The Dublin Racing Festival may be only four years old, but it has arguably become the pre-eminent National Hunt fixture on the calendar this side of the Cheltenham Festival.
Leopardstown's Christmas meeting may have history on its side, but there are plenty of forgettable maiden hurdles, beginner's chases and moderate handicaps padding out the cards, alongside the Graded action.
That meeting is still a cut above Kempton's festive offering, where the King George and Christmas Hurdle now struggle for strong undercard events.
The prevailing view that all roads must lead to the Festival for all horses with talent – often regardless of their suitability for Cheltenham – has diminished all but the last couple of months of the jumps season.
There's something perverse about a calendar that enables top horses with no future stud careers to consider to meet so seldom, when their Flat counterparts regularly do battle during a season with multiple highlights at regular intervals.
If Cheltenham can be viewed as a behemoth that now cannibalises the jumps game to some degree, fears that the Dublin Racing Festival would serve as little more than a prep for the main event were understandable. However, David is now making a mark in the shadow of Goliath. There were notable exceptions, but trainers didn't baulk at the prospect of competitive racing for their leading lights ahead of their spring targets.
The eight Grade One contests over the two days catered for all bar the staying hurdlers, with a number of races over the same trip allowing for time comparison.
The Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle won by Gordon Elliott's well backed Quilixios and the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle claimed by Appreciate It made for what might be the most interesting head to head of the weekend.
Official race times indicate that the four-year-old Quilixios ran 1.9 seconds quicker than Appreciate It over the two-mile trip. However, using the first hurdle as a starting point reveals that the buffer was closer to three seconds.
Saint Sam ensured the juvenile contest was run at a solid early pace, with Quilixios and his rivals reaching halfway in a much faster time than Appreciate It in the race which followed. That advantage was eroded slightly late on, but not by nearly as much as could be expected.
Quilixios had been visually impressive on his first two Irish starts, but hadn't achieved a great deal on the clock until now. However, he arrived in Ireland unexposed after making a winning debut in France and it may be only now that he is approaching peak fitness.
Runner-up Saint Sam paid a major compliment to Zanahiyr after being put in his place by the Triumph Hurdle favourite in two earlier meetings. The second of those races was a slowly-run, tactical affair at Leopardstown at Christmas, but their first was probably the best juvenile contest run in Ireland this season from a time perspective.
In Zanahiyr and Quilixios, Elliott might have the two best juvenile hurdlers in training.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Appreciate It is as short as 11-8 for the race after his victory, but looks short enough at that price, even if it's not the strongest of renewals.
The general consensus after his latest Leopardstown win was that the slow early pace prevented him from making the kind of striking impression made over course and distance at Christmas, despite being perfectly positioned at the head of affairs.
A stronger pace in the Supreme is likely, but not guaranteed, and livelier ground would raise question marks over his tactical speed and turn of foot.
Appreciate It has clocked good times in the past, but like many horses to run well in the Cheltenham Bumper over the demanding New Course, his optimum trip may well prove to be in excess of two miles.
Elsewhere on day two, the magnificent Monkfish poured it on from halfway in the Flogas Novice Chase to run a time the more experienced handicappers couldn't match later on the card.
Honeysuckle's Irish Champion Hurdle defence on day one came in a predictably faster time than the Ladbrokes Hurdle 35 minutes later, with Rachael Blackmore deploying the kind of aggressive tactics that will likely need to be replicated in a Champion Hurdle bid at the Festival.
Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene were commanding winners in the Dublin Chase and the Irish Arkle earlier on the card, with the latter vaunted for clocking a time 1.3 seconds faster than the Champion Chase favourite. However, that's rather misleading.
Both horses ran with similar efficiency, but Chacun Pour Soi ran faster from the first fence to the line by approximately 0.75 seconds.
Energumene(5-6F), racing in the blue and white silk of Brighton owner Tony Bloom, seals victory in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown with an exuberant display from the front. #DublinRacingFestival #rteracing pic.twitter.com/EZFevfEjqi— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) February 6, 2021
Energumene's performance was still one to celebrate for one so inexperienced, and his future battle with Shiskin, the star novice chaser over two miles on the other side of the Irish Sea, looks a race to savour.