This looks a fiercely competitive renewal of the Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase (14:30) and Willie Mullins would appear to hold the key to it with his five runners, headed by Appreciate It (165P), who tops the field on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings and will be ridden by stable jockey Paul Townend.
Appreciate It made it two from two over fences with another dominant performance to defy a penalty at Naas last time, steadily drawing clear from the home turn to win by 21 lengths. Admittedly, he was left with very little to beat after the early exit of his chief market rival, but there was still plenty to like about the manner in which he went about things, his jumping already looking most assured.
That performance earned Appreciate It the 'Horse In Focus' Flag and the large 'P' attached to his rating denotes that he is still open to significant improvement as a chaser. The outstanding novice hurdler in training in 2020/21, Appreciate It has been back on track this season after an injury-plagued campaign in 2021/22 and the sky is the limit for him over fences if he stands more regular racing. This will be by far his toughest test yet in this sphere, but he's fancied to take it all in his stride to gain his third win at the Dublin Racing Festival in four years.
Dysart Dynamo (164p) could be the best of the rest trained by Mullins, who has the 'Hot Trainer' Flag to denote that his stable is in top form. A smart novice hurdler last season, Dysart Dynamo justified short odds in effortless fashion when making his chasing debut over this course and distance at the Christmas fixture, making all to beat inferior rivals by 28 lengths. He is sure to improve as he gains in experience over fences and his style of racing (strong-travelling front-runner) could make him very hard to peg back if he gets into a good jumping rhythm early on.
El Fabiolo (161p) has a similar profile having shown smart form over hurdles last season before running out an easy winner on his chasing debut Fairyhouse in December. Admittedly, his jumping wasn't always fluent on the last occasion, but he once again showed a big engine to win unchallenged by 19 lengths. He too has the 'Horse In Focus' Flag and is very much one to keep on the right side given his scope for further progress.
The Mullins challenge is completed by Flame Bearer (159p) and Saint Roi (163p). Flame Bearer completed a straightforward task when getting off the mark on his second start over fences at Fairyhouse three weeks ago, racing clear throughout and ultimately winning by 38 lengths despite giving his supporters a scare at the last. He still has something to learn about jumping fences but is open to more improvement all the same.
Meanwhile, Saint Roi had a couple of today's rivals behind when gaining a first Grade 1 success in the Racing Post Novice Chase over this course and distance on Boxing Day, hitting the front soon after the last and keeping going well from there to beat Visionarian (159) by two and a quarter lengths. This is the obvious next step and his price is perhaps a bit insulting for a horse who has already proven himself at the top level, both over hurdles (finished fourth in last year's Champion Hurdle) and in this sphere.
Visionarian produced a career best when chasing home Saint Roi last time, but that was his fourth start over fences, so he is essentially the most-exposed horse in the field and even his best form leaves him with a bit to find for win purposes.
Fil Dor (158+) was beaten a total of 10 lengths when third in the Racing Post Novice Chase, though that doesn't tell the whole story as he made a jolting error at the third last, just as things were hotting up, and that seemed to take its toll late on. He is perhaps better judged on the form he showed when beating Saint Roi by four lengths on their respective chasing debuts at Navan in November, albeit the runner-up is now 8 lb better off at the weights. Fil Dor is also tried in first-time cheekpieces and a tongue strap today, so it will be interesting to see if that combination can eke out a bit more improvement.
The field is completed by the Joseph O'Brien-trained Banbridge (164p), who wasn't seen to best effect when last seen finishing a well-beaten third in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in December, not settling well enough back on testing ground to run to his peak. Before that he'd looked a high-class novice prospect when winning a Grade 2 at Cheltenham's November Meeting, just needing to be pushed out after the last to beat Tommy's Oscar by six lengths. The return to two miles and better ground today will be in his favour, so he shouldn't be underestimated for O'Brien, who also has the 'Hot Trainer' Flag.
Timeform Analyst's Verdict:
Appreciate It has made an exceptional start over fences and looks more than capable of maintaining his unbeaten run in this sphere at the likely expense of his classy stablemate Dysart Dynamo. Banbridge is a player and the other Willie Mullins-trained trio have cases to be made for them.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
165P Appreciate It
164p Dysart Dynamo
163p Saint Roi
161p El Fabiolo
159p Flame Bearer
158+ Fil Dor
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