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Easysland swerves Cheltenham outing on Friday

Easysland will not attempt back-to-back victories in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.

The six-year-old, trained in France by David Cottin, was surprisingly beaten on his seasonal debut when only fourth to Kingswell Theatre over the course and distance last month.

He was odds-on favourite that day despite the presence of Tiger Roll, having beaten the dual Grand National hero comprehensively at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

It looked as if Easysland, owned by JP McManus, was going to return the Cotswolds for the race he won by seven lengths 12 months ago. However, Cottin is disappointed their horse would meet the first three that day – Kingswell Theatre, Beau De Brizais and Potters Corner – on worse terms, although an unsatisfactory scope means Potters Corner also misses the race.

Celebrations for the Easysland team at Cheltenham in March
Celebrations for the Easysland team at Cheltenham in March (Simon Cooper/PA)
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Cottin said: “Firstly let me report that Easysland is fit and well, and I am very happy with the horse.

“Unfortunately this weekend we won’t be going to Cheltenham to run in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase as I found it disappointing that the handicapper should see fit that we would meet the winner on 4lb worse terms despite being beaten by nine lengths, the second who beat us by four lengths, also on 4lb worse terms and the third horse on 1lb worse terms.

“Disappointed not to be going to Cheltenham this weekend, as it has been on his programme for the year and while his handicap mark was left at 167 which I have no difficulty with.

“It is hard to understand that we are to meet the winner, second and third on worse terms than the last day, considering they are both handicaps.

“We are very disappointed he is not going and having discussed with the owner, we had no choice. We did raise it with the BHA (British Horseracing Authority), but had no success.

“Hopefully we will be back at Cheltenham next March in good form.

Potters Corner will not run at Cheltenham on Friday
Potters Corner will not run at Cheltenham on Friday (Clint Hughes/PA)

The Cheltenham race had been due to see a second run over the unique obstacles for Welsh National winner Potters Corner, as he treads a path aimed at the Grand National.

However, trainer Christian Williams tweeted on Tuesday: “Potters Corner returned an unsatisfactory scope following his final preparation for Friday’s Glenfarclas Chase at Cheltenham.

“He will not run and was immediately scratched from the race at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Easysland all set for Glenfarclas Handicap defence

Easysland will try to get back on track in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham next week.

The six-year-old, trained in France by David Cottin, was surprisingly beaten on his seasonal debut when only fourth to Kingswell Theatre over the course and distance last month.

He was odds-on favourite that day despite the presence of Tiger Roll, having beaten the dual Grand National hero comprehensively at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

All is reported well with Easysland, who bids to make amends next Friday in a race he won 12 months ago – after which he changed ownership and was bought privately by JP McManus.

“The plan is hopefully for him to come to Cheltenham next week,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“He was disappointing the last day. But it his was his first run, and they tell me he’s come out of the race well, so we’d be hoping for a better run the next day.”

Easysland and Tiger Roll face off again at Cheltenham

All eyes at Cheltenham on Friday will be on the eagerly-awaited rematch between Easysland and Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase.

Gordon Elliott’s dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll was denied the chance of joining Red Rum as a three-time winner of the Aintree spectacular by the coronavirus pandemic, but has an equally excellent record over the cross-country course at Prestbury Park.

However, he had no answer to emerging star Easysland in March when they raced off level weights – and on this occasion the French raider carries 4lb less.

Robbie Power has come in for the ride on Tiger Roll – with Keith Donoghue, who would have been on board, staying in Ireland rather than sitting out 14 days in isolation on his return.

“It’s great to get the call-up for him, but it’s very unfortunate for Keith Donoghue that the restrictions in place over in Ireland meant he would have had to isolate for 14 days if he came,” said Gold Cup-winning rider Power, now based in Britain.

“Keith’s having a really good run at the moment, so he couldn’t justify losing 14 days. It’s a great spare for me to pick up, though, and I’m really looking forward to it.

“His main objective will be Cheltenham in March and Aintree in April, but this is a path he’s taken before – so if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. He’ll probably have another run over hurdles somewhere after this before the Festival.

“Obviously he faces a very tough task having to give 4lb to Easysland, who beat him at level weights back in March, but I know Gordon is very happy with him.

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“I’ll be having a good chat with Keith and I’ll be doing whatever he tells me to.”

Tiger Roll does at least have the advantage of having a recent run on the Flat, while Easysland has not been out since his victory at the big meeting in the spring.

He is trained by former champion jockey David Cottin for owner JP McManus, and the Grand National is his ultimate aim this season.

“After Cheltenham he went and had a break in Ireland – and when we got him back from Ireland, David was thrilled with him, because he felt he had really filled out,” said Cottin’s partner and assistant, Amanda Zetterholm.

“He hadn’t grown, because he’s never going to be a big horse, but he’s really strengthened up.

“He’s working to a good level, but this is not going to be his main objective, obviously – so we’re looking to build towards the Cheltenham Festival in March and then hopefully the Grand National.

“We don’t know yet if he’s going to go for the Grand Cross at Pau, there’s no decision yet – it depends how it will fit in as preparation for the Grand National.

“It obviously is up to the owner what they want to do this year, but so far the plan is the Cross Country at Cheltenham and the National.”

Also involved is Christian Williams’ Potters Corner, last season’s Welsh National winner who also has the distinction of winning the Virtual Grand National – which was held in absence of the real thing in April.

Potters Corner, trained in Wales, was a very popular winner of the Welsh National
Potters Corner, trained in Wales, was a very popular winner of the Welsh National (David Davies/PA)

Williams said: “Potters Corner is in great form.

“He schooled well over the cross-country fences at the track a couple of weeks ago.

“We are targeting the race as we are just trying to give him a different avenue. He’ll be 11 come January, and there are only a certain amount of Nationals you can run in before they take their toll.

“Introducing the cross-country route with him this season will hopefully give us a bit more longevity. This could help get another season or two out of him, and I am optimistic he will enjoy it.

“Instead of having to constantly run in Nationals, the cross-country route might mean he can also go to places like France and run in races like that.

“He is being thrown straight into the lions’ den, with both Easysland and Tiger Roll in opposition, but everything we have asked of him he has duly obliged.

“The Aintree Grand National remains the main aim, and we are looking forward to getting his season started.”

Easysland and Tiger Roll set for rematch at Cheltenham on Friday

Easysland and Tiger Roll will cross swords once again in a top-class renewal of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.

Gordon Elliott’s dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll was sent off the odds-on favourite to complete his Aintree preparations with victory in the cross-country feature at the Festival back in March – only for French raider Easysland to dish out a 17-length beating.

Trained by David Cottin, Easysland was unbeaten in his previous six starts before that effortless victory – with JP McManus snapping up the six-year-old prior to his Festival run.

Easysland has not been seen since the Festival, and while in contrast Tiger Roll enjoyed a spin on the Flat at Navan last month he will have to concede 4lb to his old rival this time after the pair raced off level weights in March.

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Tiger Roll will have Robbie Power aboard for the first time, with Keith Donoghue, who usually rides him in his cross-country missions, opting not to make the trip to Britain due to the 14-day quarantine period he would have to undertake on returning to Ireland in line with Covid-19 restrictions.

He told his bookmakers.co.uk blog: “This was a very hard decision.

“As everyone knows I adore Tiger Roll, without this horse I massively doubt I would still be a jockey. So every time he runs I obviously want to be on board.

Keith Dongohue with Tiger Roll, Michael and Anita O'Leary following his 2019 Festival win
Keith Dongohue with Tiger Roll, Michael and Anita O’Leary following his 2019 Festival win (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“The decision not to ride Tiger Roll this weekend was hard enough without adding in the fact that he is in really good form at home. As I’ve said before you know Tiger Roll is ready for action again when he starts acting wild. The more kicking and bucking he does, the more you know he is coming back to himself.

“I just can’t risk the journey with Covid. Being a jockey is all about momentum and I’m enjoying the best season I’ve had in a long time. I think I’d be stupid to jeopardise that with the potential of two weeks out of action.

“It doesn’t take long to be forgotten in this game and I want to make sure I’m available for every ride I can be here in Ireland.

“I hope the real Tiger Roll shows up on Friday, but in any case he will improve a lot for the outing and I don’t think his legendary story is finished quite yet!”

Welsh National winner Potters Corner lines up at Cheltenham
Welsh National winner Potters Corner lines up at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Adding further interest to the three-mile-six-furlong event is the Christian Williams-trained Potters Corner, who will be having his first start over the cross-country obstacles.

The 10-year-old won the Welsh National on his latest start in December, with a planned Grand National run scuppered by the Covid-19 lockdown and cancellation of the Aintree meeting – although he did win the virtual version that proved so popular.

Cottin also runs Vino Royale with Little Bruce, Kings Temptation, Beau De Brizais, Vivas and Kingswell Theatre – winner of this race in 2017 – all having to run from out of the handicap due to Tiger Roll’s mark of 171.

Easysland set for Cheltenham return

Easysland will try to make it three wins from as many appearances at Cheltenham when he returns to Britain for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase on Friday.

Trained in France by David Cottin, the six-year-old is the new kid on the block in that sphere, having toppled Tiger Roll with a dominant performance at the Festival in March.

Easysland had impressed on his first visit to the Cotswolds in December after winning the Grand Steeplechase Cross Country de Compiegne in November.

It was after his first win at Cheltenham that owner JP McManus stepped in to buy the gelding.

Connections have decided to bypass Compiegne this year and go to Cheltenham instead – where he could face an early rematch with Tiger Roll.

“The plan is to come to Cheltenham,” said McManus’ racing manager, Frank Berry.

““Everyone is very happy with him. It will be nice to see him back there, and the ground and everything should be good.

“With a bit of luck he’ll stay in one piece and give a good account of himself.”