Tag Archive for: Cheltenham

Cheltenham aim for Chepstow victor Mayhem Mya

Chris Honour is looking to run Mayhem Mya at the Cheltenham Festival after she landed the odds with the minimum of fuss in the Cazoo Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow.

The five-year-old mare was sent off the 30-100 favourite on the back of a promising hurdles debut in a Listed event at Haydock in December when she was fourth to Haute D’Estime.

Honour pitched her in calmer waters to give her more experience and Mayhem Mya barely gave him an anxious moment as she despatched the opposition with ease despite the three hurdles in the straight being omitted due to the low sun.

Mayhem Mya was clear of the pack some way out and cruised home by 17 lengths from Jen’s Georgie in the hands of David Noonan and the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle now beckons.

“I was relieved she won. Being 1-3, I’ve never had that before. I’ve had a few odds-on but not that short. She’s a really nice filly,” the Devon trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“You’ve seen I pitched her in pretty high, but I was trying to run her in the race the last day as I know she’s nice and I knew she could keep up with them.

“It only had six runners. It simplified things and gave her a chance to learn. She’s learned again today. I would have preferred her to have jumped more hurdles because she needs to learn as I do think she’ll go to Cheltenham for the mares’ novice. She’s a lovely filly and the faster they go, I genuinely think the better she’ll be.”

The sun caused all five fences in the straight to be removed on both circuits for the Join The Vickers.Bet Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase but it did not stop Frenchy Du Large (11-8 favourite) continuing the good form of the Venetia Williams’ stable.

Charlie Deutsch brings Frenchy Du Large (left) with a winning run in the Join The Vickers.Bet Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Chepstow
Charlie Deutsch brings Frenchy Du Large (left) with a winning run in the Join The Vickers.Bet Club Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at Chepstow (David Davies/PA)

The grey tracked the pace-setting Eden Du Houx before setting sail for home at the omitted third-last fence under Charlie Deutsch and holding that horse, who rallied in the closing stages, by a length.

“I was happy with that. Listening to the commentator the lack of fences helped us, but I thought he jumped all right,” said Williams.

“He’s still a fraction careful. You’re better doing it that way and then in the fullness of time quickening up rather than smashing your way through.”

All the fences were jumped when Eleanor Bob (7-2) completed a double for Williams and Deutsch in the Dunraven Windows Mares’ Handicap Chase.

The seven-year-old mare was always in the front rank and stayed on determinedly to land this near three-mile heat by four and a quarter lengths from Barden Bella.

Hennessy planning Irish Champion Hurdle spin for Heaven Help Us

Connections of Coral Cup heroine Heaven Help Us have confirmed the eight-year-old will take in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle on the way to her ultimate target, the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Paul Hennessy-trained homebred daughter of Yeats caused a 33-1 shock when scoring at the Festival last March under Richard Condon.

Though beaten on her return to Prestbury Park in the International Hurdle in November, she was only a neck behind Royal Kahala in a Grade Three at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Hennessy admits he still cannot quite believe he has trained a Cheltenham Festival winner.

“What she has done for us has been absolutely amazing,” he said.

“This is all new to us. We grew up watching Cheltenham and the excitement that goes with it, but to actually go there and win is absolutely unbelievable.

“I know plenty of people who have invested a lot of money and Cheltenham is a hard place to get into. You need a good horse – but we are just blessed that this has happened for us.

“You hear people saying that Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all, but if it is not, I’d like to know what is!

“If there is a better place for racing horses than Cheltenham, I don’t know where it is.”

The dam, Spare The Air, was the only horse in Hennessy’s yard when Heaven Help Us was foaled – and she has proved by far the best of her four offspring, taking Hennessy and owner John Turner to places they could only imagine.

“Everything about her, since the day we started – when she was fifth in a really good mares’ bumper in Ballinrobe to Gypsy Island, who is a fantastic mare – has been an unbelievable roller-coaster. It has just been amazing. It has been more than a dream. It has been just wonderful,” said Hennessy.

“Right up until the last day at Leopardstown. That was a very, very good race and we are thrilled with her.

“So, I am certain she will go for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham now, as she would have to carry nearly top-weight in the Coral Cup.

“She ran very well in that graded race at Leopardstown and while the weights suited her slightly in that, I don’t think a couple of pounds either way would have made much odds.”

Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle (Niall Carson/PA)

Before that, Heaven Help Us is likely to return to the Dublin track to take on multiple Grade One winner Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle on February 6, rather than run in the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle on the same card, a race she won last year.

“We probably will go for the Irish Champion Hurdle,” confirmed Hennessy.

“She will carry top-weight in the Paddy Mullins race if she was to run in that and, giving away lumps of weight to well-handicapped mares like she was last year, would not be easy.

“She would have to battle very hard – and I’m not saying she wouldn’t have to battle in the Champion Hurdle – but while it is a proper race over two miles, it would give her a workout.

“She won the Paddy Mullins last year off 10st 5lb and she would be carrying 11st 12lb or something like that this year. So that is a different ballgame.

“We will put her in the Irish Champion Hurdle, even though Honeysuckle and all those Grade One winners are in there. It might be less taxing to run her in the better race.”

All being well, connections will continue to live the dream thereafter, with their sights firmly fixed on the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, for which she is as short as 7-1 third-favourite with Paddy Power.

“Even the thought of going to Cheltenham again is crazy,” laughed Hennessy. “We are still dreaming. It is amazing. It is like a long, good dream – I just hope someone won’t go waking us up too soon!”

Stormy Ireland likely to head straight to Cheltenham

Stormy Ireland has the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in her sights before a second career as a broodmare beckons.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was last seen winning the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, crossing the line two and a half lengths ahead of McFabulous after 9-4 favourite Brewin’upastorm crashed out at the final flight.

The victory was a fifth graded success for the mare, who had a stellar campaign last year when claiming back-to-back wins in the Grade Two Underwriting Exchange Hurdle at Fairyhouse and the Grade One Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

After finishing sixth behind Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace at Leopardstown on her first run of the season in November, Stormy Ireland was a 4-1 chance at Cheltenham when partnered by jockey Danny Mullins.

A return to Prestbury Park is very much the plan for connections, although there is a slim chance of a prep run in the Listed Warwick Mares’ Hurdle on February 12.

“She’s well after the race, I think the idea is we’re leaning towards not running her before Cheltenham,” said Will Kinsey, who snapped the bay up for £75,000 in January last year with his partners in Future Bloodstock and manages the FB Racing Club in whose name she runs.

“There’s a possibility that she might go to Warwick, but that is up in the air and probably quite unlikely.

“We were dubious when we bought her about whether the Cheltenham track actually suited her, but she ran really well.

“She clearly loved the track the other day, she handled that ground and she’s also got form on better ground.”

The Mares’ Hurdle is the target at the Cheltenham Festival, with Stormy Ireland second-favourite behind Henry de Bromhead’s Telmesomethinggirl.

“It’s really open, she’s got to be at the top of the betting really but she sometimes doesn’t get the credit she deserves we feel,” Kinsey said.

“She absolutely demolished a field of mares in the Grade One last year, it was as easy a win as you’re ever likely to see in a Grade One.

“She’s beaten the boys this time in a Grade Two and she did the same last year, so if she’s in good form I would like to think she’d go close in March.”

Stormy Ireland will ultimately be put in foal at the end of the season, but there remains a possibility she will head to Punchestown in the spring having already been covered.

Stormy Ireland winning the Grade One Mares Champion Hurdle
Stormy Ireland winning the Grade One Mares Champion Hurdle (Niall Carson/PA)

“It’s the mares’ race at Cheltenham next and then it’s just one race at a time to see where we go from there really,” said Kinsey.

“We bought her to breed from so win, lose or draw at Cheltenham, we’ll then consider going to Punchestown again, either not in foal or we’ll cover her and go there in foal.

“The options are still open and we won’t do anything before Cheltenham.

“Anything she does is a bonus now, she’s done more than we ever expected so we’re just enjoying the ride.

“If we can have some more success, that’d be great, but if not then we’ve had a nice run and if we can get some more little Stormy Irelands then we would be delighted!”

Champion Chase could tempt connections of Dunvegan

Connections of Dunvegan are considering the possibility of swerving the Grand Annual Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in favour of at tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The Pat Fahy-trained eight-year-old produced a faultless jumping performance in the hands of Bryan Cooper to land a valuable handicap over two miles and a furlong at Fairyhouse last weekend.

The nine-year-old grey’s three-and-a-quarter-length staying-on success over the Willie Mullins-trained Blackbow made it back-to-back wins at the track and owners George Turner and the Clipper Logistics Group are dreaming big.

While Dunvegan holds an entry in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase, Fahy says the ultimate goal is the Cheltenham Festival.

He said: “It was an unbelievable performance – that is the only way you can describe that.

“We have him in the Dublin Racing Festival. We will see what the ground is. If it comes up good, which it can do, that will be an option.

“We will have a chat with Joe Foley, Steve Parkin and George Turner and see what they would like to do.

“It wouldn’t bother me if he didn’t have run between now and Cheltenham. We have his measure now and I think we can get him there in top form.

“The Grand Annual is an option, of course. Maybe that is the race, I don’t know. The entries haven’t closed yet.

“He is rated 156 now and he would probably have to give a lot of weight in the Grand Annual.

“We are not panicking at the moment. We are really enjoying that win.”

Dunvegan’s jumping is a major asset and Fahy feels the horse has the right temperament for the hullabaloo of a big festival meeting.

He is as big as 100-1 for the Champion Chase with Paddy Power and as short as 40-1 with Coral, while he is a general 16-1 joint-favourite for the Grand Annual, which takes place on the same day, Wednesday, March 16.

Dunvegan returns to the winner's enclosure at Fairyhouse
Dunvegan returns to the winner’s enclosure at Fairyhouse (Gary Carson/PA)

“Everyone is telling me they like watching Dunvegan. He is a fascinating horse. He is lovely at home as well. He is a brilliant ‘lepper’ and a brave one, but he is the kindest, kindest animal.

“He is just a pet, really. A lovely animal.

“So, no, I wouldn’t be ruling out the Queen Mother. I would just love to see the horse run in it.

“It may be a way better option going for the Grand Annual, but I don’t see why he should not be in the Queen Mother.

“He would be a joy to watch in that. He has done us no harm and we’ll be able to enjoy him.

“Everything from here is jam on top and we shall hopefully see you at Cheltenham.”

Hales to persevere over fences with Millers Bank

Connections of Millers Bank will keep him over fences once he recovers from a wind operation, despite the eight-year-old unseating Harry Bannister in his last two novice chases.

The Alex Hales-trained Passing Glance gelding won twice over hurdles last season and was not beaten far when third in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle in April.

Having scored with ease on his chasing debut at Huntingdon on his return to action in October, hopes were high that he would progress at a higher level.

However, he blundered away a Grade Two novices’ chase at Newbury when looking set to score and unseated Bannister for a second time in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Hales said: “We are not going back over hurdles, but if you’d have asked me that immediately after the Cheltenham race, I think I would have said, ‘that’s a good idea’.

“If you watch the Cheltenham race, he jumps impeccably everywhere bar a trappy fourth-last – how many times have we seen it – and he just didn’t get his landing gear out. He went to save himself and Harry went out the side door.

“Newbury was a bit the same. I made a fool of myself before the race in an interview, because I said he had jumped more fences than Arkle, but he had. I don’t think, long-term, his jumping is a problem.

“He was quite a slow learner over hurdles and that is the same over fences.”

Millers Bank is convalescing after a minor wind operation and may not be seen out again until the end of February, according to his Edgcote-based handler.

“He has had a wind op,” added Hales. “We tinkered with it last year after he ran in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and he improved no end for that, so we have done exactly the same thing, and that means we won’t run for three weeks or a month.

“It may well lead us to whether or not we go to Cheltenham now. We may come up with a prep race and make Aintree our big target instead.

“It is sort of up in the air. Do we go to the Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton (February 26), then go to Aintree after that? It is a bit of a loose one and nothing is set in stone.

“Timing-wise, the Pendil is quite good.

“I suppose the only other one, if you got him back early enough – but there is the threat of soft ground – is the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown (February 1).

“He has won on heavy but you can’t get away from the fact that he was much more efficient on better ground in the spring, especially when third in the Grade One at Aintree.

“I think we have had what we call a hiccough, or a bump in the road, but I’m pretty confident about his fencing.

For Pleasure is set to head to Doncaster at the end of the month
For Pleasure is set to head to Doncaster at the end of the month (David Davies/PA)

“Plus, the problem going hurdling is that he is only a novice until May. If you start going hurdling now and you are not good enough, then next year you’ve got to run in handicap chases off an elevated mark and you are either running in big-field handicap chases or having to go to Carlisle for the Colin Parker (Memorial Intermediate Chase) or something like that.

“He is only a novice, let’s treat him as that this year.

“On another day, he’d have won a Grade Two at Newbury and he would probably have finished second to Venetia Williams’ horse at Cheltenham (L’Homme Presse) and we’d be saying he’d have had a good season.”

For Pleasure could head to Doncaster
For Pleasure could head to Doncaster (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Meanwhile, last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third, For Pleasure, who took the scalp of Grade Two Newbury novice chase winner Nassalam at Plumpton last month, will take a step up in class at Doncaster.

Hales said: “For Pleasure will go for the (Grade Two) Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster (January 29) and then we will see where we are after that. He’s in blinding form, in really good nick – we could run him tomorrow.

“We decided to space his season out a bit. Last season, bless him, he had nine runs before he ran in the Supreme and we are giving him a bit of an easier time this year. Ultimately, I’d like to end up at Aintree with him. We will probably have to take in Cheltenham as well.”

All going well for Shan Blue and Ryanair bid

Classy chaser Shan Blue will head straight to the Ryanair Chase after recovering from injury, according to trainer Dan Skelton.

The Colm Donlon-owned eight-year-old has been sidelined since taking a heavy fall when clear in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in October.

A Grade One-winning novice last season, he suffered a neck injury on that seasonal bow and his Alcester-based trainer feels a prep run before the Cheltenham Festival may be out of the equation.

Shan Blue is currently a 12-1 chance with Sky Bet for the Ryanair Chase on March 17.

Skelton said: “His recovery is going really good. I spoke to his owner, Colm, and we are all set and aiming for the Ryanair Chase.

“I don’t think we will be able to get a run into him beforehand.

“There was an outside chance we might get to the Ascot Chase (February 19), but I’ve always said that is a very outside chance.

“He has had plenty of time. We are that far along along with him, so we will just try to keep doing the right thing. We are happy with him and all is good.”

Meanwhile, dual Grade Two-winning novice chaser Third Time Lucki, who saw his colours lowered by Edwardstone in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown, is set to run at Warwick next month.

Skelton confirmed the Mike Newbould-owned seven-year-old, who got bogged down in the tacky ground at Sandown and finished a distant third on his Grade One debut, is still on course for Arkle, for which he is as short at 14-1 with William Hill.

He is set to have one more run beforehand and Skelton confirmed: “I think the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick (February 12) is probable for Third Time Lucki.

“I have yet to confirm with Mike exactly what we’ll do in the spring, but I think we will go Kingmaker and then the Arkle.”

Lavelle content with revised mark for Wincanton winner Killer Clown

It is not often a trainer is satisfied with revised handicap marks, but Emma Lavelle insists she is “happy” Killer Clown has been given a fighting chance after his wide-margin win at Wincanton on Saturday.

The eight-year-old gained the second chasing success of his career when landing a Class 2 handicap by nine and a half lengths under Tom Bellamy.

The Tim Syder-owned gelding is now up to a revised mark of 142, although any thoughts of a trip to the Cheltenham Festival are on the back burner for now.

Lavelle said: “Killer Clown went up 7lb which is fair enough and he seems to have come out of the race well, so that’s great.

“If he was very bright, we might look at Ascot (bet365 Handicap Chase on Saturday week), but at this stage I’m happy with where we are rating-wise and we will make some decisions in the next week.

“There is no point going to the well too often at this time of year.”

Although Killer Clown has taken time to blossom, the Ogbourne Maizey handler has always thought a lot of him and the key to his improved form has been the addition of a tongue tie.

Lavelle added: “He is a smasher, he really is. He has run well, but had not gone on as much as we had hoped and I think the tongue tie has made a big difference to him, because he definitely saw his race out well.

“He didn’t have to do too much on Saturday, but he did gallop out to the line and certainly on his work at home, it seems to have made difference to him.”

However, long-term targets may not include a trip to Prestbury Park.

“There are some nice two-and-a-half-mile handicaps in the spring, with some nice prizes to go with it. I don’t know that Cheltenham would be the right sort of place to go with him,” she added.

“As for Aintree, you are struggling on the Mildmay track for two-and-a-half-mile races with him and then you finish up looking at the Topham or something. I don’t know – we’ll see. There are options out there.”

Paisley Park will bid for a third Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham
Paisley Park will bid for a third Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

Meanwhile, Lavelle is hoping the recent rain persists for former Stayers’ Hurdle winner Paisley Park, who is set to return to Cheltenham on Trials Day.

Having finished third in each of his three starts this season, Paisley Park is on course for an attempt to win the Grade Two Cleeve Hurdle for a third time, after victories in 2019 and 2020.

“Touch wood he is in great order and the Cleeve Hurdle is very much the plan,” confirmed Lavelle.

“He is on target for that and we are looking forward to it. Hopefully for him, anyway, the rain keeps coming, as that is what he needs – that proper test.”

Any plans to belatedly send the Andrew Gemmell-owned 10-year-old over fences were scuppered by a dry autumn and if all goes well, the Stayers’ Hurdle, which he won in 2019, is still the primary goal.

“I can’t say I’m that disappointed we are still over hurdles,” she added.

“I think that it was an option to go over fences and his run in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot was a good one on ground that really didn’t suit, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him run on proper soft ground and see where we are with him.”

Cheltenham and Doncaster possibilities for Hillcrest

Connections of the huge Hillcrest are eyeing either a return to Cheltenham for the Classic Novices’ Hurdle on Trials Day on January 29 or the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster on the same day for his next run.

Having made light work of his opposition in a Listed contest at the Prestbury Park track on New Year’s Day, trainer Henry Daly is conscious that he does not ask too much of the seven-year-old, who is unbeaten in three novice hurdles this season.

The massive horse – nicknamed Rodney – earned Cheltenham Festival quotes after seeing off Nicky Henderson’s highly-touted I Am Maximus in the extended two-and-a-half-mile Listed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

“Hillcrest is absolutely fine after the race – no problem at all,” said Daly. “What he is going to do next is a very leading question.

“There is an ongoing debate as to what the next plan is. There is the race at Cheltenham on the 29th, similar to the race he ran in the other day, a two-and-a-half-mile Listed race. There is also the same race on the same day – the River Don, a three-mile novice hurdle.

“Quite honestly, it is a bit of a toss-up and there is also the possibility of not running in either of those races.

“He wants nice ground. Good to soft would be fine. He won his bumper in good to soft at Doncaster and handles it perfectly well. It is not an issue. It was the same at Aintree first time this year.

“He is a big boy and like most of those, they don’t take a whole lot of hammer, so we are very conscious of that and we are trying to do the best thing without making a balls of it, really. Such is a trainer’s lot!”

Hillcrest, who runs in the colours of the late British billionaire Trevor Hemmings, stands at 18 hands (around 6ft to the shoulder), and barely came out of a canter at Cheltenham last time.

That win earned him quotes of 16-1 for both the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with Coral but Daly says he is not leaning one way or the other.

He admitted: “I keep being told to think ‘Cheltenham’ for him. It is an interesting conundrum, being told to think things.

“It is pretty obvious the Festival has to be on the radar, doesn’t it? But it is not the be-all and end-all.

“When you start leaning, you tend to fall. Therefore it is better to be vertical and keep it that way.”

Cross-country star Easysland switched to Jonjo O’Neill’s yard

Connections are hopeful Easysland will be able to bid to regain his Glenfarclas Chase crown at Cheltenham after it was revealed the eight-year-old has recovered from injury and joined Jonjo O’Neill’s stable.

Easysland was trained in France by David Cottin when he defeated dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll by 17 lengths at the 2020 Festival. He has been beaten in both his runs since, including the cross-country event last year when Tiger Roll took his revenge.

However, Easysland suffered a setback while on his summer break at his owner JP McManus’ Martinstown Stud in County Limerick and has recently moved to O’Neill’s base at Jackdaws Castle.

“He hasn’t been in France since he ran last. He’s gone over to Jonjo’s from Martinstown. He’s got good facilities and hopefully, if he can keep him sound, he’ll get to the cross country,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“We’ll try to get a race into him before Cheltenham if it’s possible. He’s only been over at Jonjo’s a couple of weeks.

“He had plenty of issues, but he’s sound now and it’s a case of keeping him sound. Hopefully he’ll get there with a bit of luck.”

The McManus team are awaiting the arrival of another French import Prengarde, who has been bought out of Guillaume Macaire and Hector de Lageneste’s yard to join Enda Bolger in Co. Limerick.

The six-year-old has been quoted as low as 4-1 for the cross country at the Festival but as yet connections have not mapped out a programme.

“I can’t tell you much about him. He’ll be on his way from France and is going to Enda Bolger, but I can’t say what the plans are because we haven’t got him on board yet,” said Berry.

“We are waiting for him, and he’s only turned six, so we have no plans at the minute. We will see how he settles in and how everything goes.”

Prengarde has won his last five races over fences, all at Compiegne, culminating in a Listed contest on his latest start in November.

Diesel to take direct Festival route

Connections of cross-country star Diesel D’Allier will skip a prep run and head straight to the Cheltenham Festival.

The Richard Bandey-trained eight-year-old stepped up on a narrow third over three and three-quarter miles at Cheltenham in November with victory off the same mark over course and distance in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Handicap Chase last month.

Diesel D’Allier is a general 16-1 chance for the Glenfarclas Chase on day two of the Festival meeting on Wednesday, March 16.

Bandey said: “He is in good form and we were toying with the idea of trying him in a novice hurdle or a hurdle between now and Cheltenham, but we have decided to leave that and go straight to Cheltenham.

“He is out messing about in the paddock. We are just going to play around with him for five or six weeks. Then step him back up again.

“I would like to see him going back there in the sort of form he was in November. He seemed to jump a bit better that day, but I think he will want a bit of soft ground – and hope we don’t come up against a Tiger Roll or something like that!

“I think he is best to keep him fresh – let’s go there as a fresh horse on the back of a win.

“After Cheltenham we can look at where we go next. We might go to Ireland with him, or we can go to France, or we can bring him back next year and utilise the novice hurdle route.

“I wouldn’t want to keep going to the well too often with him.”

Adagio back in training after minor setback

David Pipe hopes to get Adagio fit and firing in time for the Champion Hurdle after revealing the just-turned five-year-old has resumed training following a setback.

Winner of the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow last season, Pipe’s charge went on to fill the runner-up position in the Triumph Hurdle and the 4-Y-O Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree in the spring.

Having made a promising seasonal return when beaten three-quarters of a length by West Cork in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, he missed an engagement in the International Hurdle after suffering a minor setback.

Adagio, as short as 16-1 with Bet365 and as big as 33-1 with BetVictor and Paddy Power for the Champion Hurdle, is on the way back, however.

Pipe said: “He has only just started cantering so plans are on hold at the present moment. He just pulled a muscle.

“We are still aiming for the Champion Hurdle, but we would like to get a run in beforehand.

“It isn’t easy trying to find a race for him, as he is only eligible for the Kingwell Hurdle (at Wincanton on February 19) or the Betfair Hurdle (at Newbury on February 7) or races like that, so he has not got too many options.”

Pipe is also mulling over where to go with Sidi Ismael, who extended his unbeaten run over fences in the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen over the Christmas period.

The eight-year-old won on his stable debut over hurdles in November for owners, The Show Is Over Syndicate.

Sidi Ismael followed up at Wetherby before outstaying nine rivals over an extended three miles and three furlongs at Market Rasen in stamina-sapping ground.

Pipe said: “We will possibly look at the Midlands National, or go to Catterick for a three-mile-six-furlong handicap chase. He is still a novice as well.

“He is certainly going the right way and is owned by an enthusiastic bunch of guys who are based in Ireland, Liverpool and all over the place. He is progressing and seems to stay very well.”

McConnell eyeing Musselburgh date for Bardenstown Lad

Bardenstown Lad could return to action at Musselburgh next month after being given a break by trainer John McConnell following his victory at Cheltenham in October.

The County Meath handler is eyeing the Scottish Stayers’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Edinburgh venue on February 5 for his promising seven-year-old.

Bardenstown Lad took his tally to three wins from four starts over the smaller obstacles – and four in six under Rules – when making his stamina tell over three miles at Prestbury Park.

“He had a little break after Cheltenham,” said McConnell.

“He’s back in training now and there’s a good chance he might come over for the Cheltenham Trials weekend.

“I think there’s a stayers’ novice hurdle for him.”

McConnell operates at a healthy 27 per cent strike-rate at the Scottish venue currently.

Cheltenham run not completely dismissed for Stage Star

Connections of Stage Star have not ruled out the possibility of heading to the Cheltenham Festival, despite trainer Paul Nicholls initially expressing his reservations.

Stage Star was trimmed by Paddy Power to 8-1 (from 20) for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle after powering to a six-and-a-half-length victory over West Balboa in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury last week.

Having taken his unbeaten run to three over hurdles, Nicholls felt that Stage Star could bypass Cheltenham and head to Aintree, saying: “I’m not afraid to wait for Aintree with him. The most exciting thing about this horse was when he started jumping fences last year, as Bravemansgame did, and hopefully we will follow the same route.”

However, Dan Downie, racing manager to the Owners Group partnership to whom the horse belongs, admits the door remains open.

He said: “It was a really good performance. He is very exciting. We obviously really always liked him, but they need to prove it on the track and we were delighted with his display at Newbury – he was very impressive.

“I think Paul wants to go down the Bravemansgame route with him. It looks like that and makes perfect sense.

“He has taken the race well and we are delighted with him. It will be a case of assessing and seeing what the entries are at Cheltenham.

“Paul has said he would not be keen to go to Cheltenham with him, unless he really felt he was going to be very competitive. We have to see what the Irish send, and so on.

“There is an outside possibility he will go there and he’ll have an entry, I’m sure.

“That will likely be in the two-miles-and-five-furlongs Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, I’d imagine, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I don’t think he is short of pace, but that is something Paul would need to think about.”

After his clear-cut Newbury success, Coral chopped Stage Star from 16-1 to 8-1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and he is 14-1 with the same firm for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and 25-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Downie added: “I’d say it is unlikely he will go for the three-mile race (Albert Bartlett), but it wouldn’t come as a total shock if he gave him an entry in the two-mile Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as well. But it will be a case of seeing nearer the time.

“When they are talented like that, it is sometimes difficult because they are probably good over various trips because their class gets them through.”

Downie feels that Stage Star has the potential to become the best horse the highly successful Owners Group syndicates have owned.

Pentland Hills was a dual Grade One-winning hurdler for the Owners Group
Pentland Hills was a dual Grade One-winning hurdler for the Owners Group (David Davies/PA)

He added: “Pentland Hills, who won the Triumph Hurdle and the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree, was very good, but Stage Star, you’d think in terms of longevity and terms of being a future chaser, is potentially more exciting.

“You just don’t know, but after Pentland Hills, he is the only other Grade One winner and we’re looking forward to some more great days with him.”

Honeysuckle on course for Irish Champion Hurdle

Unbeaten Honeysuckle is on course for an Irish Champion Hurdle hat-trick bid at the Dublin Racing Festival next month, connections have confirmed.

The brilliant mare won last year’s renewal by 10 lengths before going on to justify favouritism in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

She made it 13 wins from 13 starts when seeing off Ronald Pump in the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November and, just as she did last season, was kept under wraps over the Christmas period before appearing at Leopardstown in February.

Her trainer, Henry De Bromhead, had a quiet spell over Christmas, recording just four winners from 74 runners in the last two weeks.

However, the Kenny Alexander-owned mare’s racing manager, Peter Molony, is not unduly worried but the stable’s form.

Molony said: “There is no cause for concern on that score.

“Henry decided to ease off her a bit after her last run. Everything is under control and she is on course for the Irish Champion at Leopardstown in early February.”

Honeysuckle is odds-on with most firms to retain her Champion Hurdle crown on March 15.

Cotswold date key to Santini’s Gold Cup hopes

Polly Gundry is to test Santini’s claims for the Cheltenham Gold Cup by running him in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at the Prestbury Park venue later this month.

The 10-year-old is no stranger to either race, winning the Cotswold in 2020 before finishing a neck second to Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup.

Santini was trained by Nicky Henderson then but has been moved to Gundry’s stable in Devon and made his debut for the yard when fourth to Commodore in a handicap chase at Cheltenham last month.

“We’ve entered him in the Gold Cup, but he will aim for the Cotswold Chase first and if he runs well there then we will go for the Gold Cup,” said Gundry.

“We knew he was a bit short (of fitness) and he was going OK until Venetia Williams’ horse (Commodore) quickened and we tried to go with it, but he has come on for that run.

“He was just a bit too burly last time but if we can get him leaner and if he gets a bit of luck in running, he could go well.

“There were a few other options but Richard (Kelvin-Hughes, owner) wasn’t keen on going back in a handicap and he has run some good races around Cheltenham, so we saw no reason why not to go back.

“It is a great honour to have him as he is the most gorgeous horse and is a real gentle giant. He has been very well looked after by Nicky Henderson.”