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Buveur D’Air to miss Champion Hurdle

Nicky Henderson has announced that his dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air will not bid to regain his crown next week.

Buveur D’Air, successful in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece in 2017 and 2018, will instead head for the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles next month.

The 10-year-old, owned by JP McManus, returned from a 420-day injury lay-off when second of three in the The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock in January.

He has remained in the Champion Hurdle reckoning, after his trainer voiced satisfaction with his well-being following that comeback.

However, on Monday evening, Henderson posted on his official Twitter account:  “Having discussed plans with JP over the weekend, we have decided that Buveur D’Air will NOT run @CheltenhamRaces and instead will wait for @AintreeRaces

“The extra distance will suit him well. He and Epatante are in very good form, and we are very much looking forward to next week.”

Quilixios camp yet to decide between Boodles and Triumph

A final decision on which race Quilixios will contest at the Cheltenham Festival will not be made until later this week.

The French import is unbeaten in three starts for owners Cheveley Park Stud – completing his hat-trick with a Grade One success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.

He is set to make his debut for Henry de Bromhead after Cheveley Park decided to remove the eight horses they had in the care of Gordon Elliott following the photo of the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse which emerged on social media.

But whether Quilixios contests the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle a week on Tuesday, or potentially clashes with former stable companion Zanahiyr in the JCB Triumph Hurdle three days later, remains uncertain.

“A decision on which race he’ll run in will be made later this week,” said Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson.

“He’s very exciting. We have big hopes for him longer term and view him as a long-term prospect.

“The Triumph may be a little bit too quick for him, but we’ll see what Henry thinks later in the week.

“We’re quite relaxed regarding which race he goes for – because while next week is important, we want to do what is right for the horse as it’s all about the longer term with him.”

Quilixios will be part of a six-strong Cheveley Park team heading to Cheltenham.

Envoi Allen and Ballyadam, who also joined De Bromhead last week, are bound for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Marsh Novices’ Chase respectively, while A Plus Tard is on course for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

From Willie Mullins’ yard, Allaho will carry the Cheveley Park silks in the Ryanair Chase, with Sir Gerhard – another former Elliott inmate – set to line up for the Champion Bumper.

“I haven’t had updates from Henry or Willie on the horses that moved last Tuesday. I’ll get those later in the week, I’m sure,” Thompson added.

“Henry and Willie are very experienced, so we hope the horses settle in. They’ve only moved up the road, so hopefully it’s not too bad.

“Of course it’s not ideal – no one wanted this situation.”

Dreal Deal to miss Supreme

Ronan McNally has admitted defeat in his bid to have Dreal Deal back on-song and ready for next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old is unbeaten in his last six starts on the Flat and over jumps combined, most recently providing his trainer with one of the biggest victories of his career in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

McNally had been looking forward to saddling his stable star in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but revealed last month his small string have been hit by aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould.

On Monday he confirmed Dreal Deal will not making the trip across the Irish Sea, saying: “I’m just not 100 per cent happy with him or with any of the horses at the minute.

“They are working OK, but I know they’re not right. They are not firing.

“Things can turn around very quick, so we just have to be patient until we have them right.

“The likes of The Jam Man and Dreal Deal, when they are up at the level they are at now, you need to be 100 per cent to take on the opposition.

“We’re having a quiet week here now, so we won’t have anything running for a few weeks.”

Mullins’ Leopardstown treble signals fine form for Festival

Willie Mullins served notice his string is firing on all cylinders for next week’s Cheltenham Festival by saddling a treble on the final day of Leopardstown’s jumps season.

Dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo will lead an extremely powerful Cheltenham squad for the most successful trainer in Festival history – with the likes of Appreciate It, Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish all carrying high expectations to the Cotswolds.

Mullins teamed up with champion jockey Paul Townend to win both divisions of the TRI Equestrian Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown, with Grand Bornand (11-10) and Elite Charboniere (4-6) justifying favouritism in the colours of Rich and Susannah Ricci.

“Elite Charboniere got the job done and he jumped the last like he would prefer a fence,” said Mullins.

“I think good ground is hugely beneficial to him, so he’ll keep going from now on.

“It’s the same with Grand Bornand, and we’ll probably target all the festivals with both of them.”

The Closutton handler’s hat-trick was completed by Eurotiep, who landed cramped odds of 1-6 under amateur rider Aubrey McMahon in the Connolly’s RED MILLS Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle.

Mullins added: “That’s great for Aubrey and the Down The Hatch Syndicate – that’s Aubrey’s third win on him, and they make a good team.

“Luke McMahon (rider’s father) put together the syndicate to buy this horse. He’ll go for the final of this race now at Punchestown. If there is something nice in between we might go for that, but the final is the big goal.

“He gallops and jumps – and he might be Aubrey’s first winner over fences next season.”

Gordon Elliott was narrowly denied a winner with his final runner before serving his suspension in the concluding TRI Equestrian Superstore & Cafe Flat Race.

Elliott, who will not send out any runners under his name for a minimum of six months because of the image of him sitting on a dead horse which emerged on social media, was represented by the Jamie Codd-ridden Top Bandit in the finale.

However, the 5-2 joint-favourite was ultimately unable to get the better of a thrilling duel with Oliver McKiernan’s 5-1 shot Meet And Greet – losing out by a nose.

McKiernan was completing a double following the earlier success of Fox Fearless (28-1) in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle.

Secret Reprieve not heading to Cheltenham

Evan Williams has confirmed that Secret Reprieve will be an absentee at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The Welsh Grand National winner, who was achieving a lifetime ambition for his Glamorgan trainer when successful at Chepstow in January, has a tempting entry in the Aintree equivalent next month.

He held options before the Randox Grand National in both the National Hunt and Brown Advisory novice chases at Cheltenham – but they are no longer on his agenda this spring.

“He won’t go to Cheltenham,” said Williams.

“I will take him out of the Cheltenham races this week.”

Secret Reprieve is owned by William and Angela Rucker, for whom Williams has trained State Of Play and Cappa Bleu to be placed in previous Grand Nationals.

The seven-year-old is prominent in the ante-post betting, having been heavily backed for his impressive victory as the 5-2 favourite at Chepstow – where he was following up a wide-margin course success in the trial for that race.

Williams announced soon afterwards that Secret Reprieve would not take up his entry in last month’s Grand National Trial at Haydock, with later spring targets instead apparently in mind.

The hugely promising novice has risen a stone in the ratings for his two Chepstow handicap wins but is still currently due to carry just 10st 1lb at Aintree – and increasingly likely to make the cut for the race, should connections decide to head there.

On the subject of Aintree, Williams added: “The only thing I can categorically say is he will not go to Cheltenham.”

Felix de Giles looking forward to teaming up with Easysland at Cheltenham

Felix de Giles is hoping the sacrifice of having to go into quarantine to ride Easysland in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase will be rewarded with victory at the Cheltenham Festival.

De Giles, who has been based in France for the last five years, is delighted to have picked up the plum mount – although it does mean has to serve five days in quarantine both sides of his one day at the biggest jumps meeting of them all.

Easysland, owned by JP McManus, will be one of the bankers of the entire week, despite a below-par effort over the course and distance in November.

The seven-year-old, trained by David Cottin, is hot favourite at 11-10 to repeat last year’s victory, when he put paid to Tiger Roll’s bid to take the race for the third year running, beating the dual Grand National hero by 17 lengths.

Easysland goes for back-to-back victories at the Cheltenham Festival
Easysland goes for back-to-back victories at the Cheltenham Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)
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“I’ve ridden him once before and I’ve won on him at Compiegne. I was meant to ride the stable’s other horse called Ajas. He doesn’t run now, so they decided to put me on to Easysland,” said De Giles.

“David Cottin’s horses have been a bit ill recently, but some of them are starting to come back to form.

“I schooled him the other day. He seems in good order and everything went as planned. Hopefully Easysland travels over nicely and he can give a good account of himself.

“I might have a ride in the Coral Cup for Christian and Sophie Leech, just the two on the Wednesday as far as I know, and then I will have to head straight back to France in the evening.

David Cottin (right) receives his prize with owner JP McManus after Easysland's win at Cheltenham last year
David Cottin (right) receives his prize with owner JP McManus after Easysland’s win at Cheltenham last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

“I’ve got to come over and quarantine beforehand, but I’m hoping it’s going to be a decision that pays off.

“I’ve got to do five days quarantine in England and then five back in France on my return, so it could be quite costly if the horse doesn’t win!”

De Giles, brother of Herefordshire trainer Ed, is no stranger to success at the Cheltenham Festival, having won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on Andytown for his then boss Nicky Henderson in 2009.

Jockey Felix de Giles collects his trophy from retired trainer Martin Pipe after his victory on Andytown at the Festival in 2009
Jockey Felix de Giles collects his trophy from retired trainer Martin Pipe after his victory on Andytown at the Festival in 2009 (David Jones/PA)

“It was a long time back. I’ve had a second and third at the Festival since, so it would be nice to get my head back in front again,” said De Giles.

“It’s going fine. It’s a bit quiet at the moment, but it’s been good since I came over.”

Nicky Martin on ‘Plan H’ with Ballymore hope Bear Ghylls

Nicky Martin is down to “Plan H” as she prepares the unbeaten Bear Ghylls for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old has won each of his four runs so far, taking a bumper by 19 lengths on his racecourse debut before going on to score a hat-trick of victories over hurdles.

His last success was a five-length triumph at Exeter in January, after which Martin found her preferred path to Festival blocked by a spell of race abandonments.

A waterlogged track prevented the trainer from introducing her charge to the Cheltenham hill when Festival Trials Day was lost, with an intended run in Huntingdon’s Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle scuppered for the same reason.

Despite the interrupted preparation, Bear Ghylls remains on course for his first venture into Grade One company.

“At the moment everything is going to Plan H, which we are on as it all got a bit messed up at the beginning, but we’re back on course,” Martin said.

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The trainer is bolstered by the subsequent performances of several horses beaten by Bear Ghylls – amongst them David Pipe’s Make Me A Believer, who went on to win a novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham in December and then finish a half-length third in the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick.

“His form looks so solid, especially the race at Lingfield – the first hurdle race he won,” Martin said.

“I believe all six that were behind him have gone on and won, so the form’s looking very solid, even though he’s never run in a big race as of yet.

“His form is good, he’s in good order and he’s fresh, so fingers crossed.

“Everybody’s very excited – fingers crossed we get there all intact.”

Though the Festival is the imminent target, Martin has a graduation to novice chasing pencilled in for the gelding when he returns from a summer break next season.

“We’ve always said that next year he’ll go chasing because he is a chaser in the making, he’s a big horse,” she explained.

“A good summer on his back and he’ll fill out again, I think he’ll respect fences a lot more than hurdles.

“That’s always been the plan, to go chasing with him next year, without a doubt.”

From her Minehead stable, Martin also trains Welsh Grand National runner-up The Two Amigos, who was last seen finishing third in the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock on February 20.

The Two Amigos ridden by Matt Griffiths (right) takes a jump during The Anne Duchess Of Westminster Memorial Handicap Chase at Bangor
The Two Amigos ridden by Matt Griffiths (right) takes a jump during The Anne Duchess Of Westminster Memorial Handicap Chase at Bangor (David Davies/PA)

The Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter is the next port of call for the gelding, who remains on a mark of 144 after four successive placed runs.

“Having Bear Ghylls and The Two Amigos, it’s quite special for me,” Martin said of her two stable flagbearers.

“Especially with us being such a small yard.

“Just as long as the ground doesn’t go good to firm or something silly, which I’m sure it won’t as we’re due some rain, that (the Midlands National) is definitely the plan.”

Amy Murphy leaning towards Aintree date for Kalashnikov

Amy Murphy is planning a high-profile spring campaign for stable star Kalashnikov – although his participation in the Ryanair Chase is less likely than a trip to Aintree next month.

The former Betfair Hurdle and Grade One novice chase winner lost his way a little a year ago but, following wind surgery last September, has run very well on his two most recent starts – including when third in the Denman Chase, up to three miles, at Newbury two weeks ago

Murphy said: “He’s in very good form. We were delighted, and he definitely stayed the three miles.

“We’ve obviously been riding him a little bit patiently. I think it’s safe to say he’s got his confidence back now, and he’ll be ridden much more in the thick of it the next day.

“We’re happy to wait for Aintree, but he’ll stay in the Ryanair (for now) just in case.

“It’ll be a last-minute decision. It will just depend how he trains over the next 10 days.”

Kalashnikov’s principal target at this stage is back at Aintree – where he won the Manifesto Novices’ Chase in 2019 – and Murphy will choose between the Melling Chase over two and a half miles and Betway Bowl, over an extended three.

“It will be the Melling or the three-mile race (Betway Bowl),” she said.

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“We’ve no concerns about the three miles, absolutely not, definitely not round there.

“I think if anything he galloped all the way to the line the other day, looking like he needed three miles.

“It’s great to have him anywhere near back to his best – and healthwise, he’s in tip-top order, which is fantastic.”

While Kalashnikov may not line up at Cheltenham, Murphy is preparing her “proper mare” Really Super to take on the mighty challenge from either side of the Irish Sea at the Festival.

Murphy’s heroine of the Summer Plate at Market Rasen was an easy winner of a jumpers’ bumper at Lingfield during last month’s freeze-up, and the Newmarket trainer is confident she will do herself proud if ground conditions are in her favour for the inaugural running of the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase.

Really Super, who will be representing enthusiastic ownership syndicate White Diamond Racing, will need to lower some stellar colours among her rivals – currently including Willie Mullins’ two prolific winners Elimay and Colreevy at the top of the market.

Her trainer is nonetheless keen to take up the challenge.

“We definitely will (run), as long as the ground allows,” said Murphy.

“She’s a proper mare, and we gave her a little spin in a jumpers’ bumper after her winter break, just to get her back to full fitness.

“It worked really well for her. We’d planned to give her a racecourse gallop a week later, but we thought we’d take advantage of the jumpers’ bumpers while they were there.

“She couldn’t have done it any more easily, so we’re very excited about her – if it’s not at Cheltenham, then for the season ahead.

“She was a very good winner of the Summer Plate, and top of the ground is absolutely key to her.

“She wouldn’t run if it came up anything other than good to soft or better.”

The Festival is very much at the top of the agenda for the seven-year-old, though, and the only regret is that coronavirus restrictions will prevent her owners from being in attendance.

Murphy said: “It’s such a shame, because for a syndicate of that size, how many times do you get a horse going to Cheltenham? It’s not as if she’s going there as a massive outsider either.

“It’s really unfortunate. But they’ll throw a good zoom party!

“They adore her. For what we paid for her, she’s been nothing but superb. She’s won on the Flat, over hurdles and fences multiple times.

“We’re very lucky to have her.”

Newland sets Cheltenham assignment for Beau Bay

Beau Bay is set to take another step up in trip and go for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

Trainer Richard Newland believes the three and a quarter miles will suit the 10-year-old, after he stayed three miles well to score at Doncaster.

Beau Bay also holds an entry in the Randox Grand National, but it is highly unlikely he will make the cut because he was rated only 136 until after his win on Town Moor last month.

He was raised 6lb to 142 following that success, but it came after the weights for the Aintree spectacular were published.

He won the two-mile-five-furlong Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the National fences in December, and it is possible Beau Bay could still be back in action there for the Topham Chase if conditions are suitable.

“The handicapper put him up 6lb for his latest win, but it was too late for the National. I’m sure he won’t get in so I’m not expecting to get a run there,” said Newland.

“He might run in the Topham, but the plan is to go to the Kim Muir at Cheltenham – and we’ll take a view after that. He’s had quite a busy season.

“If he runs respectably in the Kim Muir, I might say there’s a chance we’ll keep going to Aintree in case he got in the National -and the ground would have to be soft in the Topham. I think they will be a bit too fast for him in that race if it wasn’t.

“We’re going for the Kim Muir. I think stepping up in trip is the way to go, and we’ll see how he gets on.”

Richard Johnson in line to ride Aye Right at Cheltenham

Harriet Graham is hoping to book Richard Johnson for Aye Right in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.

The ride has come up for grabs as Aye Right’s regular partner Callum Bewley will be serving a suspension during the Festival.

Bewley has ridden Aye Right in all but one of his 22 races, with Johnson on board when the horse won a handicap hurdle at Kelso in September 2019.

Jedburgh trainer Graham said: “He’s on track to go to the Ultima at Cheltenham.

“I’m thinking Richard Johnson will probably be on him. Callum is banned for Cheltenham, so he can’t ride him. He would normally have ridden him.

“It’s all systems go for Cheltenham.”

Graham decided against a trip to Kelso this weekend as part of the eight-year-old’s preparation.

“We would have liked to have gone to the Premier Chase at Kelso,” she added.

“But it’s just a bit too close to Cheltenham, so we decided not to.”

Aye Right has performed with great credit in all his four starts over fences this season, without getting his head in front. His efforts include a third in the Charlie Hall Chase and second in both the Ladbrokes Trophy and the Sky Bet Handicap Chase.

His form from the Ladbrokes Trophy was boosted at Kelso on Saturday when race winner and Grand National favourite Cloth Cap landed the Listed Premier Chase with ease.

Metier encourages Fry en route to Festival target

Harry Fry’s confidence in Metier’s Cheltenham Festival challenge is growing after an encouraging Wincanton gallop by the unbeaten hurdler.

Metier, formerly trained in Ireland, has had a two-month break since taking his winning sequence to three in the Grade One Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry also anticipates ground conditions will also be suitable for his stable star in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race at the Festival.

“He’s our leading light and he went very well on Thursday,” said the trainer.

“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but it was just what I hoped to see.

“The forecast is for unsettled weather in the middle of next week, and that should hopefully help us see a combination of good to soft and soft, and that would be perfect for him.”

Of his three other runners, Fry is considering a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with If The Cap Fits – who has been chasing this season.

He added: “I’m leaning towards going back over hurdles with him. He ran well behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle last year and we know he’s a 160-plus horse over hurdles. That would put him in with an each way squeak.”

Veteran Unowhatimeanharry will take his place in the Pertemps Final as a teenager, while Whitehotchillifili is Fry’s final Festival contender in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Denise Foster looking forward to taking over licence from Gordon Elliott on Monday

Denise Foster has spoken of a “great responsibility” as she prepares to take over the reins at Gordon Elliott’s yard on Monday following the Grand National-winning trainer’s suspension.

Elliott was on Friday banned for 12 months, with the last six months suspended, following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals hearing into the image posted on social media last weekend of the trainer sitting on a dead horse.

Like Elliott, Foster, who has sent out 10 winners over the past five seasons, on the Flat and over jumps combined, is based in County Meath.

An initial statement confirming the plans on Elliott’s official Twitter account was posted on Saturday afternoon, before being deleted and reposted to read: “Gordon Elliott Racing is pleased to confirm that Denise Foster will take over the licence at Cullentra Stables during the period of Gordon Elliott’s suspension.

“Denise is vastly experienced and her appointment is great news for staff and owners.”

Gordon Elliott has enjoyed great success at the Cheltenham Festival
Gordon Elliott has enjoyed great success at the Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)
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A further statement said it hoped “the current level of employment provided at our stables will continue”, adding that all entries will be made by Foster and that she will be responsible for all operations.

An experienced horsewoman who has trained racehorses since 1998 when she took over from her husband, David Foster, a three-time Olympian, following his death in a riding accident, Foster will move her existing string from Enfield – around eight kilometres away – to Cullentra for the duration.

Foster enjoyed Listed success with Lily’s Rainbow in the 2016 Heritage Stakes at Navan and counts JP McManus as one of her owners.

She said: “I am honoured to take over from Gordon and realise he is a hard act to follow. I am delighted by the contacts I have had with the owners and staff to date. This a great responsibility but I could not ask for a better set up.

“I will take charge from Monday.”

Envoi Allen has left Gordon Elliott
Envoi Allen has left Gordon Elliott (PA)

Having already imposed an interim suspension on Elliott-trained runners in Britain until the conclusion of the IHRB’s investigation, the British Horseracing Authority immediately confirmed it would reciprocate the ban.

However, the BHA added that Elliott’s horses would be allowed to run at Cheltenham and Aintree if “transferred directly to other licenced trainers prior to March 9.”

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Saturday: “Anyone that would want to take over the care of horses on a different premises would need to be a licensed trainer.

“If a licensed trainer wanted to move from their own premises to a different premises, they would need to go to the licensing committee.

“That would not generally be a lengthy process.”

On Tuesday, leading owners Cheveley Park Stud moved their horses from Elliott to Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead. Among those was the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who has joined De Bromhead.

Denise Foster to take over licence from Gordon Elliott

Denise Foster is set to take over the reins at Gordon Elliott’s yard following the Grand National-winning trainer’s suspension.

Elliott was on Friday banned for 12 months, with the last six months suspended, following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals hearing into the image posted on social media last weekend of the trainer sitting on a dead horse.

Foster, who has sent out 10 winners over the past five seasons, on the Flat and over jumps combined, will take over the licence at Cullentra House in the coming days.

An initial statement confirming the plans on Elliott’s official Twitter account was posted on Saturday afternoon, before being deleted and reposted to read: “Gordon Elliott Racing is pleased to confirm that Denise Foster will take over the licence at Cullentra Stables during the period of Gordon Elliott’s suspension.

“Denise is vastly experienced and her appointment is great news for staff and owners.”

Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board headquarters at the Curragh
Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board headquarters at the Curragh (Brian Lawless/PA)

Like Elliott based in County Meath, Foster enjoyed Listed success with Lily’s Rainbow in the 2016 Heritage Stakes at Navan and counts JP McManus as one of her owners.

Having already imposed an interim suspension on Elliott-trained runners in Britain until the conclusion of the IHRB’s investigation, the British Horseracing Authority immediately confirmed it would reciprocate the ban.

However, the BHA added that Elliott’s horses would be allowed to run at Cheltenham and Aintree if “transferred directly to other licenced trainers prior to March 9.”

Envoi Allen has left Gordon Elliott
Envoi Allen has left Gordon Elliott (PA)

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Saturday: “Anyone that would want to take over the care of horses on a different premises would need to be a licensed trainer.

“If a licensed trainer wanted to move from their own premises to a different premises, they would need to go to the licensing committee.

“That would not generally be a lengthy process.”

On Tuesday, leading owners Cheveley Park Stud moved their horses from Elliott to Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead. Among those was the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who has joined De Bromhead.

Umbrigado lifts Greatwood gold and enters Cheltenham reckoning

Umbrigado’s dramatic triumph for David Pipe and David Noonan in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury left owners John White and Anne Underhill dreaming of realising their long-held ambition of a winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

Their steadily-progressing seven-year-old travelled strongly throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest, and under a confident ride by Noonan prevailed after jumping the final fence three lengths down and with three horses still in front of him.

The 13-2 chance fiddled that obstacle but it did not impair his momentum, and when The Big Bite veered left towards the water jump Umbrigado took advantage of being wider than his foes, his strong finish launching him to a length and length and a quarter success over Killer Clown and the wayward last-fence leader.

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Umbrigado holds entries in two races at the Festival and was cut from 14-1 into 10-1 for the Paddy Power Plate with the sponsors.

However, Pipe is mindful that the Festival is sooner than ideal, and said: “We entered him in the Grand Annual and the old Mildmay of Flete at Cheltenham but weren’t sure, and today’s race was a good payday in its own right.

“Coming into today I wasn’t certain about the ground, but David gave him a great ride. He’s a strong traveller, but doesn’t always find as much as you think he will in a finish. What we had today was a bit of luck with the leader hanging, and we were in the right place to cash in.

“Regarding Cheltenham we will go by the owners and see what they want to do. They would love to have a runner with a good chance, but whether it’s the two-and-a-half-miler on Thursday or the Grand Annual on Wednesday it could come a bit quick.”

Noonan deserved this big-race success and his mount will now be brim-full of confidence following three wins since going chasing.

He said: “I planned to settle him halfway back and give him a bit of room. He’d idled a bit when taking the lead at Wetherby, but today he battled well on ground that was the best he’d run on.

“Even at the last I was confident I wasn’t out of it, and he powered to the line. He hasn’t had an overly-hard race, and he’s adaptable in the way he can be ridden.”

Imperial Cup Trends

Staged at Sandown racecourse the Imperial Cup in a hurdle race run over 2m 1/2f. Run just days before the start of the Cheltenham Festival  the contest always takes has an added interest for punters and trainers as traditionally the race sponsors have traditional put up an extra £50,000 should the winner go onto land any festival race the following week - the 2020 race sponsors are leading bookmaker, Paddy Power.

In recent years that incentive has seen powerful stables like Henderson and Hobbs target the race, but it’s the Pipe yard that hold the best recent record – winning the race four times in the last 15 years and 9 times in all.

The last horses to win the Imperial Cup and then go onto land a Festival race the following week are Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and Gaspara (2007). While the 2016 winner – Flying Angel – only just failed to land the bonus after running second in the Martin Pipe Conditionals race. The last three winners – Malaya, London Prize and Mr Antolini – didn’t go onto run at the Cheltenham Festival.

Here at GEEGEEZ we take a look back at recent winners and give you all the key stats to take into the 2021 renewal – this year run on Saturday 13th March.

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Recent Imperial Cup Winners

2020 – Abandoned
2019 – MALAYA (7/1)
2018 - MR ANTOLINI (20/1)
2017 - LONDON PRIZE (10/1)
2016 – FLYING ANGEL (9/1)
2015 – EBONY EXPRESS (33/1)
2014 – BALTIMORE ROCK (7/1)
2013 – FIRST AVENUE (20/1)
2012 – PAINTBALL (20/1)
2011 – ALARAZI (10/1)
2010 – QASPAL (11/4 fav)
2009 – DAVE’S DREAM (12/1)
2008 – ASHKAZAR (10/3 fav)
2007 – GASPARA (11/4 fav)
2006 – VICTRAM (8/1)
2005 – MEDISON (9/2 fav)
2004 – SCORNED (14/1)
2003 – KORELO (9/4 fav)

Imperial Cup Betting Trends and Stats

16/17 – Had won no more than twice over hurdles before
16/17 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
15/17 – Had won between 1-2 times over hurdles before
15/17 – Carried 10-13 or less
14/17 – Rated 124 or higher
13/17 – Aged 6 or younger
12/17 – Carried 10-7 or less
10/17 – Winners that went onto run at the Cheltenham Festival (1 winner, Gaspara - Fred Winter)
11/17 – Had won over at least 2m1f (hurdles) before
10/17 – Finished in the top two last time out
9/17 – Winning distance – 3 ½ lengths or more
8/17 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
8/17 – Aged 4 or 5 years-old
6/17 – Raced at either Cheltenham (2), Sandown (2) or Ascot (2) last time out
6/17 – Won last time out
6/17 – French bred
5/17 – Winning favourites
5/17 – Had raced at Sandown (hurdles) before – 2 had won there before
5/17 – Won by the Pipe stable (have won it 9 times in all)
2/17 – Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies (2 of last 4)
1/17 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
The average winning SP in the last 17 years is 11/1

 

 

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