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brennan's brief Why it would be a major blow to racing if Mullins and Co pull out of Leopardstown next month

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Trainer Willie Mullins and his son, jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrate after winning the Matheson Hurdle with Sharjah for a fourth time on day four of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Trainer Willie Mullins and his son, jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrate after winning the Matheson Hurdle with Sharjah for a fourth time on day four of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Trainer Willie Mullins and his son, jockey Patrick Mullins, celebrate after winning the Matheson Hurdle with Sharjah for a fourth time on day four of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Though less than ten years old, the two days of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in early February are already established as, quite simply, the BEST preparation there is if you are planning to run a horse at Cheltenham six weeks later.

Thus it was a real surprise last Sunday to hear both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott talk about skipping the 2022 DRF with some of their best horses.

The Dublin Racing Festival is the brainchild of former Leopardstown boss Pat Keogh who came up with the idea of combining three decent meetings at his course in late January and early February into two superb cards on the same weekend.

The fact that the chosen weekend always clashed with Ireland’s opener in the Rugby Six Nations, as it will again next month, never seemed to matter. The crowds flocked to the South Dublin racecourse to see the top horses battle for big money. And they were mightily entertained.

But now Mullins and Elliott have put a spanner in the works, arguing that the brilliantly-drying Leopardstown surface is not ideal for giving one of their best horses a hard race a little more than a month before the meeting that matters most of all.

“You need a bit of cut in the ground for jumping,” said Mullins who had no need to remind everyone that only eight horses ran in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup in 2020, while a paltry five went to post last year for the same race.

Getting the right ground for a jumps meeting is a matter of prayer mostly. You don’t want a hard surface, and you don’t want top-quality horses slogging through a bog either.

If you don’t water and no rain comes, you get the former, if you do water the ground, and rain falls, you get the latter. A racecourse cannot really win anyway, because, as Ruby Walsh says, “no amount of unnatural watering is the same as natural watering”.

The rain that teemed down across Ireland on Christmas Day was bad news for boys and girls who had got bikes and footballs from Santa Claus, you could do nothing with your new present.

But for Tim Husbands, the current CEO of Leopardstown, it was all his Christmases come together, for the downpour produced perfect jumping ground and we saw Sharjah, Galvin and Gallopin des Champs, to name but three classy winners last month, strut their stuff.

Those horses may not be back on February 5 and 6 unless Husbands turns on the Leopardstown taps and leaves them on for most of January. And then implores the weather-Gods that they do not send him rain in the early days of next month.

Who’d have his job or that of the Clerk of the Course. Whatever decision he makes, Husbands and his team just have to get it right so that the 2022 Dublin Racing Festival is a massive success.

After the ‘lost’ Leopardstown at Christmas, when the public had to be turned away at the last minute, Irish jumps racing needs to get this one right.

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