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Horse Racing: Dublin Festival headlines weekend action

Since its inception the Dublin Racing Festival has assumed an enormous relevance in terms of providing major Cheltenham Festival clues.

The Leopardstown meeting takes place across Saturday and Sunday with a stunning eight Grade 1 races at the Foxrock venue and you can catch this meeting and others on our Sports Live Streaming hub.

There's also some quality action in Britain, with Musselburgh staging their own bet365-sponsored Scottish Festival Trials Weekend and a Grade 1 novice chase at Sandown on Saturday afternoon.

Here's our look ahead to some of this weekend's key races and what their impact may be on the Cheltenham Festival markets.

Leopardstown brimming with possible clues

The Irish Gold Cup (15:15) is amongst the features on Saturday afternoon at the Dublin Racing Festival and reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo features in an eight-runner line-up.

He's failed to win in two appearances this season. Henry De Bromhead's charge got involved in an early pace-battle with Frodon in the King George on Boxing Day and the pair both paid for it.

They re-engage now, with Paul Nicholls embracing the chance to take the Irish on in their own backyard. Rachael Blackmore has lost the ride on Minella Indo, 3/1 to win at Leopardstown, with Robbie Power now taking over. Former Irish Gold Cup winners Delta Work and Kemboy are also in the mix.

Minella Indo is 15/2 to retain the Gold Cup in Cheltenham next month and needs a big performance here to instil some confidence.

The Leopardstown card also features the Spring Juvenile Hurdle (13:35) as Gordon Elliott's 5/4 chance Fil Dor looks to continue his serene progress and make it 4-4 over timber.

The opposition includes Vauban, Icare Allen and Ben Siegel, as well as Irish debutants Il Etait Temps and Vadaly – both for Willie Mullins – and it looks like a cracking race on paper.

Elliott's Pied Piper, 5/2 to win the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival in March, strengthened his chances of claiming the spoils at Cheltenham after his romp at the same course last weekend. Fil Dor races in the same ownership and plans suggest both will go for the 4YO Grade 1 next month.

With Ferny Hollow ruled out of the Arkle this week, it puts a major spotlight on the Irish Arkle Novice Chase (14:10) on Saturday.

Willie Mullins has won the race four times in the last seven years and Blue Lord could add to his impressive tally. He's been faultless in two wins over fences thus far and is 11/4 to win the Arkle at Cheltenham on 15th March.

Also at Leopardstown on Saturday, cast an eye towards Goffs Future Stars Bumper (16:25) which features five unbeaten contenders in a field of seven and is laced with quality.

Facile Vega won over the course and distance in December and is 5/2 to win the Champion Bumper next month. Victory here would cement the credentials of this son of star mare Quevega.

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Looking to Presse on at Sandown

Sandown's offering on Saturday afternoon is also boasting a good deal of quality and the feature attraction is the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase (14:20) which looks a match on paper between 4/5 L'homme Presse for Venetia Williams and the Paul Nicholls-trained Pic D'Orhy at 15/8.

The latter won well at Ascot in December but has twice fallen in six starts over fences and is prone to an odd mistake. L'homme Presse meanwhile was foot perfect from the front on New Year's Day at Cheltenham when he easily won the Dipper Novices' Chase.

He's got entries in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase over three-miles and the Turner Novices' Chase over 2m4f at next month's Cheltenham Festival and can confirm himself a big player if winning at Sandown. He's rated 6/1 for the Turners, which looks like the race for him at this stage.

Immediately after the Scilly Isles, it's worth monitoring how Easysland goes in the Grade 3 Virgin Bet Heroes Handicap Hurdle (14:55), a race which is part of our Sports Live Streaming hub.

He has officially joined Jonjo O'Neill now and this looks like a prep-race for next month's Cross Country at Cheltenham. He won that race impressively in 2020 but found Tiger Roll much too good last time. Easysland is 5/1 to regain the mantle on 16th March.

McConnell ace ready for Stayers' test

Day one of the Musselburgh Trials Weekend includes the bet365 Scottish Stayers' Novices' Hurdle (13:29) where John McConnell's Bardenstown Lad will be fancied by many to make it four wins in five hurdles starts.

He was last spotted winning over three-miles at Cheltenham in October, form well held up since by the likes of Dragon Bones and Onagatheringstorm. He's got himself a quote of 25/1 to win next month's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Festival and a convincing win in Scotland would surely tee him up for a crack at the prize.

Onto Sunday and the bet365 Scottish Triumph Hurdle (13:32) will have lots of eyes fixed on Dan Skelton's Doctor Parnassus. He blew away some solid opponents at Ascot on hurdling bow last month and could confirm the promise of that run. If he does, the price of 33/1 for Triumph Hurdle glory may well be trimmed significantly.

Mullins aces may dominate in Dublin

Galopin Des Champs is a 6/4 chance for next month's Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham following his otherworldly debut over fences at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival.

He's set to rise into Grade 1 company on Sunday in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase (13:20) and it will surely take a monster effort to prevent him emulating stablemate Monkfish, winner of the same race last season en route to winning that very same Cheltenham target.

Paul Nicholls' Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen is in the field for the Grade 1 Dublin Chase (13:50) at Leopardstown on Sunday. Chacun Pour Soi was very disappointing in that Sandown event but is a different proposition around this venue – winning three of four starts to now.

He was also turned over in last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race he's 12/1 to win this year, and if he's going to get a second shot at that prize come 16th March, he surely needs to complete a DRF hat-trick first and you can follow the action on our Sports Live Streaming hub.

For many, the star attraction of the whole weekend could be Honeysuckle's bid for a hat-trick of wins in the Irish Champion Hurdle (15:00). The brilliant mare is unbeaten and at eight-years-old might be set to peak over the next 12-18 months – a chilling notion for her rivals in the two-mile hurdles division.

Appreciate It is set to take a shot at her on Sunday but Henry De Bromhead's special mare is already 8/11 to win the Champion Hurdle on 15th March and it will be a massive shock should she and Rachael Blackmore sample defeat before then.

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