best horses in training without offering opportunities to duck and dive.
Late arriver Sam the Choice in Handicap Hurdle
The Grade 1 races on day one appeal more as watching races than betting races to me at least, but there is a very interesting runner in the Race And Stay at Leopardstown Handicap Hurdle (15:40).
Gordan Elliott may be obliged to play second fiddle to his great rival Willie Mullins in the Grade 1 races over the weekend, but he is set to be represented by strong teams of runners in the handicaps and he might well have the winner of this contest in the shape of Sam's Choice.
The seven-year-old made a promising start in bumpers, but was threatening to become disappointing over hurdles until he switched from maiden and novice races to handicap company in a competitive contest at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting last time.
Dropped in at the rear of what was by far the most competitive race he has contested, he seemed to relish the stronger pace and substantial cover in front of him.
He jumped fluently in traffic and made up stylish headway to get onto the heels of the chasing group early in the straight. From there he made relentless steady headway until powering away in the coming stages to record a 2¾ lengths victory.
The margin of his success doesn't convey the authority of his victory and a 7lb rise for that leaves him well treated.
This will be the longest trip he has tackled, but the strength of his finishing effort up the run-in on his latest start suggests that he'll have an excellent chance of staying this trip. Denis O'Regan takes over the ride and this type of horse suits his confident style ideally.
Don't be expecting him to appear until late in the day, but with a bit of luck Sam's Choice will make his appearance when it matters most and will run a big race.
Slip the way to play at Musselburgh
With the remaining races at Leopardstown appealing more to me as contests to savour rather than having stand-out bets in them, I will look across the water to Musselburgh for my other selection for the day in the Edinburgh National Handicap Chase (14:03).
The horse I like is the Ben Pauling-trained Slipway.
Long-term readers may recall that I put him up in this column for a long-distance handicap chase at Cheltenham in November only for his connections to switch him to the Southern National at Fontwell on the same day which he duly won well. Cheers, lads!
The case with this horse is a simple one and it is that he has looked transformed by longer trips. He has looked so much more comfortable in his last two starts over marathon trips, bolting up in the Highland National at Perth prior to his aforementioned win at Fontwell.
He jumps, travels, stays well and looks to have more up his sleeve.
To be honest, I could see him making up into a Grand National contender and if he wins this as hoped, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was targeted at that race. Mind, he'll have to get the job done here first, but I think he'll be up to the task.