Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning with A Plus Tard at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Donn McClean: So many questions ahead of fascinating weekend at Dublin Racing Festival

Will it be Chacun Pour Soi or A Plus Tard?

SO MANY questions, just one weekend.

Like, Chacun Pour Soi or A Plus Tard? A Plus Tard came out on top when these two last met, in the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but Chacun Pour Soi was making his seasonal debut that day.

It was some race between the pair of them. You couldn’t really call it until half-way up the run-in, when it was probably A Plus Tard’s superior fitness and possibly his superior stamina that kicked in, and Henry de Bromhead’s horse powered away under Rachael Blackmore to win by almost four lengths.

It is difficult to get Chacun Pour Soi’s two performances as a novice chaser last season out of your head. He won his beginners’ chase at Naas by over 30 lengths, then he went to the Punchestown Festival and he was impressive in winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase, leaving the Arkle winner, the JLT Chase winner and the Ryanair Gold Cup winner in his wake.

Also, the Willie Mullins horses invariably come on for their seasonal debuts. Look at Allaho, look at Aione. Even look at Total Recall. There is every chance that we will see an improved Chacun Pour Soi in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase on Saturday.

But there is a danger that A Plus Tard will be underrated again. True, Henry de Bromhead’s horse had race fitness on his side at Christmas, and he improved significantly from his first run of the season in the Fortria Chase. But he still put up a top-class performance to beat Chacun Pour Soi, with the pair of them coming well clear of their rivals.

It may be that this extended two-mile trip is shorter than ideal for the Cheveley Park Stud horse, it may be that he will be a Ryanair Chase horse come Cheltenham Festival time, not a Champion Chase horse. But the good pace and the soft ground and the stiff track brought his stamina into play at Christmas, and there is every chance that Saturday’s test will be a sufficient stamina test for him again.

The fact that Min is only third favourite for the race is testimony to the quality of the line-up. Winner of the two runnings of this race in its current guise, Willie Mullins’ horse won the John Durkan Chase on his debut this season, and you can be sure that this has been his target for a while. Yet Paul Townend prefers Chacun Pour Soi.

And don’t rule out Cilaos Emery. Another Willie Mullins representative, Luke McMahon’s horse ran just once last season, he ran out an easy winner of his beginners’ chase at Gowran Park on Thyestes Chase day, and he is two for two this season. He was impressive in beating Ballyoisin in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork last time, and we may not be near the ceiling of his ability yet.

Like, Fakir D’Oudairies or Notebook? Again, it is the Henry de Bromhead horse who came out on top last time.

Notebook was very good at Leopardstown at Christmas. He was a good hurdler, but he is an even better chaser, and his performance at Christmas was a career-best.

But he only beat Fakir D’Oudairies by a length and a half, and Joseph O’Brien’s horse did not have the ideal run through the race. He ceded the early lead to habitual front-runner Djingle, and he shipped a small bump on the run around the home turn.

JP McManus’ horse stays further than this extended two-mile trip, and he can lead. He led from early when he beat Melon in his beginners’ chase at Navan in November, and he led from early when he followed up by winning the Drinmore Chase. He may have competition for the lead from Cash Back, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Mark Walsh were to allow him jump and run.

It can’t have been easy for Paul Townend, choosing between the Willie Mullins runners here, but the fact that he rides Melon is obviously significant, despite the fact that the Medicean gelding has three lengths to find with Fakir D’Oudairies on their running in that beginners’ chase at Navan in November.

Bapaume and Cash Back were both impressive in winning on their respective most recent outings, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if one or both of those Willie Mullins horses were to out-run odds of around 6/1 or 13/2.

Like, Faugheen? A 12-year-old? Yes, but Faugheen is no ordinary 12-year-old. Faugheen is a Ballymore Hurdle winner and Champion Hurdle winner and an Irish Champion Hurdle winner who won the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown in 2018 as a 10-year-old. He could have been a Gold Cup horse if he had not been as good as he was over hurdles.

As importantly, he did well to win his beginners’ chase at Punchestown in November after making a fairly significant error mid-race, and he looked very good last time when he beat Samcro in the Grade 1 Matchbook Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick over Christmas.

He will face another high-class novice of Gordon Elliott’s in the Flogas Chase on Sunday in Battleoverdoyen, top class novice hurdler last season who is three for three over fences. But Faugheen is an extraordinary racehorse, and recent evidence suggests that he retains bundles of ability, despite the fact that he had his Champion Hurdle in the bag before Battleoverdoyen had set foot on a racecourse.

Like, Honeysuckle? Against the boys? Dropping back down to two miles for the first time in over a year and racing left-handed for the first time ever under Rules?

Like, Aspire Tower, bidding to consolidate his position as Ireland’s outstanding juvenile hurdler?

Like, Delta Work against Kemboy and Presenting Percy and Bellshill again, with Chris’s Dream and La Bague Au Roi thrown into the mix? Gordon Elliott’s horse came out on top last time in the Savills Chase, and he should improve from that run, but so should Kemboy and Bellshill (ref. Willie Mullins horses making their seasonal debuts), while Presenting Percy didn’t have an awful lot of room on the run-in that day when he was trying to stay on.

Chris’s Dream is going to have to step forward again if he is going to be competitive at Grade 1 level, but he was a high-class staying novice chaser last season, and he ran out an easy winner of the Troytown Chase last time under a big weight. He deserves his shot at it.

Answers forthcoming.

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