Elliott runner can make Bartlett statement

Three tips across two fantastic days at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend

Gordon Elliott has a firm handle on the market for the Albert Bartlett ahead of the Cheltenham Festival next month, training four of the top five in the betting. He can tighten that grip still further in the very first race of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The Cullentra handler saddles two – Hollow Games and Minella Crooner – in the 1.05, and it’s the latter I like most for this.

First of all, I think there are significant question marks about the majority of his rivals here.

Hollow Games looks like he lacks a turn of foot, so for me is vulnerable over 2m6f on likely decent ground. Bar the winner who did it pretty comfortably in the end, I don’t think all that much of the Lawlor’s Of Naas form, which saw Henry De Bromhead’s Grand Jury finish a disappointing second, given how well he travelled into the race, and Whatdeawant a weakening fifth for Willie Mullins.

Mullins’ other two – Bronn and Minella Cocooner – have to be feared given the sheer mastery of Ireland’s champion trainer, but Bronn has only run twice to date (only once over hurdles) and the immediate step-up in trip from 2m is a big question mark.

Minella Cocooner’s form isn’t up to much (albeit he won very, very easily last time out) and appears to be the stable’s second string, based on jockey bookings. 

The biggest danger, for me, is Eric Bloodaxe, who will have no problems staying the trip and brings some solid form to the table. He might want the ground a bit softer though.

Minella Crooner should have no issues with the ground, and we know he stays the trip well based on his ever-so-comfortable win in a maiden hurdle over 3m at Leopardstown last month.

He clearly has a turn of foot too, judging by his couple of bumper wins over 2m at the beginning of the season and a solid hurdling debut over 2m4f, the form of which has been well-advertised since with the third-placed Kilcruit bolting up by 21 lengths the other day and winner Journey With Me being subject to glowing reports that’s seen him shorten in the betting for the Ballymore.

At 5/1, Minella Crooner is well worth a play – and if you think he wins on Saturday, the 8/1 NRNB about him winning the Bartlett in March is of interest.

Cheltenham Festival Betting Odds

The Irish Arkle just over an hour later at 2.10 has attracted a small but exciting field – and I’m siding with another Elliott horse in Riviere D’etel.

She’s been brilliant over fences this season, recording three tearaway successes – by a combined 44 lengths – in decent company before the turn of the year.

But it’s her run last time out, in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, behind Ferny Hollow (who was a clear favourite for the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival before being ruled out through injury) that is in my opinion the strongest form on offer here.

As a then four-year-old mare, she was in receipt of almost a stone that day, but she made Ferny Hollow work right to the line and proved that she absolutely belongs at the top level over fences.

She was 14 lengths ahead of Coeur Sublime, a Grade 2-winning hurdler who has earned a rating of 148 over fences, and that ought to make her a tough nut to crack in receipt of plenty of weight again here.

She gets 9lbs from the favourite, Willie Mullins’ Blue Lord, who also looks like he’s improved massively for fences but is yet to be tested at anywhere near the top level having only won a beginners chase and a fairly weak novice chase to date – while she gets 7lbs from five-year-old pair Haut En Coeleurs and Saint Sam, also for Mullins.

They’re huge dangers, particularly the latter who I thought was spectacular on his chase debut against thoroughly decent opposition. Rachael Blackmore has been booked to ride, and he’s been subject to a flurry of support for the English Arkle this week, so has to be feared.

That being said, I think he and the rest of this field will struggle to give weight to the experienced and extremely talented Riviere D’etel, who in my book is a cracking bet at 9/4.

Betfred are now NRNB on ALL 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival

Finally, I just can’t see past Sir Gerhard in the 3.35 on Sunday.

The 2021 Champion Bumper winner faces eight rivals here, many of which Willie Mullins should have a decent grasp on through his mare Statuaire.

She beat both My Mate Mozzie and stablemate Farout in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse back in November last year, and she was in front of Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter that day, who has since finished ahead of stablemate Three Stripe Life. I’d hazard a guess that Mullins rates Sir Gerhard a fair bit better than her.

As for the rest of the field, it’s only really Colonel Mustard – who was second to leading Supreme fancy Jonbon, albeit by an eased-down couple of lengths, in Grade 2 company at Ascot just before Christmas – and stablemate El Fabiolo, with realistic claims. But even those are slim, as their form just doesn’t hold up to that of Sir Gerhard at this stage.

Recent comments from Ruby Walsh – “I was lucky enough to ride Sir Gerhard in work before Christmas and I thought ‘this is some taxi’. I’m wholeheartedly in the Sir Gerhard camp” – and Patrick Mullins – “there’s a lot of depth in Sir Gerhard’s race but we’d like to think he’ll have the measure of his rivals” – only add to my confidence.

I can see a pretty convincing victory here for Mullins’ seven-year-old – and if so he will be significantly shorter than his current odds of 4/1 NRNB for the Supreme and 7/2 NRNB for the Ballymore at the Festival.

Today’s Horse Racing Odds