Madara team turn attention to Cheltenham glory

Having conquered the Dublin Racing Festival, Sophie Leech is now focussed on landing a telling blow at the Cheltenham Festival with the improving Madara.

The five-year-old, who is owned by Brian Drew and Friends, was a taking winner over two miles at Prestbury Park in December but took another leap forward when sealing a rare victory for the British raiders in the Listed Ryanair Handicap Chase at Leopardstown.

It was yet another enterprising move from the Leech operation, with the trainer – alongside husband and assistant Christian – a regular visitor to France with their string, where they have managed to get their hands on Graded and Listed prizes.

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However, Madara’s impressive triumph in Dublin was by far their biggest on UK or Irish soil and now has the Gloucestershire operation dreaming of success at the Cheltenham Festival, where they are leaning towards stepping the gelding up in trip for the Trustatrader Plate.

“He looks to be improving and is remarkable really – 100 per cent, I have never experienced anything like Saturday before, it was on another level,” said Leech.

“He has really settled into our way of doing things and has thrived. He’s so laid back and just takes everything in his stride. He’s old beyond his years and just a wonderful horse to be around really – he’s just a joy.

“It’s difficult to know (how high he could go) and I never imagined he would get to where he is now. But he looks to still have something in hand, so hopefully he can keep on improving.”

On Cheltenham, Leech added: “100 per cent, the dream is still alive. I think the more we think about it, we are probably erring more towards the Plate.

“However, if it was heavy ground, he could probably drop back to two miles, so he will have an entry in both (the Plate and Grand Annual) to give him all options.”

Madara was ridden at Leopardstown by former French champion jockey James Reveley, with Leech knowing the Yorkshireman well from her team’s ventures across the English Channel.

He showcased all his style and craft in the saddle when guiding Madara through the field to strike approaching the last in Ireland and the trainer is banking on calling on his services once again at Prestbury Park next month.

Madara jumping the last before winning at Leopardstown
Madara jumping the last before winning at Leopardstown (Damien Eagers/PA)

She added: “James is really keen to ride him again (at Cheltenham) and part of the idea behind getting James to ride him at Leopardstown was we wanted continuity ideally for the Festival.

“We are unlikely to get Harry Cobden (at Cheltenham) and he certainly wasn’t able to come over to Ireland, so James will keep the ride for sure.

“James is so experienced and we know him well, he has ridden lots for us in France.”

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