Baring Bingham looking favoured test for Ile Atlantique

Tony Bloom’s Ile Atlantique is “95 per cent sure” to line up in the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, after a weekend where more clues were on offer in the novice hurdling division.

The Brighton & Hove Albion supremo has seen his flagship horse Energumene land the Queen Mother Champion Chase the past two years, while Penhill is another to carry Bloom’s blue and white silks to success at Prestbury Park, in both 2017 and 2018.

Also trained by Willie Mullins, Ile Atlantique appeared a prime candidate to add to Bloom’s Festival tally when bolting up on his first start over hurdles at Gowran and lost little in defeat when headed close home by Readin Tommy Wrong in the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle last month.

A muddling race saw the six-year-old having to cut out most of his own running in the hands of Paul Townend and with connections bypassing the option of running at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival, they are content to remain at an intermediate trip.

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“I think the Baring Bingham is going to be his race at the Festival” said Bloom’s racing manager, Sean Graham.

“I did speak to Willie (on Tuesday) and even though he has an entry in the Supreme Novices’, I think we are 95 per cent sure we will go for the two-mile-five race which makes sense because that is the trip he wants anyway.”

He went on: “His run at Naas was only his second run over hurdles and he was left doing the donkey work which wasn’t the plan.

“The plan was for the horse that Patrick (Mullins, Chapeau De Soleil) rode to be in front, but he sort of walked his way through the first few hurdles and because Ile Atlantique jumped the first two so well, he was left in front and Paul thought there is no point taking a pull and he may as well let the horse go on.

“Paul was very happy with him and we probably set the race up for the winner as we gave him something to aim at.

“He’s run so well in that race without things going to plan and you would be hopeful there would be some improvement from then. He’s had a long break and held an entry at the Dublin Racing Festival, but after Naas, Willie’s first reaction was we won’t run him again and go straight to Cheltenham.”

Despite Ile Atlantique’s Festival destination looking more inked in than pencilled, there are still a few more weeks for his place in the Closutton pecking order to be determined – a picture that became slightly clearer at Leopardstown.

All three Grade Ones for the inexperienced hurdlers went the way of Ireland’s champion trainer and although chief Baring Bingham threat Ballyburn may now be destined to run in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the victory of outsider Dancing City highlights the strength of opposition amongst Ile Atlantique’s stablemates.

Tony Bloom with jockey Paul Townend after Cheltenham Festival glory with Energumene
Tony Bloom with jockey Paul Townend after Cheltenham Festival glory with Energumene (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Graham continued: “There are so many owners and horses to take into account that Willie is probably going to have three in each race that are first, second and fourth/fifth in the betting or something like that and he will obviously go into the races with a strong hand.

“Ballyburn looked so good over two miles on his last two runs you would be saying to yourself ‘if it isn’t broke, why fix it’ and if someone offered me evens which race he runs in, I would be backing Supreme anyway.

“They all look hot races and I looked the other day and I think Ile Atlantique was a 10-1 chance to win it.

“It would be great if Paul chose Ile Atlantique as it would show where he was thought of in the pecking order, but even if he doesn’t, it was shown at the weekend Willie can still win with his second or third string and I think we definitely go there with a chance.”

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Bloom’s Festival hand will also contain Bunting, who is set for a crack at the Triumph Hurdle having finished a respectable fourth in Grade One company at Leopardstown.

An impressive winner at Limerick on his stable bow, he was sent off 15-2 for a race in which Mullins saddled the first four home and although ultimately beaten just over two lengths, connections are now keen to take a shot at Nicky Henderson’s highly-regarded market leader Sir Gino.

“It was only his second run over hurdles and he went straight from a maiden hurdle to a Grade One,” continued Graham.

“After jumping the last, when Brian Hayes went to go left, he got his path blocked and had to switch. He wouldn’t have beaten the winner, but maybe could have got third.

“I discussed it with Willie and he’s thinking we may as well go for the Triumph. With Nicky’s horse (Sir Gino) being so impressive at Cheltenham, the race might cut up a bit and in the past there has been only six and eight runners – you don’t get the 25 runners you used to get.

“So he’s on course for the Triumph, but we will need the horses to stay sound between now and Cheltenham. You see it every year, they get stone bruises, they pull muscles, so you need a fair bit of luck to get two horses there in one piece.”

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