Paul Hennessy has an eye on a Cheltenham Festival return for Heaven Help Us after delighting in her narrow defeat in the Grade Three Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday.
The mare gave the trainer a season to remember last year, winning the Grade Three Coral Cup Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival by nine lengths in March in a triumph made all the more notable as Hennessy was handling a string of only three horses at the time and was better known for his success with greyhounds.
This term the bay began at Punchestown in a Listed mares’ race before returning to Cheltenham early in December for a tilt at the Grade Two International Hurdle, a race in which she finished fourth when pitched against geldings.
The Leopardstown contest was another graded affair and she was beaten just a neck by Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala.
“We were absolutely thrilled because it’s a step up in grade for us,” Hennessy said.
“The two races that she ran in last year, although they were graded races, they were handicaps and she was running off a much lower mark.
“We had to step off of our mark into a proper graded mares’ race and the expectation is big, but she ran a blinder.
“It’s wonderful, it really is. The whole thing is amazing, that’s she’s come forward this much to be as good as she is.
“You can’t win every day, but to be competitive and come home in one piece is a blessing. There’s not a bother on her, she’s eaten up everything and she’s happy.
“She’s a gift, she really is. It’s very, very special for us to have one like her.”
Punchestown could be the next port of call for Heaven Help Us if there is no appropriate race at the Dublin Racing Festival, with the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle likely to be the ultimate target when the Cheltenham Festival comes around in March.
“I don’t think there’s a suitable race at the Dublin Festival, though I haven’t gone through too much in depth,” Hennessy said.
“There is another nice graded mares’ race at Punchestown in February and then bringing her back to Cheltenham is the main target.
“We’d probably have to run in the Mares’ race but after her performance she’d be entitled to be there which is wonderful.
“She loves it there, the whole thing is just a blessing. To get something like this in your lifetime is just wonderful and we’re all really enjoying it.
“To think that she’d be able to compete in the races she has to run in is wonderful.”
Hennessy bred the mare at his Kilkenny base and is elated that she has turned out to be a top-level horse capable of representing his small stable at the high-calibre meetings in both England and Ireland.
“We’ve no right to this kind of excitement, it is just a blessing. A gift, there’s no other way of describing it,” he said.
“She was born and raised here at home, her mother was modest enough but she’s just at a totally different level.
“When we made it to those graded races, I don’t have any experience in them with horses – I do have with the greyhounds, but that’s when you’re expected to perform.
“You can sneak in a handicap off the radar and get away with it, but to win at this level is a tougher call altogether and for her to perform the way she did at the level, I was honoured, I really was.”