Annie Mc ruled out of Mares’ Chase

Annie Mc has been ruled out of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old, owned by Coral Champions Club, has suffered a minor setback which is enough to force her to miss Friday’s Grade Two contest over an extended two and a half miles.

“Unfortunately Annie Mc has had a setback and will miss the Festival,” said Simon Clare, Ladbrokes Coral PR director.

“Fortunately it’s not a serious issue, and she could still run again this season. Cheltenham has just come a week too soon.

“We are naturally disappointed, but she’s been an absolute star for us, and there will be more big days ahead for her.”

Annie Mc was as low as 7-1 for what is a new race at the Festival, having won her last two starts well at Doncaster and Warwick.

Annie Mc books Festival ticket with Warwick success

Annie Mc had her connections dreaming of Cheltenham success after powering home in the Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Warwick.

The 13-8 favourite clinched a double worth more than 100-1 for Jonjo O’Neill and Jonjo O’Neill Jr – and now heads for the newly-inaugurated Mares’ Chase at the Festival next month.

Annie Mc is owned by the Coral Champions Club, which includes reality TV star Chris Hughes, and O’Neill said: “I thought the handicapper had got her, but the soft ground bailed her out.

“She’s honest and she jumps, and has earned her corn to go to the mares’ chase at Cheltenham. She seems to be a decent mare on the soft.”

Annie Mc (left) gets the better of Zambella
Annie Mc (left) gets the better of Zambella (Alan Crowhirst/PA)

The Jackdaws Castle trainer admitted he thought she was in trouble at one stage, and added: “She fumbled a bit (on the ground) turning in, but I was delighted with her performance. She’s my best chance of a winner at the Festival, that’s for sure.

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“The lads get a great kick out of her.”

Forcing tactics paid off for Cabot Cliffs in the Join Racing TV Now Juvenile Hurdle.

The 4-1 shot kept on strongly for Harry Skelton to dispatch market rivals Sage Advice and Goodbye Stranger by a length and a half and a nose.

Tom Messenger, assistant to trainer Dan Skelton, said: “He was in at the deep end on his previous start and that was a lot more like it. He dictated under a great ride and had plenty left.”

The Skeltons completed a double when Supremely Lucky outstayed Undersupervision in the Visit Handicap Hurdle.

Callum Bewley made the journey from Carlisle to partner Overworkdunderpaid to a hard-fought success over Definite Dilemma in the South West Syndicate Novices’ Handicap Chase.

On only his second visit to the course, Bewley pounced on Definite Dilemma on the run-in, the combination scoring by half a length.

The 7-2 favourite’s trainer Laura Morgan said: “He takes time to warm to the task and needed something to aim at, having got there too soon last time.

“He’s in at Musselburgh on Sunday and Market Rasen next week, and all being well will be out again.”

Uptown Lady posted a 40-1 shock in the Racing TV Mares’ ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle, taking advantage of the last-flight fall of Fantastic Lady.

O’Neill explained that the six-year-old has not been straightforward and said: “She’s had two wind ops and might have been lucky to win. With a mare like that it’s just great to get a win into her.”

Ben Jones and Volcano in full flight
Ben Jones and Volcano in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The almost-white Volcano galloped and jumped his rivals into submission in the Watch On Racing TV Handicap Chase under Ben Jones.

His trainer Sheila Lewis said: “He’s neat and nimble, and Ben said he’s one of the best jumpers he’s ever sat on.”

There was a big upset in the Willougby De Broke Open Hunters’ Chase when 40-1 chance Latenightpass held the rally of Highway Jewel by three-quarters of a length under Bridget Andrews. The Worlds End went off the 5-4 favourite, but was another length back in third.

Annie Mc aiming for further Listed honours at Warwick

Annie Mc seeks to back up her Listed victory at Doncaster with another big run at the same level in the Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Warwick on Wednesday.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained seven-year-old opened her account for the season in tremendous style on Town Moor at the end of the year, after taking on geldings in even better company on her three previous starts.

“In her first two races she was just run out of them against open company which is always harder for mares, but as you know they have good days and bad days,” said the Jackdaws Castle trainer. 

“She likes her work and is always up for going on the gallops. She is a straightforward, sound mare.

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“She is in great form. I thought this season it would be tough going for her, but she pulled one out of the bag at Doncaster.
“I think that soft ground definitely helped her there as she stayed better than everybody else on that occasion. I was delighted with the performance.

“It should be as soft at Warwick, as when you are up in this sort of class you need everything right for you really. 

One person who will be keeping a close eye on the race away from the track is Annie Mc’s biggest fan – reality television star Chris Hughes, who made his name on the 2017 edition of hit ITV2 show Love Island.

O’Neill added: “She really is Chris Hughes’ pal and when he comes in he always goes to see her. He has ridden her out before, not for a while as he has been busy, but when he does get on board her he is a capable rider.

“She is a grand mare and has been a real superstar for us, the owners and everybody involved with her.”

Harry Fry’s Momella steps up in class after winning her last two races over fences.

With conditions and the distance set to suit Momella, Fry is optimistic the nine-year-old can extend her winning run.

“We dropped her back in trip at Exeter, but it was on a stiff track on slow ground. She followed up quite quickly under a penalty on Boxing Day at Wincanton on testing conditions,” said the Dorset handler. 

“The ground will hold no fear for her and hopefully the track at Warwick will be fine for her. She has a bit to find on ratings, but she gets some weight from a few of the principals. 

“She goes there in great order and hopefully she will run a good race.”

The field is completed by 2019 winner Happy Diva from the yard of Kerry Lee, the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Zambella and Destinee Royale, who represents Venetia Williams.

Annie Mc in charge at Doncaster

Annie Mc made the most of racing against her own sex again as she ran out a convincing winner of the Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase at Doncaster.

Since completing a hat-trick at Bangor in February, Annie Mc has been highly-tried in the Marsh Chase, the Old Roan Chase and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

But trainer Jonjo O’Neill spotted an opportunity on Town Moor for the six-year-old, who duly obliged to pick up the Listed prize in the hands of Richie McLernon.

Casablanca Mix was the early pace-setter, with My Old Gold and Annie Mc close up.

McLernon made his move on Annie Mc as the field turned into the straight, with four fences left to jump.

Cut The Mustard came from last place to challenge Annie Mc, but the 11-4 favourite was too strong and pulled away to score by 16 lengths. Midnightreferendum was eight and a half lengths away in third place.

Speaking from Newbury, O’Neill said: “She made or one or two little mistakes, but she jumped well on the whole.

“She is a great little mare, and they’ve had great fun with her. We went there a little bit tongue in cheek really, but it worked out well. I wish I could have few more like her.

“Her first two runs were fine, but I would say that the ground played into her hands today because it was quite soft around there – so I’m glad they raced (after two morning inspections)!

“That always helps running back against the mares. She has been brilliant for the (owners’) group (Coral Champions Group), though.”

While Annie Mc’s long-term future is as a broodmare, O’Neill sees no reason to retire her just yet.

“We will have to see what there is for but we will have a bit of fun with her because she will be long enough breeding,” said the Jackdaws Castle handler.

“I hadn’t planned on it being her last season. She wants to race – and while she is in good form, we will drive on.

“You would have to think about the new mares’ race at Cheltenham as a target now if the ground was right.”

Doncaster awaits Annie Mc

Annie Mc is out to back up a fine effort in top-class handicap company when she competes against her own sex in the Yorkshire Silver Vase Mares’ Chase at Doncaster.

Trained by Jonjo O’Neill for the Coral Champions Club, the six-year-old won three last year before finishing unplaced behind Samcro at the Cheltenham Festival.

She looked in need of the run behind Nuts Well in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree but shaped better when fifth behind runaway winner Chatham Street Lad in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

“We were thrilled with Annie’s run at Cheltenham. The race was seriously competitive and not really run to suit her, but she stayed on well,” said Coral’s Simon Clare.

“She’s in great form at home, and this looks a lovely opportunity for her. She handles this ground really well, and the trip and track should suit her too, so we are very hopeful of a big run.

“It’s a shame Jonjo (O’Neill) Junior can’t ride, because he’s in action at Newbury, but Richie McLernon knows her really well and is a top jockey.”

Paul Nicholls is represented on Town Moor on Tuesday by Cut The Mustard, who has her first start for the Ditcheat trainer since leaving Willie Mullins – and also her first start since having a wind operation.

She was a Listed winner in mares’ company at Naas last season, and finished second in the Flyingbolt Novices’ Chase against the boys.

“This is her first run for us since arriving from Ireland, where she earned a mark of 140 over fences,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“We gave Cut The Mustard a wind op in the summer; she has schooled well and is fit and ready to start in this Listed Mares’ Chase. We will know more about her after this.

Alan King runs Midnightreferendum, a winner on her chasing debut and second to Zambella in a Listed race at Warwick last time out.

“She was a very good second in a similar race at Warwick, where she jumped superbly and was just beaten by a better mare on the day,” King told his website.

The Nicky Richards-trained My Old Gold, Nicky Henderson’s Casablanca Mix and Henry Daly’s Chilli Filli add further strength in depth to an intriguing contest.