Tag Archive for: Cheltenham Gold Cup

‘Finished article’ Galopin shoots for Gold Cup double

Galopin Des Champs bids to join the Prestbury Park immortals when he defends his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup crown on Friday.

Willie Mullins’ stay stayer erased any stamina doubts with an ultra-impressive success in the blue riband 12 months ago, staying on strongly up the hill to finish seven lengths ahead of game runner-up Bravemansgame.

Although subsequently defeated by Fastorslow in both the Punchestown Gold Cup and when reappearing in the John Durkan, Galopin Des Champs firmly accounted for his reopposing rival when producing a dominant display in last month’s Irish Gold Cup, a victory which supplemented a clinical display at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and sees him head to the Cotswolds in peak condition.

The first time Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs joined forces at Prestbury Park, the Irishman finished on the deck in the Turners Novices’ Chase as the then bold-jumping novice forfeited a 12-length lead when falling at the last.

However, the Closutton number one was handed plenty of plaudits for the way he nursed the eight-year-old to Gold Cup glory last year and with his mount now the ultimate professional, Townend is relishing the prospect of linking up once again.

“It was disappointing to get beat in the John Durkan but he was very good at Christmas and again at the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Townend.

“People had doubts about him (last year) and you always have doubts I suppose when a horse runs in the Gold Cup – until they stay, they don’t stay. We had confidence in him that he would stay and he did.

“Like us all, he’s getting older and wiser and a bit more laid-back and he’s developed into the finished article.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on him and it’s always exciting. I’ve had the horse underneath me (a few times) in the Gold Cup and you wouldn’t be anywhere without the horses and the rub of the green.”

Last year's homecoming for Galopin Des Champs
Last year’s homecoming for Galopin Des Champs (Niall Carson/PA)

Golden Miller famously won five successive Gold Cups in the 1930s, with Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate recording heralded hat-tricks in the Cheltenham Festival feature. But as a rule, back-to-back champions are a rarity in the modern era, with the great Kauto Star even surrendering his crown in 2008 before regaining the title a year later.

The outlier in the past 20 years is Al Boum Photo and now Galopin Des Champs has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious former stablemate and provide Closutton with their fourth Gold Cup in six years.

However, the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins believes there are few similarities between the pair, viewing the stable’s latest Gold Cup hero as a “superstar”.

He said: “They’re chalk and cheese a bit. Al Boum Photo very much had his own way of jumping. I remember schooling him one day in Punchestown after racing and Paul just said ‘close your eyes and trust him’!

“He broke Ruby’s leg one time and he fell at the last with David (Mullins) another. He wasn’t a flashy horse and didn’t work fantastically well, whereas Galopin Des Champs is a superstar.

“It’s a bit like Nicky Butt and Roy Keane, but Al Boum Photo won two Gold Cups. It feels to me like he was more a specialist horse for that race, whereas Galopin is a superstar of the sport.”

Martin Brassil knows all about the might of Galopin Des Champs, but his Fastorslow is the only horse to lower the defending champion’s colours in the past two seasons.

The eight-year-old is the general second favourite as he prepares to lock horns with Galopin Des Champs yet again, but his handler believes there is plenty of depth to a competitive Gold Cup.

Jockey J J Slevin celebrates after winning the John Durkan on Fastorslow
Jockey J J Slevin celebrates after winning the John Durkan on Fastorslow (PA Wire)

“We’re looking forward to the race and it’s a really strong renewal of the Gold Cup,” said Brassil.

“They call it a wind operation but we’ve just cauterised his palate that’s all (since Leopardstown last month). There is more than one horse in the race and some really good Grade One winners in there, it’s a strong race that will take plenty of winning.

“He’s as entitled to be there as any of the others, though. The horse has travelled over great and has eaten and drank and stuff and it’s all system go.”

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe entered the season as a major Gold Cup player in the making and was disputing favouritism after making a winning return at Down Royal.

Gerri Colombe lost our narrowly at last year's Festival
Gerri Colombe lost our narrowly at last year’s Festival (Mike Egerton/PA)

However, hopes were tempered somewhat when trailing some 23 lengths behind Galopin Des Champs in the Savills Chase at Christmas.

Asked how he can reverse that form with Galopin Des Champs, Elliott said: “We need a miracle, I’d say.

“He’s in great shape, he didn’t run his race at Christmas and it’s going to be very hard to turn that distance around, but we’ll see what happens.

“He was unlucky when he just got touched off here last year and it’s an open race if you take the favourite out of it.”

Owners Robcour have a second string to their Gold Cup bow in the form of Gentlemansgame, who made a successful raid on the Charlie Hall Chase in the autumn, downing Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame.

Mouse Morris’ gigantic grey heads to the blue riband on the back of just three chasing starts but would have a fighting chance of giving his handler a second Gold Cup victory if repeating his Wetherby heroics.

Ten-year-olds Jungle Boogie (Henry de Bromhead) and Monkfish (Mullins) are others from Ireland in the Gold Cup mix, representing the two trainers who have traded the last six runnings of the race.

Monkfish is a dual Festival winner
Monkfish is a dual Festival winner (Niall Carson/PA)

The latter is a dual Festival winner who finally gets his crack at the main event having been seen just the four times since winning the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase here in 2021.

However, one who will not to be at the start is John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s King George hero Hewick, who is likely to now head for the Randox Grand National after ground conditions curtailed Gold Cup hopes.

In a post on X, Hanlon said: “After walking the track this morning, we have decided Hewick will not run in the Gold Cup.

“While this is disappointing, we are doing what’s best for the horse”

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L’Homme Presse primed for belated Gold Cup challenge

Connections of L’Homme Presse could do little but sit and watch last year’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup unfold before them, but 12 months on he is tasked with leading the British charge in the blue riband.

With the Irish raiders dominating the top of the Gold Cup market, it falls on Venetia Williams’ nine-year-old to fly the flag for the home team, having already enjoyed one special day at the Cheltenham Festival when winning the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in 2022.

Owned by Andy and Pam Edwards alongside Peter and Patricia Pink, it was injury that saw their pride and joy miss the action in the Cotswolds last year, but he served a timely reminder of his staying qualities when making an emotional winning return at Lingfield in the Fleur De Lys Chase.

L'Homme Presse returns after victory at Lingfield
L’Homme Presse returns after victory at Lingfield (Adam Morgan/PA)

Things didn’t go to a similar plan when putting the finishing touches to his Gold Cup preparations in the Ascot Chase last month, although his handler is unperturbed by that reversal at the hands of the speedier Pic D’Orhy.

“I still assess his Ascot run exactly as I did on the day,” said Williams.

“I was very pleased with the run and it wasn’t the ideal race for him as it was just over two and a half miles on nearly good ground which we know is too much of a speed test and not a stamina test.

“In the circumstances up against Pic D’Orhy, who is very much a speed horse, I was very pleased with his run.”

L’Homme Presse after winning at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022
L’Homme Presse after winning at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022 (Tim Goode/PA)

The Herefordshire handler used the Ascot Chase to set-up Teeton Mill’s Gold Cup bid in 1999 and Williams will be hoping L’Homme Presse will fare better in his crack at the blue riband than that runner, who was pulled-up as the 7-2 second favourite in the year See More Business ruled the Cotswolds.

“He will line up at the start with all of them and it’s a very competitive race, so he will have as good a chance as any of them,” added Williams.

“It’s the Gold Cup isn’t it and there’s lots of top horses there, but I like to think we will have our chance. It’s what you hope to be doing with a horse of his quality and you hope to be competitive at the top table and we will see. Hopefully he will be there good and well.”

See More Business was of course the first Gold Cup winner for Paul Nicholls, who has gone on to score with Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009 and Denman, whose 2008 triumph sandwiched in the middle.

Bravemansgame came closest to giving Ditcheat a first Gold Cup since 2009 when second to Galopin Des Champs last year and the champion trainer believes he has his star stayer in much better shape than when runner-up in defence of his King George title on Boxing Day.

Bravemansgame with trainer Paul Nicholls
Bravemansgame with trainer Paul Nicholls (Adam Davy/PA)

He said: “It just didn’t work in the autumn, it was heavy ground in the Charlie Hall and then we ran him a bit quick in the Betfair Chase, which was close enough to Kempton. It just didn’t work out but he’s very well now.

“In another year we’d have done things differently and the ground may have been different, but I’m very happy we haven’t run him since Kempton and we could go to Aintree or Punchestown like last year.

“He worked well on Saturday morning, he looks great and I think I have him in a good place. He did well at Kempton (in a racecourse gallop) and he’s in better shape than he was then.

“We’ve all got to beat the favourite but I’m really happy with where he is, I think we’ll see a much better horse than we’ve seen so far this season and if he runs like last year, he’ll be there or thereabouts.”

Bravemansgame in action at Kempton
Bravemansgame in action at Kempton (John Walton/PA)

Bravemansgame was up with the pace until giving way to the eventual winner after the last 12 months ago, but Nicholls does not envisage a change of plan this time around as they seek a different outcome to the finish.

He added: “I’ll leave tactics to Harry (Cobden). Last year he was right on the front end and at the end of the day he ran a great race riding him like that.

“Galopin Des Champs was dropped in and had a dream run (last year). They are going to ride him a lot more positively now because he stays and Harry will slot in where he is happy.”

Two places behind Bravemansgame at Kempton over Christmas was The Real Whacker, who further enhanced his Gold Cup claims when second in the Cotswold Chase on Festival Trials day.

Trained by Yorkshire-based Irishman Patrick Neville, he was a brave winner of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the meeting in 2023 and this has been the eight-year-old’s ultimate goal ever since.

The Real Whacker was a winner at last year's Festival
The Real Whacker was a winner at last year’s Festival (Mike Egerton/PA)

Neville said: “He’s in great form, this has been the target all year and we’re hopeful he’s improved again from his last run.

“Hopefully the ground will dry out a little bit, but we’re not too worried about it – it is what is at this stage and he did win in soft ground there last year.

“He was just looking around a bit the last day and we’ve worked him a few days in the visor and we’re a bit like Tesco, every little helps! He’s entitled to be there and I couldn’t be happier with him going into the race, so we can do no more.”

Corach Rambler is another with winning form at Prestbury Park and the dual Ultima winner will now take his chance at the highest level en route to the defence of his Grand National crown.

Corach Rambler won the Grand National last year
Corach Rambler won the Grand National last year (Mike Egerton/PA)

“It’s a difficult thing as we feel the National is his main aim, but we know he runs well round Cheltenham so that gives us hope he can run well,” said trainer Lucinda Russell’s partner and assistant, Peter Scudamore. “We’re hopeful he could get a place.”

Also taking in the blue riband before a trip to Aintree next month is Gary Moore’s Welsh Grand National victor Nassalam, who bids to join the likes of Native River, Synchronised and Burrough Hill Lad by supplementing victory in the Chepstow marathon with success in the Cotswolds.

Moore said: “This rain will be beneficial to him, it will slow the others down a bit hopefully.

“I personally didn’t think he had the class for the Gold Cup before he ran the race he did in the Welsh Grand National. I’m kind of being guided by the handicapper, he’s kind of telling me he’s a 160 horse. Is he? I don’t know.

“I’ve never trained a Gold Cup horse and I’ve never trained a Grand National horse. I think he’s entitled to run in his ground because he jumps and stays well, but (if it dries) he might not get his ground to see him at his best.”

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Shishkin ruled out of Gold Cup after poor scope

Shishkin has not been declared for Friday’s Boodles Gold Cup at Cheltenham following an unsatisfactory scope.

Trainer Nicky Henderson had already ruled out Jonbon from Wednesday’s Champion Chase, among others, after five of his six runners on the first day of the Festival were pulled up.

The form of the stable had been a talking point heading into the biggest week of the season, hot on the heels of his brightest star Constitution Hill working poorly at Kempton and subsequently being pulled out of the Champion Hurdle.

Henderson posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Very sadly it will not be possible for Shishkin to run in the Gold Cup on Friday. He was scoped as have all our potential runners this week, but unfortunately he has shown an unsatisfactory picture on which he couldn’t possibly run.

“He appears to be 100 per cent in himself and has been working and schooling better than ever and we were really looking forward to Friday, it is hoped that along with all the other non-participants this week that they will be back in time for Aintree or Punchestown.

“Regrettably Champ has also succumbed and will not run in tomorrow’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the equivalent race at Aintree could be on the agenda.”

Shishkin was the only horse from the five-day stage not declared, meaning Galopin Des Champs will face 11 rivals in his bid to land back-to-back Gold Cups and emulate a former stablemate in Al Boum Photo.

His trainer Willie Mullins also runs the lightly-raced Monkfish.

Last year’s runner-up Bravemansgame, Grand National winner Corach Rambler, King George hero Hewick and Gary Moore’s runaway Welsh National victor Nassalam all line up.

Sir Gino has been declared for the Triumph Hurdle
Sir Gino has been declared for the Triumph Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Henderson has declared ante-post JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Gino in a field of 14 – with Mullins responsible for half the field.

Majborough, Kargese, Storm Heart, Salvator Mundi, Highwind, Ethical Diamond and Bunting all represent National Hunt racing’s dominant force.

Mighty Bandit will have his first run for Warren Greatrex since leaving Gordon Elliott.

There are 15 in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, where Mullins runs Dancing City, Readin Tommy Wrong, Lecky Watson, High Class Hero and Spread Boss Ted.

Henderson has declared Shanagh Bob, Captain Teague will aim to give Paul Nicholls successive wins in the race, while Gidleigh Park represents Harry Fry.

There are 23 in the BetMGM County Hurdle, 11 in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, 23 in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and 12 in the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

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Gold Cup legends enjoy centenary celebration

Cheltenham welcomed some of jump racing’s most famous names on Monday as it hosted a centenary celebration for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

All living previously successful Gold Cup trainers and jockeys were invited to a special Legends Lunch on the eve of the 2024 Festival, to toast a race that was established in its current form in 1924, when Red Splash won the inaugural running.

Some legends of the sport have subsequently added their names to the roll of honour, including five-time winner Golden Miller, three-times victors Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate and the only grey to triumph, Desert Orchid.

His 1989 success raised the Cheltenham roof and rider Simon Sherwood was among those to attend the Cheltenham event.

He said: “Cheltenham is a special place. When you see those gates open through the middle of the winner’s enclosure – it’s something you’ll never forget. To see the parting of the waves of the crowd when you walk back in is always great.

“The year Desert Orchid won, I was staying with the Twiston-Davies family up the road and the rain that arrived had not been forecast. It was an absolutely bonkers day.

“Cheltenham is the holy grail and always the target at the start of the season. From December onwards, you start to know which horses are going to be going there.”

Desert Orchid – aka Dessie – remains one of the most popular National Hunt horses of all time, plying his trade from two miles up to three and half miles, shouldering monster weights in handicaps alongside competing in Grade One company.

Sherwood recalled: “By the time Desert Orchid ran in the Gold Cup, he had already won a Whitbread Gold Cup, so we knew he’d get the trip. It was more a case of Cheltenham being a left-handed track.

“I knew if I got within a couple of lengths of the leader going to the last, then I knew he’d have the guts to get up the hill.

“I remember jumping the last, putting my head down and thinking I’ll never have this opportunity again. The crowd was just amazing and to win was just the ultimate. The Queen Mother was here, which made it even better – a phenomenal day.

“I am very fortunate and have some very fond memories.”

Other riders at the event included Rachael Blackmore, the only female jockey to have triumphed in the contest, and Ruby Walsh, who is the most successful Festival rider of all time and partnered Kauto Star to victory in 2007 and 2009, when he became the only horse to regain the title, having lost out to Denman in an epic battle in 2008.

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Cobden confident Bravemans can up his game for Gold Cup challenge

Harry Cobden is expecting Bravemansgame to peak at the right time, as the duo try to turn the tables on Galopin Des Champs in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Paul Nicholls’ star staying chaser jumped the last matching strides with Willie Mullins’ big-race favourite in the blue riband 12 months ago, but it was Galopin Des Champs who pulled out extra in the lung-busting run to the line, with Cobden and Bravemansgame having to settle for a silver medal.

The 25-year-old jockeys’ championship leader is fully aware the defending champion is the one to beat again this week, but is confident Bravemansgame is capable of getting involved in the shake-up and can massively outrun his current odds of around 16-1.

“His preparations have gone very well and he’s schooling well at home,” said Cobden.

“He feels great and worked brilliantly at Kempton last week. I’m very much looking forward to the Gold Cup and I thought he was a big price when I looked at it.

“Obviously, Galopin Des Champs is the horse to beat and I would never say Galopin Des champs isn’t, because on his day, he is definitely the best horse in the race.

“It was no fluke what he did last year and he’s been brilliant on many other occasions, so we have got to step up and we’ve got a bit to find, or we are hoping he is not at his best. But I do think he has a massive chance.”

Bravemansgame was prominent throughout last season’s Gold Cup, while Paul Townend received plenty of plaudits for the way he smuggled Galopin Des Champs into the race and eliminated any lingering stamina doubts.

Ladbrokes Christmas Festival – Day One – Kempton Racecourse
Harry Cobden celebrates winning the 2022 King George VI Chase aboard Bravemansgame (John Walton/PA)

Cobden has pondered whether it may be worth a change of plan for the Bryan Drew-owned gelding’s second crack at Gold Cup glory – and with Galopin Des Champs himself ridden more enterprisingly this season, it could now be team Ditcheat who play cat to Closutton’s mouse.

He continued: “I could possibly ride him a little differently and maybe we follow him?

“I don’t know and we’ve still got a few days to work it out and discuss it with Paul, and if he turned up and finished in the first three, we would be delighted. But we will be riding him to win the race rather than go out to run well.”

The nine-year-old had to settle for second best three times in a frustrating first half of the season for connections and was last seen narrowly failing in the defence of his King George title, as the fast-finishing Hewick flew home to snatch victory.

However, Cobden feels three runs in a short space of time were a contributing factor to his Kempton reversal and that a fresher Bravemansgame promises to be a whole different proposition in Friday’s showpiece event.

“The thing many people forget is he had a hard race at Haydock only 28 or 29 days before that and that took a lot out of him,” he went on.

“He didn’t have the best preparation in the world for the King George and Paul is well aware of that, he would be the first to tell you. I know we can get him better than when he ran at Kempton. He’s had lots of time, he’s fresh, he’s well and he’ll run his race.”

Although missing out on the Festival’s biggest prize in 2023, Cobden walked away from his week in the Cotswolds with two winners courtesy of Stage Star and Stay Away Fay.

Stay Away Fay en route to Festival glory 12 months ago
Stay Away Fay en route to Festival glory 12 months ago (Steven Paston for the Jockey Club/PA)

Both are back seeking a repeat, with Stay Away Fay another Ditcheat inmate tasked with taking on a short-priced favourite from Mullins’ all-conquering string when going toe-to-toe with Fact To File in Wednesday’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

“There’s not many runners in it, but I think it will be competitive,” added Cobden.

“Fact To File looks a class horse and we’re dropping back into novice company after running in the Cotswold Chase.

“I thought the prep run in the Cotswold Chase was a brilliant experience for a young horse and he didn’t have a massively hard race. Paul said he would improve from that fitness-wise.”

Jockey Harry Cobden has an exciting book of Cheltenham Festival rides
Jockey Harry Cobden has an exciting book of Cheltenham Festival rides (Nigel French/PA)

It will be far from Cobden’s busiest Cheltenham Festival ever, but the jockey is excited about some of the quality he has to look forward to among his book of rides.

He nominated Fred Winter candidate Liari as a potential Nicholls dark horse, while Ginny’s Destiny and Captain Teague are two other top-quality operators Cobden can look forward to from the champion trainer’s Cheltenham squad.

The four-time Festival winner has also picked up some exceptional outside rides which include Ben Pauling’s Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle hope Handstands – whom he partnered to Sidney Banks success at Huntingdon – and handicap fancies Theatre Man and Libberty Hunter.

He is also poised to maintain the ride on Emmet Mullins’ Stayers’ Hurdle contender Noble Yeats after steering him to victory in the Cleeve Hurdle last month, ironically a mount title rival Sean Bowen has partnered six times in the past, including in last year’s Gold Cup and Grand National.

Noble Yeats and Cobden (orange/brown silks) in action in the Cleeve Hurdle
Noble Yeats and Cobden (orange/brown silks) in action in the Cleeve Hurdle (Nigel French/PA)

He said: “I haven’t got the rides of Paul Townend and I wouldn’t have the shorties he has, but it looks to be an exciting book of rides and there will be lots of lads in the weighing room that would love to be on them, so I am very grateful.

“I’m hoping to ride Noble Yeats in the Stayers’ and although it won’t be the busiest week I’ve ever had, there will be 12 or 13 good rides with chances and if I can nick one winner I will be very pleased.

“I’m looking forward to riding Theatre Man in the Plate for Richard Bandey, he will have a good chance and is a great spare to pick up. I will also be on Libberty Hunter for Evan Williams in the Grand Annual and I thought he was relatively unexposed compared to some of the others in the field.

“Liari would be the best handicap chance of Paul’s, I would have thought. I know he has top-weight but he could be a horse that is still improving. He has done nothing wrong and is three from three, it will be a big ask to win the Fred Winter off that weight, but he is a very nice horse.”

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Galopin Des Champs heads 13 hunting Gold Cup glory

Galopin Des Champs is one of 13 confirmations for the Boodles Gold Cup on Friday, as he seeks to defend his Cheltenham crown.

Willie Mullins’ star got the better of Bravemansgame last year, with the Paul Nicholls-trained runner-up on course to renew rivalry next week.

Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow is another leading contender for Ireland, having twice accounted for Galopin Des Champs since the Gold Cup, although he had to settle for second place in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Shishkin is all set for Nicky Henderson, who was left wondering what might have been when his former crack two-miler slipped on landing when leading in the King George VI Chase.

Bargain-buy Hewick swept home to win the Kempton showpiece on Boxing Day and has been kept fresh by Shark Hanlon.

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe was second to Patrick Neville’s The Real Whacker in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase last season and they both feature, as does Gentlemansgame for Mouse Morris, who struck with War Of Attrition in 2006.

L’Homme Presse is right in contention for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch, after a winning return from the sidelines at Lingfield and an encouraging prep over a trip short of his best in the Ascot Chase.

Deutsch said: “I’m looking forward to it. Although things weren’t suitable for him at Ascot – the distance and the way the race was run – he didn’t feel completely at his best that day and still did fine.

“I think his prep is all going well so far. I haven’t sat on him, but Jess who rides him at home knows him well and says he is going along OK.

“It’s nice to know he can do it at Cheltenham and over the distance and he will be suited by going back up in trip.

“It’s a Gold Cup, so that’s the unknown – you are going up against the best. I just hope he runs well and wherever he comes, he has run to his full potential.”

Monkfish is still in for Mullins, with Lucinda Russell being represented by Grand National hero Corach Rambler. Jungle Boogie and Nassalam complete the contenders.

Ahoy Senor, Conflated and Protektorat were the three withdrawals at the confirmation stage.

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Greatest racing moment for Andy Edwards when L’Homme Presse lines up in Gold Cup

Andy Edwards is not your typical racehorse owner. When he acquires a newcomer to his string, he is not just its owner but he becomes its guardian and friend. Now one of his greatest equine pals, L’Homme Presse, will bid to give him the greatest moment in his racing life when lining up in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

L’Homme Presse is far from the first horse Edwards has been involved in nor will he be the last, but he has easily been the most successful and has taken Edwards – along with his wife Pam and fellow co-owners Peter and Patricia Pink – on a magical journey which has already incorporated triumph at the Cheltenham Festival.

Not too dissimilar to his co-owner, L’Homme Presse’s story has humble beginnings and his French racing career was somewhat tottering on the brink when the then injured son of Diamond Boy was plucked out of a field in Normandy by an admiring Edwards.

Little did the gelding know at the time, but he had just gained his most valuable ally, and not just a new owner, but someone who – alongside trainer Venetia Williams – was prepared to put in the hours of care and nurture required to help him fulfil his destiny.

Andy Edwards (left) leading in L'Homme Presse after his win in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase
Andy Edwards (left) leading in L’Homme Presse after his win in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase in 2022 (Steven Paston/PA)

“I adopt a soul for life,” said Edwards, explaining his ownership philosophy.

“That’s what happens and that’s what it is for me. I become their guardian not their owner and as any good guardian who adopts a child or animal it is a big responsibility and you need to guide them through their life as best you can.

“We have to be patient as owners and the other three all buy into the philosophies. We feel like we have been rewarded, but more importantly, the horse has been rewarded. Because of our beliefs, the horse has been able to be the best he can be every time he goes out.”

There is something warming about Edwards’ hands-on approach to both ownership and L’Homme Presse.

Andy Edwards/Hereford
Andy Edwards is in upbeat form ahead of Cheltenham (PA)

‘The horse is my number one priority’ is anything but meaningless where Edwards is concerned. L’Homme Presse’s well-being is always at the forefront of his mind during regular phone calls with his trainer and the frequent visits to the handler’s Herefordshire base.

“I’m in lots to see L’Homme Presse, I go two or three times a week,” continued Edwards.

“Venetia is an amazing lady and all of her staff – Jess and Beth and the vets – are all brilliant.

“When Venetia rings me, I tell her not to say hello just to say ‘all good’ before she says anything else, and luckily, she mostly does.”

L’Homme Presse’s connections have felt the full range of emotions the Cheltenham Festival can provide over the past few years.

In 2022 there was ecstasy as their charge stormed home on a wet Wednesday afternoon in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, but their was also a sense of longing 12 months ago when their staying star was sat on the sidelines as the Gold Cup took centre stage on the final afternoon of the meeting – a race Edwards actually watched from right at the heart of the action.

“The win in the Brown Advisory was the most fantastic day you could imagine,” continued Edwards.

“At the time I stood there in the rain with my palms held up and looking up to the sky with a big grin saying ‘this is liquid sunshine’.

“Our friends are Bruce and Karen who own Ahoy Senor and they very kindly invited us last year to be with them in the paddock and for lunch. It was really lovely of them and they said to us ‘you should be here, it’s not right you are not here’. It was a lovely thing of them to do.

“But at the same time it was quite a weird feeling being their for the Gold Cup cheering on someone else’s horse – which of course we were happy to do. However, the year before we had thought we would be the ones standing in that paddock with our own horse.”

L’Homme Presse in action at Lingfield
L’Homme Presse in action at Lingfield (Adam Davy/PA)

Now L’Homme Presse is just days away from finally getting his chance to line-up in the blue riband, the summit of a long adventure that has finally reached its peak.

“It’s a privilege to be there and you have to pinch yourself,” said Edwards. “The four of us (the co-owners), none of us have come from privileged backgrounds and to be in this position is dreamland.

“We have all got to try to enjoy it whatever happens and celebrate. It has been a five-year journey for me now personally and to get to that pinnacle of the sport is a massive win in its own right and an incredible achievement.

“Our attitude at the moment is to enjoy the build-up and enjoy every moment. We will accept whatever happens. I fully understand the highs and lows of this incredible sport that we’re all involved in.

“We’ve got lots of friends coming down and we will enjoy the build-up. It’s going to be a fantastic race whoever wins and a great spectacle. If all horses come back happy that would be brilliant.”

L’Homme Presse would spend over a year on the sidelines before making a triumphant return at Lingfield in January, but there was to be no repeat of heroics when he was tasked with dropping back in distance for the Ascot Chase last month.

The two-mile-five-furlong Grade One event was scheduled to be the ideal spot for L’Homme Presse to fine-tune his engine ahead of his Cheltenham assignment, but with drying ground and the emphasis becoming more about speed than endurance, the nine-year-old was unable to lay a glove on track-and-trip specialist Pic D’Orhy.

Many would see the performance as a severe dent on L’Homme Presse’s future big-race ambitions, but connections have been far from despondent and are still confident the outing will have a positive effect on his Gold Cup claims.

“The timing of the Ascot Chase was perfect for us, but the distance and the ground wasn’t perfect for us,” explained Edwards.

“At the beginning of the week they were saying we were going to get 20mm of rain and we got 2mm. It went from being soft at the beginning of the week to good ground by 3.30pm on the Saturday.

“Everything was against us but we still came second in a Grade One over a trip which was far too short for a three miler and on ground he doesn’t excel on, so we are very happy.”

While Harry Cobden was receiving plenty of plaudits for his winning ride in the aftermath of that Ascot event, it was L’Homme Presse’s jockey who was coming under fire for the amount of ground he conceded to the champion jockey elect in the early salvos of that contest.

However, the ever-loyal Edwards does not agree. He said: “It’s a shame Charlie got so much criticism as it wasn’t what we intended and he has to ride the horse that is underneath him at that moment in time.

L'Homme Presse and connections at Lingfield
L’Homme Presse and connections at Lingfield (PA)

“From our point of view Charlie gave him a great ride as he got him going and he got him running through the line and he managed to get us second in a Grade One at Ascot when at the start and halfway round things weren’t looking too healthy.”

The next stop on the L’Homme Presse odyssey is the Gold Cup itself and although there may be some nerves when Williams, Deutsch, and the staying star himself enter the bustling Prestbury Park paddock before the main event, the one thing guaranteed is that Edwards will always have the trio’s back.

“One thing I will be saying to Charlie and I always say to Venetia is, we as a group of owners believe in Venetia, we believe in Charlie and we believe in our horse,” said Edwards.

“All of us will enjoy the moment and we will definitely keep the faith.”

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L’Homme Presse in good spirits for Gold Cup bid

Connections of L’Homme Presse are metaphorically applying the bubble wrap as they anxiously count down the days to the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Venetia Williams’ nine-year-old gave co-owners Andy and Pam Edwards and Peter and Patricia Pink a day to remember when scooping the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on a wet Wednesday in 2022, but they were forced to watch on as he missed the blue riband through injury 12 months ago.

Seen as one of Britain’s best chances of Gold Cup success, L’Homme Presse is now close to finally getting his chance to bid for glory in the week’s feature event.

Having shown no signs of any reoccurring injury worries since returning from a long 391-day lay-off, connections will soon be able to dream of a second triumph at National Hunt racing’s showpiece meeting.

“We haven’t had any little niggles or anything so far, touch wood, but we still have 10 days or so to go and that is plenty of time for a racehorse to do something silly,” said Edwards.

L’Homme Presse after winning at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022
L’Homme Presse after winning at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022 (Tim Goode/PA)

“It’s a slightly anxious time, rather than a nervous time. At this time (of year), everyone is in the same boat and they are trying to wrap their horses in cotton wool, while keeping the horses ticking over – and it’s a massive effort to get them to any race, never mind the Festival.

“The beauty of any other race is, if you don’t get them to a said race, there is always another one. But if you don’t get them to the Festival, that is it until next year, so the pressure is on all the staff and trainers at the moment.”

He went on: “From our point of view, we just want to get him there and what chance he has and all the rest of it, right now that is immaterial. Once we are there on the day, that’s when we can start thinking about what sort of chance we have.

“I’m very relaxed and he will get there or he won’t. What will be, will be, and I’m very relaxed about that side of things.”

It was an emotionally-charged afternoon when L’Homme Presse returned from injury in imperious style in Lingfield’s Fleur De Lys Chase, but the gelding failed to read a similar script when tuning up for his Gold Cup bid in the Ascot Chase.

Sent off the 5-4 favourite, L’Homme Presse’s usual zest was lacking as he struggled to hunt down the boldly-ridden Pic D’Orhy on ground quicker than ideal – and over a trip shorter than optimum.

However, connections are taking encouragement from the way their charge finished the race and with two runs now under L’Homme Presse’s belt, they feel he is in the ideal spot to challenge for top honours in the Cotswolds on Friday week.

“He came out of the race really well and we were really happy with him,” continued Edwards.

“I think Ascot has put him right, but not by design. We went there to win it and for whatever reason, he just wasn’t quite himself.

“He didn’t jump with the same sort of passion that he had at Lingfield and Charlie (Deutsch, jockey) had to kick him in the belly twice to get him started. He was just always slightly behind the bridle going into the fences and in his racing style.

“The result of that is he ran below his best, but he ran through the line and it’s brought him on nicely, which means we have a nice fresh horse going to Cheltenham.”

With the Ascot Chase contested over two miles and five furlongs, the L’Homme Presse team can look forward to a much more suitable stamina test in the Gold Cup for their staying star.

L’Homme Presse in action at Cheltenham
L’Homme Presse in action at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

And while the current ground updates coming out of Prestbury Park may be unnerving for some connections ahead of the Festival, Edwards will be willing the rain to keep falling for a repeat of the soft conditions L’Homme Presse has previously relished.

“Everyone is desperate for a bit of sunshine but I only want sunshine on March 16,” he added.

“Soft ground is in our favour and we would be happy with it being soft. We are going to enjoy the moment and we will always keep the faith.”

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Gainford stakes claim for Hewick Gold Cup ride

Jordan Gainford is hoping to get the leg-up on Hewick in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup after securing his first win since returning from a lengthy injury absence at Leopardstown.

The rider struck up a good partnership with Shark Hanlon’s charge in the spring of 2022, partnering him to win the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown before adding a Galway Plate success in the July and a famous victory in the American Grand National the following October.

However, Gainford has not ridden Hewick since the pair came to grief at the penultimate fence in last year’s Gold Cup, with the rider spending plenty of time on the sidelines due to concussion and injury.

Gavin Sheehan rode Hewick to win the King George
Gavin Sheehan rode Hewick to win the King George (John Walton/PA)

Gainford fractured two vertebrae in a fall in December, meaning he missed Hewick’s King George VI Chase success, with Gavin Sheehan in the plate as the nine-year-old came from last to first in Kempton’s Christmas showpiece.

However, having proved his fitness by partnering 16-1 shot Miss Gherkin to victory in the Anton O’Toole Handicap Hurdle, Gainford is eager to renew his relationship with Hewick in the Cheltenham highlight on Friday week.

He said: “I sat on him last week and he feels great. I’m back in tomorrow for another sit on him. He’s bouncing at home and fingers crossed I get back on him.

“Hopefully he keeps thriving between now and Cheltenham and the ground is good.”

Gainford had had just a handful of rides since his return at the end of last month and he is eager to push on with his first winner now secured.

He said: “It’s great to be back, first of all. It’s busy in Gordon’s (Elliott) and I’m in Shark’s tomorrow and it’s great to be on the scoresheet.

“I’ve many people to thank. Gavin Egan in RACE and Graham Harrison, the fitness coach, and also Jennifer (Pugh) and Adrian (McGoldrick). A massive thanks to them all.

“Hopefully I’m getting better every day and we can drive on.”

Of Miss Gherkin, he added: “Peter (Croke, trainer) was confident that she would run well. She’d a promising run on her first run over hurdles in Tramore and things didn’t go right on her last two runs. She was a little bit keen here at Christmas.

“They flew early today and I wanted to take her back. Every time she passed a horse from the second last home, she put down her head and tried. She showed a nice attitude.”

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Long Run and ‘The Greatest Gold Cup’ will always be special for Waley-Cohen

Long Run can lay claim to many astonishing achievements throughout his stellar career, but he will always be remembered best for the day he ended an era in the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup, bursting through the clouds to slay the great Ditcheat duo of Kauto Star and Denman.

Owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, Nicky Henderson’s first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was for a long while considered the heir apparent of the staying division and had already marked his territory by winning the King George earlier that season.

But it was the moment he crossed the Gold Cup finishing line that was seen as the passing of the torch moment and a victory made all the more remarkable by the fact the man in the plate going toe-to-toe with Ruby Walsh and Sam Thomas up the Prestbury Park hill was in fact an amateur in the owner’s son, Sam Waley-Cohen.

Of course, the by-day dentist was far from plucked off the streets to partner a horse who was already a multiple Grade One winner. But it added to the mystique of this brilliant French import, who at the tender age of six had climbed to the top of racing’s mountain.

“Winning the Gold Cup has to be classed as his best performance ever – you can’t beat that,” said Waley-Cohen senior.

“You had multiple Gold Cup winners in that race and they were the ones coming down hill who looked like they were going to do it all over again.

“Sam was brilliant on him that day and he was not an easy ride – he did thump some fences on the way round.

“I still treasure the front cover of Owner Breeder magazine that has a picture of him coming over the last in front of Kauto Star and Denman and says ‘The Greatest Gold Cup’.”

Long Run races up the hill to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Long Run races up the hill to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup (David Davies/PA)

Even though only six when storming up the Cheltenham hill to claim National Hunt racing’s greatest prize, Long Run had already cemented his place in his owner’s affections.

For this was a horse that had seen the winner’s enclosure eight times in France before he burst onto the British scene aged only four.

Long Run’s Feltham Novices’ Chase success would be the first of three magnificent victories at Kempton, with the gelding returning a year later to claim the King George VI Chase and then adding a second victory in that contest in 2012.

That second King George, when rallying to collar Captain Chris in the shadow of the Kempton winning post, would be the final top-level success of Long Run’s decorated career, but by that point he had already accomplished things his connections could only dream about.

Long Run in action when winning his second King George
Long Run in action when winning his second King George (Steve Parsons/PA)

Waley-Cohen continued: “He achieved things no other horse has ever done. He’s the only horse to win the Grade One three-year-old hurdle and the Grade One four-year-old chase in France and the only four-year-old to win a Grade One chase in the UK when he won the Feltham.

“The shortest race he ever ran in was the Kingmaker over two miles and he won that – and there isn’t many horses who would have won a Kingmaker and a Gold Cup.

“He was unbelievable in the Feltham and after the race he walked into the winner’s enclosure and looked around as if to say ‘ah, my subjects have come to admire me, how nice’. He was imperious, totally imperious and only four years old.

“What he achieved as a youngster was astonishing and when he won a Gold Cup, he was only six. He won Grade Ones for five consecutive years, not many horses can do that.

“They say French horses don’t last and they are right, but if you can win Grade Ones over five straight years, it doesn’t matter. Not many stay at the top that long.”

Waley-Cohen has since added a Grand National to Long Run’s Gold Cup triumph thanks to the exploits of Noble Yeats in 2022 and although there may have been 11 years between those two big-race successes, the one constant was his son in the saddle, adorned in the family’s orange and brown silks.

Sam may have hung up his saddle after sprinkling Aintree glory on his decorated amateur CV, but the part he played in many special days – especially aboard Long Run – will live long in his father’s memory.

“He really was an amazing horse and gave us an enormous amount of pleasure. Doing everything with Sam on board only added to the pleasure,” explained Waley-Cohen.

Long Run with Nicky Henderson and both Robert (left) and Sam (centre) Waley-Cohen
Long Run with Nicky Henderson and both Robert (left) and Sam (centre) Waley-Cohen (Ben Birchall/PA)

“You can’t match winning Grade One races at the highest level with your son on board. You would be thrilled to win them anyhow, but when your son is on board – which we were quite strongly criticised for – it is special. In the end, the jockey didn’t do too bad.

“To my mind, he only ran one disappointing race in the whole time we had him and that was in the Gold Cup the following year (2012), where Sam rode him impeccably and produced him at the exact right moment, but for whatever reason he didn’t spark and finished third. Something didn’t fire that day, but horses are horses.”

Long Run is now very much part of the furniture at the Waley-Cohen family farm in Warwickshire, where he enjoys a well-earned retirement and serves as a constant reminder that just sometimes, racing dreams do come true.

Long Run in action at Cheltenham
Long Run in action at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“He is in great order and he’s out in the field at 19 years old and very happy,” said Waley-Cohen.

“He had a very good time after he retired from racing, we used to ride him round the farm and the great thing about him, like so many horses, he completely understood when Sam wanted to put his very small daughter on a leading rein, he would behave impeccably. Now he’s fully retired and out at grass.

“He’s been with us a long time and we’ve owned him for 16 years now and we bought him as a three-year-old, so we’ve had him a long time.”

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Full steam ahead for Shishkin showdown with Galopin Des Champs

Shishkin has been unshackled and is ready to make his mark in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Nicky Henderson having no fears about either the stamina-sapping trip or tackling the might of defending champion Galopin Des Champs.

Henderson has come to the defence of his blue-riband contender, who he believes has been treated like a “criminal let out of prison” at times over the course of the current season.

However, despite failing to start at Ascot and cruelly unseating Nico de Boinville with the King George at his mercy, he heads to Prestbury Park as Britain’s leading hope of Gold Cup glory and with a fine chance of handing the master of Seven Barrows his third success in the highlight of the meeting.

Shishkin in action at Newbury
Shishkin in action at Newbury (Adam Davy/PA)

“It’s funny how going into Newbury the other day he was treated like a criminal who was let out of prison,” said Henderson.

“People were saying if he doesn’t turn up today, where is he? He did nothing wrong and the King George wasn’t his fault. He didn’t fall, he just knocked his leg and anyone can do that, it’s just pure bad luck.

“I’ve got to say Ascot was his fault and he was a naughty boy, but that doesn’t make him a criminal and that’s what it felt like heading into Newbury.”

Shishkin produced a foot-perfect performance in Newbury’s Denman Chase and having navigated that Gold Cup prep with flying colours, it is full steam ahead to the Cotswolds.

He has also resisted the temptation to repeat his Ascot misdemeanours at both Kempton and Newbury, with the master of Seven Barrows confident there will be zero issues at the start of the Festival’s feature contest.

“If he turns round, he will always go left and at Cheltenham if he does that, there is nowhere to go,” continued Henderson.

“We had to be mindful at Kempton he could and Newbury he was no bother, he just walked straight in.”

Many questioned whether the application of first-time cheekpieces played a part in Shishkin’s refusal to start on his seasonal return at Ascot and although the thought of reapplying the headgear for the 10-year-old’s Gold Cup tilt has crossed Henderson’s mind, he reveals it was Ruby Walsh who first put the idea into his head.

“I won’t say I haven’t thought about cheekpieces and we’ve thought about it since Newbury, but I would say it is very unlikely. I can’t see us doing it,” added Henderson.

“It had nothing to do with why he didn’t start at Ascot, despite what may have been written.

“He races a little bit behind the bridle sometimes and Ruby was at me the whole time that I had to put cheekpieces on this horse. He was telling me the whole time and I did what Ruby told me to do and look where it got us!”

If the Festival’s most successful rider was playing the role of mole in the camp for the Festival’s most successful trainer Willie Mullins, then Henderson is unperturbed.

Nicky Henderson addresses the media at Seven Barrows
Nicky Henderson addresses the media at Seven Barrows (David Davies/PA)

The Lambourn handler recently went on a scouting mission to the Dublin Racing Festival to watch the defending Gold Cup champion in the flesh and although suitably impressed by what he witnessed, he is willing to concentrate solely on his own horse in the build-up to Friday, March 15.

Henderson said: “Galopin Des Champs is very solid and sometimes I don’t think he’s as flashy as some. He’s a big, fine, good-looking horse and he’s very classy. He gets the job done. There are moments (in a race) when you wonder, but he’s one of these horses.

“When Constitution Hill is doing his real thing – and I hope he will do it again – he’s commanded the performance from beginning to end really. Shishkin doesn’t do that and a lot of them don’t.

“But Galopin Des Champs has won a Gold Cup, he’s come into it via some good prep races and I think we just need to concentrate on what we’ve got, rather than anyone else.

“You’ve got to have a tactical plan and going into the race we invariably will, but those often get thrown out the window after a furlong and you have to be doing something different, but we won’t be riding Shishkin any differently because of Galopin Des Champs – he’s going to do his thing and we are going to do ours.

“I’m sure Willie will have his plan and we’ll have our plan and the jockeys will probably have a completely different plan and not listen to either of us!”

Shishkin undoubtedly ticks many boxes ahead of his tilt at racing’s most treasured prize, but the former two-mile champion will have to prove he stays every inch of the lung-busting Gold Cup trip when he takes his stamina reserves past three miles for the very first time.

It is ultimately a question that will not be answered until the race itself, but Henderson is taking comfort from the mid-race move made by Shishkin’s big-race pilot De Boinville in the King George as proof the three-and-a-quarter-mile yardage will be well within his compass.

Shishkin clears the water jump at Newbury
Shishkin clears the water jump at Newbury (Adam Davy/PA)

He explained: “It was interesting that if you go back to the King George, good old Frodon is bashing away at the front there and he goes a good gallop.

“I don’t think he’s the old Frodon, but Nico saw fit to actually go and push things along halfway down the back straight and often Frodon will still be in front when they are turning in.

“Nico was happy to let him rock and roll from halfway down the back and he was in command from there – he had beaten the others.”

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Galopin Des Champs primed for Gold Cup defence

Willie Mullins is confident Galopin Des Champs will put up a staunch defence of his crown in next month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old was a brilliant winner of the blue riband last season, a third Gold Cup triumph in five years for the Festival’s most successful trainer following the back-to-back victories of Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

Galopin Des Champs was beaten by Fastorslow at the end of last season and at the start of the current campaign, but roared back to his best with a stunning Savills Chase success over Christmas before taking his revenge on Fastorslow when plundering his second Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this month.

Speaking at his annual press morning ahead of the sport’s showcase fixture in four weeks’ time, Mullins appeared more than happy with the condition of his star performer ahead of his return to the Cotswolds.

Galopin Des Champs took the Festival highlight in 2023
Galopin Des Champs took the Festival highlight in 2023 (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He’s come out of his race in Leopardstown very well and I’m very happy. It’s going to be a tip-top Gold Cup I think. We’re in great form,” he said.

The Closutton handler feels a change to more positive tactics has played a significant part in Galopin Des Champs’ mini resurgence as the division’s top dog.

Paul Townend was widely lauded for the patience he showed in last year’s Gold Cup, but it seems highly likely he will be ridden closer to the speed this time around.

Mullins added: “I’d wanted him ridden off the pace the two years before as I felt he was too keen and I didn’t want him getting drawn into a battle, but this year I don’t mind.

“He’s bigger and stronger, well certainly stronger but he’s more mature now and definitely up for it (leading).”

Galopin Des Champs may well be joined in the Gold Cup field by stablemate Monkfish, who was sidelined for two years after an excellent novice campaign in 2020-21.

He was beaten on his first two starts after his return last spring, but resumed winning ways in last month’s Galmoy Hurdle and Mullins feels a good portion of his ability remains intact.

“Monkfish is also in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but if enough rain comes I’d seriously have to consider him for the Gold Cup,” he said.

“He’s got the class and I was happy he came back in good order in Gowran, albeit over hurdles.

“At the moment I’d say I’ll prepare him for the Gold Cup, I’ll have a word with Rich (Ricci, owner) and see what he is thinking.

“I thought he went a long way to answering if he was as good as he was at Gowran and come Cheltenham, he will be better again.”

Capodanno won the Cotswold Chase but does not hold a Gold Cup entry at present
Capodanno won the Cotswold Chase but does not hold a Gold Cup entry at present (Nigel French/PA)

Such is the staggering strength in depth Mullins has at his disposal, he did not even enter his Cotswold Chase victor Capodanno for the Festival’s most prestigious event.

The JP McManus-owned gelding’s likely target at Prestbury Park appears the Ryanair Chase, but Mullins did reveal the possibility of supplementing for the Gold Cup “has been mentioned”.

Mullins’ novice chase team appears just as strong, with Fact To File seemingly the leading the way.

The seven-year-old is two from two over fences, and while his performance in coming home alone in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time is difficult to gauge after his stablemate Gaelic Warrior faded tamely before coming to grief at the final fence, there is no doubt he is held in the highest regard.

Fact To File at the Mullins yard on Monday
Fact To File at the Mullins yard on Monday (Niall Carson/PA)

“Fact To File is in the Brown Advisory and Turners at Cheltenham. I’d be leaning towards the Brown Advisory, but I’m just wondering what other horses in the same colours might be going that way,” Mullins continued.

“His speed figure at the Dublin Racing Festival was fantastic. Someone told me at Christmas in his beginners’ chase he did a huge one, I’m into what I see visually and the way they do it but the run at Christmas it transpired was right and he doubled down on it.

“Fact To File has done everything right and has put in a huge trial for either race at Cheltenham.”

Gaelic Warrior came unstuck at the Dublin Racing Festival
Gaelic Warrior came unstuck at the Dublin Racing Festival (PA)

Of Gaelic Warrior, he said: “Obviously going left-handed didn’t suit Gaelic Warrior, but getting worked up before the race didn’t help and during the race he made a mistake at the fourth last which seemed to unsettle him.

“He was very disappointing but he seems all right. He’s a little quiet in himself but he would be, most good horses are when they are beaten.

“We’ll try to get him right and the Turners was what we had in mind for him.”

Irish Arkle victor Il Etait Temps will bid to follow up in the Arkle and may be joined by Facile Vega, who is set to have his training routine tweaked as Mullins bids to reignite his fire following a disappointing run of form.

Embassy Gardens appears the stable’s chief contender for the National Hunt Chase, while Dinoblue and Allegorie De Vassy will give Mullins a strong hand in the Mares’ Chase.

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Good ground key to Hewick’s Gold Cup hopes

John ‘Shark’ Hanlon is praying for good ground ahead of next month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, as his King George hero Hewick prepares to take on defending champion Galopin Des Champs.

Hewick took a crashing fall two out in his first taste of the Gold Cup last year, with Galopin Des Champs carrying on up the hill for a memorably impressive victory.

Willie Mullins’ charge has since looked imperious when winning at Leopardstown this season, firstly in the Savills Chase at Christmas and then when bettering chief blue riband rival Fastorslow for his second Irish Gold Cup during the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, Hewick has also gone from strength to strength and following a career best to win the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, Hanlon is now keen to try to exploit a possible chink in Galopin Des Champ’s armour on a sounder surface at Prestbury Park.

Hewick (right) stormed home to win the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day
Hewick (right) stormed home to win the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day (John Walton/PA)

He said: “It is beginning to get exciting times and I love to see that sun coming out, which I want to see in England more at the minute than I want to see over here.

“The weather is what’s most important to him. It was soft ground last year and I want that soft ground out of there this year.

“Galopin Des Champs is a very good horse and he’s won on soft ground a couple of times this year and has looked very good on it.

“But I would love to meet him on good ground. Maybe if he is as good then he will win, but I just think on proper good ground, he might not be as good as he is on soft and heavy ground.

“The horse is in really good form and he came out of the King George very well. He will probably go and do a bit of work now in Naas on Wednesday in a schooling bumper and that’s the route we went down before the King George.”

Hewick is a best priced 16-1 for Gold Cup glory, but Hanlon is predicting an open feel to the race this time around and is confident his contender is worth his place in the line-up.

“There’s more than one horse in the race, every horse is there to be looked at,” he continued.

“You don’t ever duck away from one horse or a challenge and if you have a horse good enough, there is no problem doing that.

“Shishkin won over the weekend and he looked quite good, but the horse who was second to him was only a 150-rated horse and he didn’t run away from him.

“It’s a good race, it is always a good race. There’s more than two or three in it and there will be probably 10 horses in it and any of those 10 horses can win.”

Hewick in action at the Hanlon yard on Monday
Hewick in action at the Hanlon yard on Monday (Niall Carson/PA)

Hanlon has always embraced his underdog status, but he is alive to the possibility of interest in the sport dimming if only a handful of yards house all the leading contenders.

He said: “The big problem in Ireland anyway, and the English people can see it when Willie went over with Fun Fun Fun yesterday, is he wins everything.

“He has the owners to buy those horses. If a good horse comes up for sale tomorrow morning, he’s gone to Willie Mullins because Willie has the customers. Fair dues to him because he started with nothing and now has the men to buy them, but I think England and Ireland are feeling the pinch a bit with it because a lot of these owners just go to Willie now.

“This is nothing against Willie or Gordon Elliott or anyone, but I think the smaller people in the game need looking after. Because if you haven’t got the smaller lads then you are going to have races every week with five runners and people will get bored.

“Every small trainer is able to train, they just haven’t got the owners able to compete with the likes of Willie. There is a bundle of trainers taking over and I don’t think it is good for racing.”

Mullins’ dominance in Irish racing was exemplified at the Dublin Racing Festival when he won each of the eight Grade Ones at the meeting, with one contest ending up a match between two Closutton runners.

Hanlon added: “The Dublin Racing Festival was great but without the two big handicaps (on each card), there wouldn’t have been 30 runners on either day. The two big handicaps were full and there was more excitement over the handicaps than there was over the Grade Ones.

“The Grade Ones and Grade Twos are lovely, but they are for three or four people and they need to look beyond that to see how they are going to get the people back going racing.

Willie Mullins is the dominant force in Irish racing
Willie Mullins is the dominant force in Irish racing (Niall Carson/PA)

“The Dublin Racing Festival is a great meeting and on the Saturday you had a huge crowd and on Sunday an OK crowd. But if you took the English people out of it on the Sunday, there wouldn’t be too many in.

“If it wasn’t for the cost of travelling horses over to England, then I would run horses over there every week.

“You can say I’m running away from Willie, I don’t care, but there is a better chance of winning and England is a big area and you can go to the top or the bottom and you are not competing with Willie and Gordon every day.”

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Brassil confident Fastorslow can mount bold Cheltenham challenge

Martin Brassil is relishing the prospect of running Fastorslow in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, confident his star performer will not let him down on the big occasion.

Brassil’s flag-bearer had got the better of reigning Cheltenham champion Galopin Des Champs in both the Punchestown Gold Cup last April and the John Durkan earlier this season, but suffered defeat at the hands of Willie Mullins’ charge in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown last weekend.

Although beaten four and a half lengths, Fastorslow more than played his part in what was a terrific showpiece to the Dublin Racing Festival – and with the race run to suit the defending champion, Brassil was content with the performance of his charge.

Fastorslow (left) taking on Galopin Des Champs (right) in the Irish Gold Cup
Fastorslow (left) taking on Galopin Des Champs (right) in the Irish Gold Cup (Damien Eagers/PA)

He said: “We were very happy with the run and he hadn’t run since November 26, so you have to be very happy with it.”

There was an argument to suggest Fastorslow may have been able to test Galopin Des Champs on the run-in if he had not been distracted by the front-running mount of Paul Townend at the final obstacle.

However, Brassil believes that is immaterial to the outcome of this particular battle.

“We might have got a flyer (at the last, if Galopin Des Champs had not jinked) but my horse was quick to spot what the other horse did and he just hesitated and got over the fence carefully,” explained Brassil.

“He was on the back foot then and Galopin Des Champs had him all the way to the line. However, I don’t think there would have been any different result I would say, he had the run of the race dictating it, so in that race he always had our measure.”

Fastorslow now heads to Prestbury Park as the general 4-1 second favourite for the Gold Cup, as he prepares to tackle the odds-on favourite for a fifth time, with the score currently 2-2, but Brassil is expecting a much deeper event on March 15 at a venue where his charge has performed well in the past.

Fastorslow and team after winning the John Durkan
Fastorslow and team after winning the John Durkan (PA Wire)

“If you headed into a Gold Cup only worrying about one horse, then you wouldn’t be doing too bad, but I’m sure there will be a lot more competition when we get to the race though,” he added.

“He seems to like Cheltenham, which is always a positive. He’s a horse who has never let us down and you can always depend on him to perform at his best. Sometimes that’s good enough and others you come up a bit short. If he continued to do that, there will be no one complaining.

“It’s five weeks today we’re working towards and we’re looking forward to it.”

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Cotswold second Whacker firmly on course for Festival date

Patrick Neville is not giving up his Gold Cup dream with The Real Whacker after seeing his stable star fill the runner-up spot in Saturday’s Cotswold Chase.

The eight-year-old won his first three starts over fences at Cheltenham last season, completing his hat-trick with a rousing victory over Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

He made an inauspicious start to the current campaign after pulling up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but did return with a minor injury, and a fourth-placed finish in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day was a step in the right direction.

Neville was hoping a return to Cheltenham might result in a first victory of the campaign over the weekend and while he dropped to the rear of the field on the approach the final fence, there was much to like about the way he stayed on up the hill to finish best of the rest behind Capodanno.

“He’s come back in good form, he’s fresh and well,” said the North Yorkshire-based Irishman.

“I said at the start of the season we were aiming for one day – the Gold Cup has been the plan all the time and it still is.

“I was reading somewhere that he put two bad runs behind him, but on his first run he struck into himself, so there was an excuse for that, and I thought the King George run was a very good run.

“We took a lot out of his run on Saturday. Bypassing the second-last fence didn’t help us and he got a little bit outpaced turning in, but it was his first time in a proper battle, which he realised, and I liked the way he stayed on from the last.”

The Real Whacker and Patrick Neville last week
The Real Whacker and Patrick Neville (Ashley Iveson/PA)

The Real Whacker is a best priced 66-1 for the Gold Cup with bet365, who make last year’s winner Galopin Des Champs the evens favourite and his old rival Fastorslow second in the market at 9-2.

Neville added: “Of course you’d have big respect for Galopin, but after that it’s wide open.

“You can’t beat course form, we know our horse loves the track and with a clear run now, we’re happy to take him on, no problem.

“He comes alive for the spring – he’s a spring horse and not a winter horse. We’d be hoping for a bit nicer ground as the ground on Saturday was dead and on better ground he should improve again.

“I think with that good run under his belt, with that bit more experience, I think he can improve and we’re happy with where we are.”

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