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Make A Challenge primed for Woodlands mission

Make A Challenge will bid to provide trainer Denis Hogan with back-to-back victories in the Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital Woodlands Stakes at Naas on Monday.

The County Tipperary handler landed the Listed prize with the top-class Sceptical 12 months ago, who went on to finish third in the Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot and runner-up in the July Cup at Newmarket before suffering a fatal injury.

Make A Challenge counts five Listed triumphs among his 10 career victories and made a promising start to the new campaign when third behind the reopposing Laugh A Minute at Cork three weeks ago.

Hogan said: “He had a good prep run in Cork and dropping back to five furlongs from six will be good for him.

“He has actually only run in Naas once, winning the Sole Power Stakes on his first run back last year on good to yielding ground, so five furlongs up in Naas is probably ideal for him. Any bit of rain would be appreciated.

“I suppose there’s a few young guns coming along to take him on now, but he’s in good nick.”

Ado McGuinness saddles both Laugh A Minute and Harry’s Bar.

Laugh A Minute was ultimately a decisive winner at Cork, while Harry’s Bar makes his first start on turf since moving from James Fanshawe’s yard last autumn.

“I’m very happy with both horses,” said McGuinness.

“Laugh A Minute was impressive in Cork and I’m just hoping he can keep that form. I see no reason why he can’t and even go forward.

“At the five mark in Cork, he had them all well stuffed as well. I’m not saying he’s an out-and-out five-furlong horse, but it’s a stiff five in Naas which will be a big help to him.

“Harry’s Bar just got caught wide in Lingfield last time and then the other horse pushed him wider. He lost three or four lengths and to me he was the best horse in the race.

“The big question is will he go on the grass. I think he will. We have Royal Ascot as the target for him in the longer term, but what race we’ll go for there, I don’t know.”

Johnny Murtagh’s Urban Beat and Aidan O’Brien’s pair of Chief Little Hawk and Swiss Ace also feature in an 11-strong field.

Zoffanien sets up Cheltenham run with Naas victory

Zoffanien is bound for the Cheltenham Festival following a runaway victory at Naas on Sunday.

Having been placed on four of his previous five starts over obstacles for Denis Hogan, the French import was the 6-4 favourite to open his account as he stepped into handicap company for the first time.

A week on from stealing the headlines with a remarkable riding performance aboard the Hogan-trained Young Dev at Navan, conditional jockey Hugh Morgan enjoyed a far more straightforward time in the Paddy Power Road To Cheltenham Handicap Hurdle.

Always travelling strongly, Zoffanien moved to the front between the final two flights before pulling nine lengths clear on the run-in – a performance which prompted Paddy Power to slash his odds for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham to 12-1 from 20-1.

Hogan said: “He did it nicely and to be fair he’s run into one or two (good horses). He got a few pounds for finishing second the last day, so we said that we’d claim the 5lb and Hugh did us no wrong last weekend in the same colours. We gave him irons today!

“He’ll probably go for the Fred Winter (Boodles) now, and he’d no business going for it if he didn’t win today. Hopefully he comes out of that OK and gets there in one piece. He handles soft ground and he stays well.”

Joseph O’Brien and JJ Slevin combined to land the most valuable race of the afternoon – the 40,000 euros Paddy Power ‘From The Horse’s Mouth’ Podcast Novice Handicap Chase.

Despite the burden of top-weight, 5-1 shot Home By The Lee proved 10 lengths too strong for 11-4 favourite Enjoy D’allen.

Home By The Lee was a wide-margin winner
Home By The Lee was a wide-margin winner (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s a very excitable horse at home and got very wound up at Leopardstown last time. He was very relaxed in the paddock today and went down last lovely and relaxed,” said O’Brien’s assistant Brendan Powell.

“He jumps and he stays. You think he’s beat a long way out, but he comes there and he tries. He’s an honest horse.

“It’s nice to get his head in front again. I’m sure there is plenty for him at Fairyhouse and Punchestown.”

Egality Mans was one of three winners on the card for Willie Mullins
Egality Mans was one of three winners on the card for Willie Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

Egality Mans (8-11 favourite) completed a treble on the card for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with victory in division one of the Paddy Power Livestream UK & Irish Racing On The App Maiden Hurdle.

The champion trainer and jockey had earlier successfully combined with Cilaos Emery and Echoes In Rain for graded race success.

Mullins said of Egality Mans: “As you can see, he looks like a horse that wants to go chasing sooner rather than later, but we’ll let him finish out the season novice hurdling.

“He definitely needs a fence. He’s the build of a chaser and jumps like one. We’ll probably head to Fairyhouse.”

Mullins and Townend were widely expected to make it four from four on the day in division two, but 4-5 favourite Micro Manage was too keen for his own good in front and was mowed down on the run-in by Enda Bolger’s Genois (100-30), with Mark Walsh the winning rider.

“He’s a nice horse and the nicer ground today was a help,” said Bolger.

“He’ll get further as well, so hopefully we’ll find something for him in the next month or so and end up going to Punchestown for a race.

“He’s a chaser down the line and I’m chuffed with that.”

Light Brigade (4-1) won the Paddy’s Rewards Club Handicap Hurdle for trainer Charles Byrnes and jockey Kevin Brouder, while Gerri Colombe (1-2 favourite) won the closing Paddy Power (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race.

Paddy delivers for returning Hogan

Denis Hogan came out of retirement to steer Paddy The Wire to victory in the concluding bumper at Catterick.

The County Tipperary handler announced he was giving up riding after enjoying Galway Festival success aboard Bua Boy at the end of July, in a bid to concentrate on his upwardly mobile training career.

However, Hogan made a surprise return to the saddle at Ayr on Monday when finishing second on Grozni, and extended his stay in Britain by 24 hours to partner Paddy The Wire in the Racing Again 28th December Intermediate Open NH Flat Race in North Yorkshire.

Fourth on his bumper debut at Limerick last month, the 4-1 shot received a patient ride from his trainer before making good headway after the home turn – and he got up late in the day to beat Risk D’Argent by half a length.

Hogan, who has made his mark in the training ranks with the likes of smart sprinters Sceptical and Make A Challenge, said: “I think a lot of people were surprised to see me jocked up at Ayr yesterday and Catterick today, and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

“I suppose I’ve missed riding. Since I stopped I’ve been doing a lot of running and keeping fit, and for the last couple of years riding has been more of a hobby for me than anything anyway. Training has been number one, and getting on board one or two was a bonus.

“I still have my licence and I just thought ‘you know what, they’re two bumpers and I’m riding two lots a day, why not have a go?’ If nothing else it keeps my head right, and I find it gives me an extra insight to how they’re going being able to sit on them.”

Hogan has not ruled out riding again, adding: “There’s a chance I might ride one or two over Christmas – and whether I’ll renew my licence next year or not, we’ll see.

“We have a lot more Flat horses than jumpers these days. But of the jumpers that are there, there’s a couple of new ones that could be exciting, so we’ll play it by ear.

“I wouldn’t be able to do this without having a super team around me. I only came over to ride because with a negative (Covid-19) test you now only need to isolate for five days when you go back to Ireland.”

Moyhenna bidding for change of luck in Troytown

Denis Hogan is hoping Moyhenna can gain reward in the Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan after two game but luckless efforts this autumn.

The eight-year-old mare just failed by a nose to catch Cabaret Queen in the Kerry National at Listowel, and was fourth in the Munster National at Limerick – where conditions did not suit.

Her efforts in those two competitive staying handicaps have not gone unnoticed by the handicapper, who has raised her 4lb. In response, Hogan has booked 7lb claimer Shane Mulcahy for the ride on Sunday.

“She had her comeback run at Ballinrobe, improved and went to the Kerry National – and we were very unlucky there – but she ran a massive race and hopefully she can reproduce that.” said the County Tipperary trainer.

“We’ve decided to claim 7lb off her, because she got put up 4lb for her run in the Kerry. It brings us more into it, and Shane has been riding very well and knows her very well. With his claim into account, she should have a squeak.”

Hogan would like the ground to be on the soft side to help Moyhenna’s cause.

“She ran a very good race in the Munster National, but we had no luck with the ground. It dried out a bit too much,” he said.

“We needed it a bit softer, and they missed out a fence after a faller, and Donagh (Meyler) said we could have done with that fence being in all the time.

“Hopefully the forecast is right, and she’ll put up a good show.”

Owner JP McManus throws five darts at the prize – Fitzhenry, Scoir Mear, Portmore Lough, Minella Till Dawn and Triplicate.

His racing manager Frank Berry summed up their chances.

“Fitzhenry ran well in the race last year and he had a nice run over hurdles at Tipperary, so he should strip a bit fitter. It’s a competitive race, but we’re hoping for a good run,” he said.

“Scoir Mear won nicely at Wexford. He won’t mind the ground and he’s in good form.

“Portmore Lough was a little unlucky in the Munster National. He’s gone up a few pounds, but it’s an open race. John Kiely (trainer) is happy with him, and we’re hoping for a good run.

“It is Minella Till Dawn’s first run back. Hopefully he will come on and improve. He needs to.

“Triplicate needs to improve, but (trainer) Joseph (O’Brien) is happy with him and says he’s improved since Galway – so we hope he’ll run a nice race.”

Matthew Smith is looking forward to giving Ronald Pump his first run of the season in the Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle.

The smart dual-purpose performer was last seen finishing second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“He’s ready to start back,” said Smith.

“He ran a cracker at Cheltenham. We were delighted with him and we’re going to stick to the hurdles for the minute.

“It’s a nice starting point, a decent-looking race. He’ll probably come on for the run, but he’s in good form and he’s ready to go.”

The McManus team are doubly represented with the Gordon Elliott-trained Sire Du Berlais and Tower Bridge, from O’Brien’s stable.

“Gordon is happy with Sire Du Berlais,” said Berry.

“He’s in good form, but it’s his first run back. We’re hoping he’ll run a nice race.

“It’s nice to get him started.”

This is very much a confidence mission for Grade One-winning novice hurdler Tower Bridge, after he was pulled up on his last two runs over fences.

“He hasn’t been the luckiest over fences and he had a few little issues there and a bit of bad luck,” added Berry.
“He looks out of his depth but hopefully it will give him a bit of confidence.”

Pat Fahy sees the Grade Two Tote Fortria Chase as a good starting point for Castlegrace Paddy, despite the presence of Ryanair Chase third A Plus Tard.

The nine-year-old makes his seasonal debut at the scene of his course-and-distance victory in the Grade Two Webster Cup Chase in March.

“It’s a tough task with A Plus Tard in the race,” said County Carlow trainer Fahy.

“It’s his first run of the season. There’ll be plenty of improvement to come.

“He’s in tremendous form. Bryan Cooper worked him the other day and he loved him. We’re going there very happy.

“It’s a lovely starting point, a lovely track with lovely fences – and top man on board.”

Hogan disappointed with Challenge’s Abbaye run

Denis Hogan will monitor Make A Challenge over the next week before deciding whether to commit the smart sprinter to one of two possible objectives.

The County Tipperary trainer was disappointed with the Invincible Spirit gelding’s run in the Prix de l’Abbaye at ParisLongchamp where he finished eighth of 11 behind Wooded.

He will only consider running him in the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot on Saturday week, or the Listed Waterford Testimonial Stakes at the Curragh two days earlier, if the horse gives him the right signals.

“He was a bit disappointing, I suppose. The travel seemed to take a bit out of him on the day,” said Hogan.

“He was very quiet in the preliminaries and I thought he ran a bit flat in the race even though I thought he travelled well to halfway, but he just didn’t pick up.

“It was definitely an off-day. Hopefully we can draw a line through it. I just think the travel took the edge off him.

“He’s still in on Champions Day at Ascot. That’s a possibility but he’s had a busy-enough season. We’ll see how he is. Only if he is fresh and well will he go to Ascot.

“It’s a short turnaround – only two weeks. He needs to recover well this week and we’ll monitor him.

“The other option at home is the Listed race he won last year at the Curragh – the Waterford Testimonial. It will all depend on how he is next week.”

Abbaye glory the Challenge for well-travelled Doyle

Jockey Joe Doyle and Make A Challenge have both travelled the long road to Paris in search of Group One glory in the Prix de l’Abbaye on Sunday.

From a family steeped in racing, County Tipperary native Doyle enjoyed success in the pony-riding circuit before graduating to the track to ride his first winner on Inis Meain for Denis Hogan in an apprentice handicap at Leopardstown in July 2012.

After an apprenticeship with Charlie Swan, Doyle followed the well-worn path to Britain and, although it brought success in the form of riding out his claim with over 100 winners, challenges were also presented.

Joe Doyle pictured at Newmarket during his British spell
Joe Doyle pictured at Newmarket during his British spell (Steve Parsons/PA)

The 24-year-old explained: “It was kind of always the plan for me that when I had my Leaving Cert finished, I would go to England. There’s a lot more racing and it would appear that the lads go over and they do very well.

“I was very fortunate, I had two good bosses (John Quinn and Kevin Ryan) and rode lots of winners. I got a lot of experience out there and it is standing to me now.

“I finished off in England after not a bad season where I think I had 22-odd winners. I found it quite difficult to settle into England and the lifestyle over there. It’s tough to explain, but it’s a different life over there.

“I did light weights the whole way through my claim, but the last season was really tough. I was heavy and I was struggling with my mental health. It all became a bit much, so I decided to come home at the end of 2017 and that’s when I started back working for Denis, just riding out for a year.”

Make A Challenge after his victory in the Midsummer Sprint Stakes at the Curragh
Make A Challenge after his victory in the Midsummer Sprint Stakes at the Curragh (Alan Magee/PA)

It was a six-month stint after this for breeze-up consignor Niall Brennan in America that helped to reignite the racing spark in Doyle.

He said: “Niall’s originally a Kildare man. I said I would have a go and I went over just riding out – cantering horses, breezing horses and I absolutely loved it. The weight started to fall off me over there because it was so hot (in Florida) and I was riding so many horses out every day.

“Niall has his own private track, so I was working there every day and then when the sales were coming up, he would send me down to Gulfstream and Miami to breeze the horses, which was an amazing experience because you are on the racecourse proper.

“I had to come home when my visa was up. As soon as I landed, I went straight back working for Denis. He asked me to take the licence out and I felt confident – my weight was good and I felt strong from riding 12 or 14 horses out a day in America.”

Hogan teamed Doyle up with Make A Challenge in a seven-furlong handicap at last year’s Galway Festival. The horse was a £6,500 Godolphin-bred cast-off rated 73 with a history of stalls issues and one previous victory for Hogan, but the pair held on by a nose and the improvement since has been nothing short of extraordinary.

“It was magic really. I never thought I would ride a Galway Festival winner after I left for England and obviously the journey that has gone on since,” said Doyle.

It has certainly been an odyssey for the five-year-old son of Invincible Spirit, who has rocketed up the ratings to a mark of 111 after eight more victories, including five at Listed level.

Doyle, who has won eight times on the horse who has rejuvenated his career, travels to Paris for a date with destiny with last year’s Abbaye heroine Glass Slippers.

Make A Challenge’s price is contracting as all-conquering sprint-king Battaash has been scratched from the field due to attritional ground in the forecast for ParisLongchamp.

Make A Challenge was behind Glass Slippers on Irish Champions Weekend
Make A Challenge was behind Glass Slippers on Irish Champions Weekend (PA)

Doyle, seeking his first Group One, said: “By the sound of things, it is going to be plenty testing. Our lad would love it to be up to his knees – he’s absolutely exceptional on very soft ground. I don’t think I would swap my lad for anything else in the race if it turns up to be very testing.

“I think he has come on from the last day – perhaps he was getting it a little easy at Listed level and I think the last day (when fifth in a Group One at the Curragh behind Glass Slippers) just sharpened him up. He’s going to have to be sharp – take nothing for granted, it is a massive task in front of him.

“The horse is in savage order and, if things go right for us, he could run an absolutely massive race. We knew he was a good horse, but heading for Group One sprints is unbelievable. Credit to Denis and the lads in the yard as the horse has come a long way.

“I think part of the whole thing is that he could have been anyone’s horse really. He was handy money and we are so fortunate to have a horse that good. It’s only really the start – we are only getting to know how good he is.

“I was there two years ago in the stands when Enable won her second Arc, so it will be nice to be in the weighing room this time.”

Abbaye aim for Make A Challenge

An outing in the Prix de l’Abbaye is next on the agenda for Make A Challenge following a creditable effort in defeat in the Flying Five at the Curragh.

The five-year-old won four of his first six starts this season, earning himself a second shot at Group One glory on the second day of Irish Champions Weekend.

While the Invincible Spirit gelding came up a little short – beaten two lengths into fifth place – trainer Denis Hogan feels there are reasons to be optimistic ahead of a likely appearance in Paris on Arc day next month.

“We were very happy with the horse. He raced out on his own for most of the race and the drying ground probably didn’t help, but I think the main thing was he was drawn away from them and the race got away on him a little bit,” said Hogan.

“We were delighted with the run really and all being well, we’ll go straight for the Abbaye – you’d like to think we’ll get a bit of cut in the ground at Longchamp.

“He’s also in the Qipco British Champions Sprint at Ascot over six furlongs, but the Abbaye is the plan at the moment.”