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Dublin Racing Festival – Saturday’s Grade 1 Previews

Saturday’s Four Feature Grade 1’s Analysed 

A cracking weekend of racing from Leopardstown kicks off on Saturday with a blockbuster seven-race card, including four feature Grade 1 contests that have attracted plenty of top-class performers looking to enhance their claims before the Cheltenham Festival. Our expert editor has delved through the opening day’s action and highlighted their selections across the card. 

Eric Bloodaxe (1:05 Leopardstown) 

The opening Grade 1 contest looks fiercely competitive with Hollow Games looking to bounce back to winning form after being no match for unbeaten hurdler and stablemate Ginto in the Lawlor’s Of Naas last time out over 2m4f. However, Gordon Elliot’s six-year-old represents no value at the current prices and it might be worth taking him on with ERIC BLOODAXE who will look to cement his Cheltenham credentials after registering Grade 2 honours at Limerick over the festive period. 

Joseph O’Brien’s charge has improved with each start this campaign and after thumping a field at Naas on hurdling debut by 8l, the seven-year-old found one too good when lacking the pace to challenge the impressive Ginto in Grade 2 company over 2m4f at Navan. That runner-up effort has subsequently taken a substantial form boost with Gordon Elliot’s runner going on to dominate in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas back in January.

Despite that penultimate defeat, Eric Bloodaxe wasted little time in returning to winning ways when stepped up to 2m7f at Limerick last time out, staying on powerfully under Bryan Cooper to run out a comfortable winner in the testing conditions. Although the heavy ground that day may have contributed to the manner of victory at Limerick, Joseph O’Brien has always felt Eric Bloodaxe will improve further when encountering a sounder surface.

There should be plenty of improvement from Eric Bloodaxe as his stamina is tested and he looks tailor-made to contest the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham this year, a race in which Ireland has dominated in recent seasons. 

Fil Dor (1:35 Leopardstown) 

This looks like a match up between two very smart juvenile prospects represented by the top connections. Vauban has only raced once for trainer Willie Mullins but considering he got within 0.5l to subsequent Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial winner Pied Piper on debut at Punchestown, the French import is evidently a classy individual. 

However, with winning Graded form in the book already it’s hard to see past FIL DOR who has quickly established himself as a leading contender for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham after landing Grade 3 and Grade 2 victories at Fairyhouse and over course and distance most recently. 

Gordon Elliot’s unbeaten four-year-old saw off the challenge of Lunar Power on the penultimate start before meeting that rival once more and firmly brushing aside Noel Meade’s charge convincingly by 7l despite carrying a penalty.

Fil Dor is likely to face stiffer competition from Vauban this weekend but he is arguably one of the smartest juveniles in Ireland and will be difficult to overhaul with the prospect of more to come. 

Blue Lord (2:10 Leopardstown)

It’s been smooth sailing since BLUE LORD made the transition to the larger obstacles and although this represents the seven-year-olds toughest task to date over fences, Willie Mullins’ improving chaser looks the one to be on once again. 

Despite winning just once over hurdles, Blue Lord put in some notable performances in that sphere including when finishing runner-up to Bob Olinger in the Lawlor’s Of Naas before finding the frame in Grade 1 company at Leopardstown behind stablemate and subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate it.

Blue Lord has looked much more at home since going chasing and after readily opening his account over fences at Fairyhouse, the seven-year-old bounded away from two rivals at Naas in a race that was previously won by superstar stablemate Energumene.

That theme continues this Saturday as Blue Lord will look to emulate Energumene’s success in this particular contest from 12 months ago and if putting up another smart winning performance, connections of Blue Lord will be confident he can justify his position at the top of the market at this year’s Cheltenham Festival when lining up in the Arkle. 

Asterion Forlonge (15:15 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup)

Kemboy will look to follow up last year’s victory after a recent return to form when finishing third in the Savills Chase behind A Plus Tard and Galvin. However, the ten-year-old is certainly not the force of old and is worth taking on as things stand. 

Connections of Gold Cup hero Minella Indo will be on a fact-finding mission as Henry De Bromhead’s charge has been disappointing on his last couple of starts including when pulling up in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, whilst British raider Frodon will likely face competition for the lead and is passed over this time around. 

Although his jumping technique leaves little to be desired, ASTERION FORLONGE was in the process of running a mighty race in the King George last time out and would have finished runner-up to stablemate Tornado Flyer if not coming to grief at the last obstacle. 

Despite his jumping blemishes, Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old has improved in recent starts and certainly showed his aptitude for 3miles last time out when travelling powerfully under Bryan Cooper and arguably looked the most likely winner as they turned for home. 

If ironing out those mistakes he has the intrinsic ability to be a real force at this trip and although recent mistakes have cost him dearly, Asterion Forlonge is worth another chance in the hope that he puts it all together in Saturday’s feature contest.