Salver looking to serve it up to Triumph rivals

Salver will bid to provide Gary Moore with JCB Triumph Hurdle redemption when he takes his chance in Friday’s Cheltenham Festival opener.

Four years ago the trainer saw Goshen unseat his recently-retired son Jamie with the race at his mercy following a freak incident after the last and he now looks to the unbeaten Salver to triumph under Gavin Sheehan.

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Despite claiming Grade Two honours at Chepstow over the Christmas period, the Lower Beeding handler feels this will be the acid test of his ability as he meets high-class operators from across the Irish Sea.

“Any significant rain would give him an advantage. This race owes me one,” said Moore.

“He deserves his spot in this line-up and a lot of people would have run him in the Fred Winter because he’s only rated 128, but it was always going to be the Triumph.

“He’s only ever shown his class on a racecourse, he’s never shown anything at home really. His last piece of work was a good piece of work that I was happy with, but to be quite honest, I think he has won four weakish races.

Salver with connections after winning the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock
Salver with connections after winning the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock (Ashley Iveson/PA)

“There are a few bits of form that show him to be quite useful but he hasn’t met a superstar yet, so he has to go out there and prove himself, this will be his test.

“Niall (Houlihan) will ride the other horse and poor Caoilin (Quinn) is sidelined, so Gavin rides.”

Willie Mullins has won three of the last four renewals and is blessed with a plethora of chances, saddling seven of the 13 heading to post and dominating the top of the betting lists.

Kenny Alexander’s Kargese is one of the Closutton battalion and the likeable filly will attempt to go one better than the owner’s Gala Marceau did 12 months ago in the race – having followed in that stablemate’s footsteps by claiming the Spring Juvenile at Leopardstown en route to the Cotswolds.

Kargese winning the McCann FitzGerald Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown
Kargese winning the McCann FitzGerald Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown (Damien Eagers/PA)

She got the better of fellow Mullins runners Storm Heart (second) and Majborough (third) on that occasion and her pilot Danny Mullins feels they are a closely matched bunch.

“The first four home were from Willie’s (at the Dublin Racing Festival) and any one of the four could pop up and win in Cheltenham,” said Danny Mullins.

“Storm Heart was close to me, Majborough back in third ran a bit keen on the day. You can make solid cases for them all finding the necessary improvement to be good enough to win a Triumph.

“It’s probably the one division where the horses are still developing, so what you’re seeing pre-Christmas versus what you see come March in Cheltenham can be two different things.”

Majborough is a nice prospect for the future
Majborough is a nice prospect for the future (PA)

Those sentiments have been echoed by the master of Closutton himself in the build up to the Cheltenham action, but there is a clear apple of his eye amongst his collective, with the imposing Majborough courting plenty of favour from his record-setting handler.

“Majborough ran a cracker (at Leopardstown). Every time I see him I think Gold Cup, not Triumph Hurdle, he’s just a magnificent beast,” said Willie Mullins.

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“I was surprised when he arrived from France to see what an individual he was. He’s not a typical juvenile hurdler, you’re looking at him and thinking three years down the road.

“Maybe he could be like Douvan and just fully develop as a four and five-year-old. I’ve got some nice juveniles, but he’d be in the top couple of picks.”

The Festival’s leading trainer is also represented by impressive Limerick winner Bunting, who was a place further back in fourth at the Dublin Racing Festival, while Ethical Diamond (sixth) and Highwind (eighth) were others taking part in the Irish capital with outside claims for Mullins.

The Closutton septet is rounded off by the intriguing Salvator Mundi, who was less than two lengths behind long-time race favourite Sir Gino when they met in France and he could prove an exciting ride for Brian Hayes, making his stable debut in Grade One company – ironically for the sidelined Sir Gino’s owners Joe and Marie Donnelly.

Joseph O’Brien’s Nurburgring has solid form from the early part of the season and has been kept fresh for this event, with Fairyhouse scorer Fratas completing the Irish contingent representing Michael Mulvany.

Warren Greatrex will saddle Mighty Bandit – his expensive recruit from the Caldwell dispersal – who handed Tuesday’s Boodles winner Lark In The Morning a near 10-length beating in November, while Dominic Ffrench Davis takes a shot at this valuable prize with Newbury winner Ithaca’s Arrow.

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