For a racing fan, to be at Leopardstown last weekend was a heart-warming joy. The crowds, the buzz, the roar, the horses, the drama, the shocks, the cheers. It had it all.

Over the two days there were 34,951 people in attendance, a near 40% increase on last year, and well up on the 2020 pre-pandemic figure of 26,474.

So, with Cheltenham now just four weeks away (starts Tuesday, 14 March), what did we learn at Leopardstown?

  • 1. Galopin Des Champs may have been an odds-on favourite for the Irish Gold Cup but he still had to prove himself at this level and he duly ticked the boxes. He is a deserving favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and who could begrudge him victory there, bearing in mind how unlucky he was last year when he fell at the final fence in the Turners Novices’ Chase.
  • 2. Honeysuckle’s last dance: She was beaten fair and square by State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but Honeysuckle still retains plenty of fight and she can bow out of racing with a win in the Mares’ Hurdle on day one at Cheltenham. Mind you, she will have to be in top form to handle last year’s winner, Marie’s Rock. It should be a cracker.
  • 3. Irish racing has two truly brilliant novice chasers in El Fabiolo and Mighty Potter. Both of them put up devastating displays at Leopardstown. I fully expect El Fabiolo to beat Jonbon in the Arkle on day one at Cheltenham, while Mighty Potter should have no trouble winning the Turners Novice Chase on day three.
  • 4. Barry versus Goliaths: Okay, Barry Connell is not a ‘small trainer’ in the traditional sense but the multi-millionaire is still a minnow swimming in a shark pool. Somehow, the businessman-turned-trainer has found himself with two Grade 1-winning novice hurdlers in Marine Nationale and Good Land. A win for either of them on Tuesday or Wednesday at Cheltenham would be a great story, and very possible.
  • 5. Don’t underestimate Willie’s outsiders: After Leopardstown, the pecking order in the Willie Mullins yard is much clearer, so chances are that stable jockey Paul Townend will be on the ‘right’ horse in all the big races at Cheltenham. But Danny Mullins rode three Grade 1 winners at the Dublin Racing Festival on outsiders trained by his uncle Willie, and it’s a fair bet he will find himself on another couple of winners at Cheltenham at nice prices.