Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict: Intellotto can land Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle

Betfair Ambassador Kevin Blake
Kevin Blake gives his Big Race Verdict on the Spring Juvenile Hurdle

We're off to the Dublin Racing Festival for a pair of Big Race Verdicts from Kevin Blake this weekend, the first being the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle on Saturday...

  • Spring Juvenile Hurdle gets Kev's Big Race Verdict treatment

  • Willie Mullins holds strong hand with six runners

  • But Kev fancies Joseph O'Brien to land the prize


The Dublin Racing Festival is here! The two-day meeting has only been in existence in its current form since 2018, but it has already reached cult status amongst hardcore followers of National Hunt racing.

With many feeling that the race programme for the Cheltenham Festival has become diluted, the DRF represents the race programming utopian counter to that with almost all divisions catered for in two tight days of action rather than four.

Mind, it isn't all perfect. Willie Mullins is a dominant force in National Hunt racing on every day of the week, but with his closest pursuer Gordon Elliott not tending to heavily target the DRF and British challengers being pretty much non-existent, it can have the look of a Willie Fest.

Thankfully, Willie is at least willing to run multiple contenders against each other rather than just sticking to his best one which is a help to the field size and competitiveness of many but not all of the Grade 1 races.

No banking on what the pace will be

The Dublin Racing Festival has served as a valuable guide to pecking orders in the Irish ranks and the McCann Fitzgerald Spring Juvenile Hurdle (13:50) on Saturday promises to serve a very important purpose in clearing up what is a murky division on the west side of the Irish Sea.

When one looks at the likely pace of this race, it is an uncertain picture. The Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting was shaped by a steady pace favouring those on the front-end, making it difficult for those that were off the pace to get involved.

On that occasion Kala Conti benefited from a prominent position to win and having made the running prior to that, she is well armed to get forward and only go as quickly as she is obliged by her rivals. Kimy helped push the pace in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown on her hurdling debut, but isn't sure to be as forward at this much higher level.

Of Willie Mullins' six-strong team, Bunting and Storm Heart were prominent when making winning hurdling debuts.

All told, even considering the possibility that one or more of these unexposed juveniles will change tactics and go forward, one wouldn't like to be banking on an average or stronger pace.

Townend factor accounts for Storm Heart's price

Where else can one start but with the six runners trained by Willie Mullins? It wasn't a big surprise that Paul Townend sided with Storm Heart.

The son of Storm The Stars bolted up by 22 lengths in a moderate maiden hurdle at Punchestown on New Year's Eve. His jumping was more solid than slick, he was hampered at the fifth flight, but made strong headway to challenge and put the race to bed in taking style.

It was a victory much more rooted in style than substance, but given there is so much unknown about his level, the fact that Townend has selected him has to be considered significant.

However, the market very much accounts for this factor and it would be difficult to make a case that his current price represents value on the evidence we have at hand.

Stylish Bunting off to a winning start

Similarly, Bunting is one with a big reputation that made a wide-margin winning hurdling debut at Limerick's Christmas meeting, but style rather than substance was the order of the day.

Highwind is slightly different in that he too made a winning hurdling debut at Punchestown in January, but did so in contrasting style. He did an awful lot wrong during the race, with his jumping being notably novicey. Despite that, he quickened up well to lead approaching the final flight only to make a mistake and stumble, rallying up the run-in to win snugly in the end.

He was clearly far better than the bare form suggests, but he is highly unlikely to be able to get away with such unprofessionalism in this much deeper company.

Market best guide to Majborough's chances

Having already spoken of multiple unknowns amongst Willie Mullins' contingent, the biggest unknown of them all is Majborough.

He won his only start at Auteuil in April prior to changing hands. It isn't the easiest piece of form to assess and coupled with the potential for Mullins to improve him, it is probably best left to the market to give us a guide as to what is expected.

At the prices, the most interesting one of the Mullins bunch to me is Kargese. Already a Grade 3 winner in France, she made a promising Irish debut in the aforementioned Grade 2 at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.

Having taken a strong hold, she was ridden more quietly than the others that ended up involved in the finish and had to make up her ground by coming around the field on the home turn.

She did well to stick to her task and it wouldn't surprise if the run brings her on. The most pace there is in front of her, the better her chance.

O'Brien runner can trump Mullins battalion

Mind, my selection comes away from the Mullins battalion in the shape of the Joseph O'Brien-trained Intellotto.

The son of Lope De Vega made a winning hurdling debut in a maiden at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting and did well to do so. His jumping was novicey in heavy traffic in the early stages, with him losing significant ground after a slow jump at the second.

However, he warmed to the task as the race went and made impressive headway on the outside to challenge before the final flight. As soon as he hit the front, he started to prick his ears, but he still powered away up the run-in to win well.

This race has been his target since then and in a race full of potential improvers, he should be right there in amongst them.

Back Intellotto E/W in 13:50 Leopardstown @ 15/28.50

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Now read Tony Calvin's Saturday ITV Racing tips here.


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