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Dreal Deal fuels McNally’s Festival dream

Ronan McNally is dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory with Dreal Deal following his latest triumph at Punchestown.

The six-year-old was rated just 84 when his winning sequence began at Navan in September, since when his progress has been nothing short of remarkable.

After successfully reverting to the Flat with back-to-back wins in October, Dreal Deal has won three more races over hurdles – completing his six-timer with a Grade Two success in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

“Sunday was an amazing day – we really enjoyed it. Hopefully there are even better things to come,” McNally said.

“We did think he was a good horse when we bought him. The fellow that advised me to buy him thought he was the best horse he’d ever had through his hands.

“It’s well documented we’ve had aspergillus, and he never really had a chance to show his best because of that.

“Now he’s got his health, he’s definitely some machine.”

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McNally confirmed his stable star will head straight to Cheltenham in March, for either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore.

While the County Armagh-based trainer considers the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It and Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger as formidable rivals, he is confident his stable star has not yet reached the ceiling of his ability.

He added: “He’s in the Supreme and the Ballymore. I need to sit down with Denis (O’Regan) and work out which race would be best for him.

“He’s won over two-mile-six (furlongs), so we know he stays. He’s won over a mile and a furlong on the Flat and has won a Grade Two over hurdles over two miles, so it’s just trying to work out what the best option for him is.

“The stand-out horse for me this year has been Appreciate It. To me, he has been head and shoulders above anything I’ve seen this season in the novice department.

“The handicapper has us around 7lb behind him, so we have a bit of catching up to do, but there’s nothing to say we can’t make up 7lb.

“Bob Olinger is another stand-out, and I think he’s going for the Ballymore. They look the two stand-out novices, but I’d say we’re not a million miles behind them.”

Ronan McNally (left) with Dreal Deal
Ronan McNally (left) with Dreal Deal (PA)

McNally reiterated his belief that Dreal Deal was not at his best despite winning on Sunday, adding: “The day I was meant to go to Ascot with The Jam Man just before Christmas, I had ridden Dreal Deal in the morning and he didn’t sound great on the gallop. I ended up scoping all the horses, and the only one that scoped well was The Jam Man.

“I gave them all an easy week, and then over Christmas we had a bit of frost. Dreal Deal wasn’t eating great at the time, and his coat was a bit dry looking, so nothing really was going to plan.

“With the preparation that he had, it was hard to believe that he’d go and beat all the big guns in a Grade Two. I think it’s testament to how good the horse could possibly be that he did win.

“I actually think he’s come out of the race better than he went into it, which might sound a bit bizarre. He only lost six kilograms, which is less than a horse might lose after a day’s galloping.

“He could be anything, which is an exciting prospect.”

Dreal Deal (centre) powered home in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle
Dreal Deal (centre) powered home in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (PA)

McNally has previously stated his desire to have a leading owner like JP McManus in his yard, but as yet he has received no concrete offers for Dreal Deal.

He said: “There was an enquiry after the race, with someone asking if he might be for sale. I said I was open to listen to offers, but there hasn’t been anything firm.

“There’s no panic either way. He does look a good enough horse now for some of those bigger owners, but we’ll just see how things unfold.

“He’s an exciting horse for us to go to war with ourselves if nobody is interested.”

Dreal Deal continues progression with famous success

Dreal Deal continued his remarkable winning sequence as he sprang a shock on his first attempt at Grade Two level with victory in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Ronan McNally’s six-year-old drifted in the market and was sent off an unconsidered 22-1 shot at Punchestown to post his sixth successive victory, over hurdles and on the Flat.

But after being held up last early on in the two-mile contest, he surged from well off the pace to lead just after the final flight and prevail by a decisive three lengths from the Willie Mullins-trained Ganapathi, under Denis O’Regan.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-4 favourite Magic Tricks came under pressure leaving the back straight and was eventually last of six finishers.

Dreal Deal’s progress through the ranks has been astounding this season.

The former maiden point-to-pointer began it as an apparently exposed performer, without a victory in 11 attempts under both codes, yet is since unbeaten – having broken his duck over hurdles from a handicap rating of 84 at Navan in September and won here at level weights from a field full of the big yards’ most promising novices.

McNally now has his sights on Cheltenham and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

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He said: “He won’t be going to the Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown and will probably go to Cheltenham now. I think he’s entitled to go there now.

Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory
Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory (PA)

“If we have to go for a lesser race in between, we will do that, and if not it will be straight to Cheltenham.

“He will probably go for the Supreme, but he will be entered in the Ballymore as well. That was the dream, but he had to go and do that today.

“He’s done it now – so we can dream!”

The victory was made all the more remarkable because Armagh-based McNally revealed the build-up had been far from ideal.

He said: “We had a poor preparation, because he got a stone bruise during the week and that’s why he didn’t go to Fairyhouse (on Tuesday).

“All my horses were a wee bit off around Christmas, so they got a week off – and then with the frost, they missed work as well, so to be honest he’d done no galloping.

“Also his coat wasn’t great the last couple of weeks, and he hasn’t eaten as well he could. Nothing really was clicking, but we needed to get a run into him, and I knew anything he did today that he’d go forward from it.”

O’Regan added: “He can travel real well, but it just takes him a while to get going – and thankfully he got going in the straight. He’d a good jump at the last and won all right in the end.

“He’s definitely entitled to step up into higher company again, and it’s something to look forward to. Well done to Ronan and the team.”

On a day that did not go quite as he would have hoped, with defeat for Ganapathi and the first-fence exit of Asterion Forlonge in his clash with Envoi Alle, Mullins did at least leave with a double.

Frere Tuck (11-4) was the first Closutton winner, in the Punchestown Maiden Hurdle, after which Mullins said: “He choked the last day, and the tongue tie made a big difference to him today.

“Better ground would suit him well as he progresses through his career, and he’d have no problem going back up in trip.”

Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring
Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring (PA)

Brian Hayes did the steering on Frere Tuck in the absence of Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore aboard Klassy Kay (13-8) in the Punchestown Onwards and Upwards Mares Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins said: “The form of her third at Clonmel the last day has worked out well.

“Going up in trip is suiting her as well, and she’ll have to go up a bit in grade now.

“I think as we go into the spring, drier ground will suit her – and she might be able to win a nice handicap at one of the spring festivals.”

Stone bruise rules Dreal Deal out of Fairyhouse outing

Dreal Deal will miss his intended outing in Tuesday’s Fairyhouse Racing From Home Webpage Hurdle after suffering a late setback.

Ronan McNally’s charge was due to bid for a sixth win on the bounce in the two-mile feature after triumphing three times over hurdles and twice on the Flat since September – progressing from a mark of 84 to his current rating of 141.

The six-year-old is reported to have suffered a stone bruise on Monday, but McNally has not yet ruled out a run in Sunday’s Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown should he recover in time.

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He said: “It’s nothing major, it’s just a stone bruise. When we rode him out this morning, he just wasn’t 100 per cent and you don’t want to take a chance with a horse like him.

“He’s still in the Grade Two novice at Punchestown at the weekend and if he comes right in the next couple of days, he could still go for that.

“Tomorrow’s race was going to be a stepping stone to one of the Grade Ones at the Dublin Racing Festival next month, either the two-mile or the two-mile-six Grade Ones, whichever Appreciate It doesn’t run in as we’d want to avoid him if we can.

“That’s still in our minds and if he doesn’t come right for Sunday, he could go straight to Leopardstown.”

Low Sun lines up for Willie Mullins
Low Sun lines up for Willie Mullins (PA)

In Dreal Deal’s absence, four runners will go to post with Willie Mullins’ Low Sun the top-rated contender on a perch of 142.

He won the Cesarewitch at Newmarket on the level back in 2018, but has had just two starts since – finishing fourth in the 2019 Chester Cup before being well beaten when 16th behind Flooring Porter in Navan handicap hurdle last month.

Jessica Harrington’s Sizing Pottsie returns to hurdles having earned a rating of 157 over fences, with Gordon Elliott’s highly-regarded Percy Warner is another fascinating contender.

“I was delighted with his first run over hurdles in a maiden at Navan last month when he beat what looks a very smart horse of Noel Meade’s (Flanking Maneuver),” Elliott told Betfair.

“I was hoping he could give a good account of himself going to Navan, but I expected him to improve for that run, so the fact he won nicely would suggest he is a horse with plenty of potential for the rest of the season.

“He lacks the experience of his rivals who are all quite smart in their own right, so it will be interesting to see where he fits in, but with a shortage of alternatives he has to take his chance here. All things considered, I’m expecting a good showing from him.”

Dreal Deal bids for six-timer as he returns at Fairyhouse

Ronan McNally’s prolific winner Dreal Deal returns to action following a mid-season break in the Fairyhouse Racing From Home Webpage Hurdle on Tuesday.

Winless in his first 11 races, he has triumphed in his last five outings, scoring three times over hurdles and twice on the Flat.

McNally fancies a crack at Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival next month, which underlines the six-year-old’s progress from a mark of 84 to his current perch of 141.

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“We’d planned to give him a break after he won five in a row, which is why he hasn’t run for a while,” said McNally.

“We’re looking forward to getting him going again and his main target is the Dublin Racing Festival for one of the novice events.

“Hopefully this acts as a nice stepping stone and he runs well, but he’s up against some nice horses and ours is still only a novice.

“If we get a nice clear round and get set up for the Dublin Festival, I’ll be happy enough.

“There are two Grade One novices at Leopardstown for him over two miles and two-six and I’ll probably try to avoid Appreciate It if I can, so we’ll see what the plan is.”

Paul Townend rides Dreal Deal while David Mullins rides Willie Mullins’ Low Sun.

Jessica Harrington’s Sizing Pottsie returns to hurdles having earned a rating of 157 over fences, with Gordon Elliott’s highly-regarded Percy Warner is another fascinating contender.

“I was delighted with his first run over hurdles in a maiden at Navan last month when he beat what looks a very smart horse of Noel Meade’s (Flanking Maneuver),” Elliott told Betfair.

“I was hoping he could give a good account of himself going to Navan, but I expected him to improve for that run, so the fact he won nicely would suggest he is a horse with plenty of potential for the rest of the season.

“He lacks the experience of his rivals who are all quite smart in their own right, so it will be interesting to see where he fits in, but with a shortage of alternatives he has to take his chance here. All things considered, I’m expecting a good showing from him.”

McNally hatches new plans for his prolific winners

Ronan McNally intends to alter his course after the travel implications of Covid-19 and Brexit scuppered December plans for both The Jam Man and Dreal Deal.

Dreal Deal, who is unbeaten in his last five runs over jumps and on the Flat, was an intended runner in the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Tuesday – having elevated his rating to 141 – but travel restrictions put paid to that idea.

McNally’s Armagh yard was struck with a cold at around the same time, resulting in a week of steadier work as the trainer reconsidered where next to campaign his string.

“We’ve no real plans for Dreal Deal – he’s entered in a Grade One novice at Naas, but he probably won’t go for that,” McNally said, referencing the Naas Novice Hurdle on January 10.

“My horses all had an easy week last week, because they all just had a wee bit of a cold. I’m not sure what the plan is with him at the moment, so we’ll just get them going again and see what’s coming up for them.

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“They’re back cantering up the gallop and they all seem 100 per cent. We’ll just have to make a new plan – we couldn’t have gone to Newbury anyway with the travel restrictions, so that was out of the question, and I wasn’t too bothered about giving them an easy time over Christmas. We’ll regroup now and have a look at what’s coming up.”

McNally’s versatile stable star The Jam Man was also prevented from running in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas by travel problems.

“We couldn’t get the boats – some of the boats were off because of the coronavirus, and that led to a backlog,” he said.

“Because of Brexit they were all rushing to the boats, all of the lorries. We would have had to sit at the boat for five to seven hours because of delays – and that wasn’t viable with the horse in the truck, so we couldn’t actually get a boat to take us over.”

An entry in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday was also vetoed as the seven-year-old works back to race fitness after his break, so the Dublin Racing Festival at the same track is pencilled in for his next engagement.

“He was entered in the Pertemps at Leopardstown – but with him having an easy week, we’ve had to put that on hold,” added McNally.

“Again we’ll just have to look for something – it’s not that easy to find races for him with his rating, so we’ll just have a wee look at the calendar here and see if there’s anything for him.

“It might be the Dublin Festival, realistically, before he gets a run in February. We’ll have a look and see if there’s anything else in the meantime.”

The Jam Man is a winner on the Flat, over fences and over hurdles, but McNally intends to stick to timber – provided The Jam Man continues to prosper in that sphere.

“I’d say for the minute we’d be sticking over hurdles,” he said.

“If he doesn’t prove that he’s going to be able to be competitive over hurdles, then I’d probably look at something like an Irish Grand National over fences.

“I’d like to get him in one of the Stayers’ Hurdle trials just to see if he’s going to be competitive. If he’s not going to be competitive, he won’t run in it – we’ll look for something more suitable.”

The Jam Man steers route back to Stayers

Ronan McNally has another tilt at the Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle pencilled in for the impressively versatile The Jam Man.

Last seen claiming the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan by an empathic 18 lengths, the diminutive gelding is now in line for a return to hurdling as he tracks a route back to Prestbury Park.

McNally has Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in mind for the seven-year-old’s next run, with a visit to Haydock for their Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle also under consideration.

“He’s in at Haydock next weekend, which is probably 50/50 at the minute,” said the Armagh owner-trainer.

“His main target now is the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, the Grade One over three miles. That race is six weeks away, and ideally when he’s going well he likes to be running, so I’m not sure if I want to wait six weeks with him.

“He’s having an easy week this week, and he’s back up to his racing weight from Sunday already, but he can get quite fat if he’s given too much time off. He’ll canter away next week, and if I think he’s back we’ll probably have a look at the Haydock Grade Three handicap.

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“If he doesn’t go there I’d say it’s likely he’ll just go on to the Long Walk Hurdle.”

The Jam Man has been something of a talisman for McNally, winning on the Flat and over both hurdles and fences, including representing the stable at the elite level in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

He finished ninth, but McNally believes his stable star did not quite fulfil his potential and is hoping to target the race again this season.

“I’d love to go back to the Stayers’ Hurdle this year and give it a wee rattle when he’s healthy,” he said.

“He ran in it last year, and it wasn’t his true running. I’m not saying he’s anywhere good enough to win it but I would like to give him a chance when he’s healthy.”

The Jam Man, who is ridden on the gallops by McNally’s schoolboy son, Kian ‘Tubbs’ McNally, is an 11-time winner.

“He’s unbelievable, he’s basically a pony,” he added.

“He’s just like a wee teddy bear around the yard – for him to do what he’s doing is unbelievable. He’s just a wee pet. We’re lucky to have him in truth – he can do anything.”

McNally also owns and trains the five-year-old hurdler Dreal Deal, who has recently been the winner of five successive handicaps.

He began is winning streak in September, after a summer competing on the Flat, and will now be rested before his next steps are plotted.

“Plans are fluid with him at the minute – he’s just out on a break,” said McNally.

“He’ll probably have a month off, he’s actually out at grass at the minute. Over the next week or so we’ll just start to formulate a plan – we didn’t want to rush into anything just yet.

“He’s mixing it with the best of the novices on his rating, (but) whether or not he’s good enough for that is another thing. I suppose when we get him back we’ll see whether he falls into graded company or stiff handicapping.”

After Dreal Deal’s most recent win at Cork, McNally spoke of his willingness to sell the horse to the right own provided he is not moved to another trainer.

“I don’t mind keeping him at all, I’m more than happy to keep him,” he said.

“I’m in no rush to sell him, but if the right owner did come along to keep him in the yard I might have been interested. We’ll see – there’s no offers at the minute, and we’re happy enough.”