McManus has magnificent seven set for Grimes Hurdle duty

Owner JP McManus is going all out to win the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle he sponsors by providing seven of the nine runners for the Grade Three heat at Tipperary on Thursday.

A Wave Of The Sea, Band Of Outlaws, Darasso, Hearts Are Trumps, Magic Tricks, Modus and Winter Escape give him a formidable hand in the two-mile contest.

His racing manager Frank Berry explained it was an obvious race for the team to support.

“They do a good job with the watering at Tipperary and the boss sponsors the race – it’s nice to be able to support it,” he said.

Berry went through the contenders starting with the first-three named, who are all trained Joseph O’Brien.

Joseph O’Brien saddles three runners in the Grimes Hurdle
Joseph O’Brien saddles three runners in the Grimes Hurdle (Simon Cooper/PA)

“A Wave Of The Sea had a little break and Joseph says he’s in good form so we’ll see how he runs,” he said.

“Band Of Outlaws has had a long break and has had plenty of problems in the meantime. He ran nicely on his comeback on the Flat so hopefully he’ll come on again and run well.

“Darasso has found his form again. He was going through a bad spell, running disappointingly, but he won nicely in Killarney and put up a good performance in a chase at Listowel so hopefully he’ll be very competitive.”

Modus has his first run for Edna Bolger following his move from Paul Nicholls’ stable in Ditcheat.

“He had his problems over the years and it’s a good starting point for Edna and hopefully he’ll get round safe and sound,” said Berry.

Winter Escape is ready to have his first run since September
Winter Escape is ready to have his first run since September (Mike Egerton/PA)

Winter Escape, trained by Aidan Howard, has his first start since winning over fences at Listowel in September.

“He’s back in good form again, he should improve for the run and we hope he runs a nice race,” he said.

The Desmond McDonogh-trained Hearts Are Trumps and Denise Foster’s Magic Tricks were first and second in a valuable 20-runner handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse in April.

“Hearts Are Trumps is a very consistent little horse and never runs a bad race. The trainer is very happy with him so hopefully he’ll run nicely.

“Magic Tricks was disappointing at Punchestown the last day for some reason so he needs to bounce back and see where we are with him.”

The McManus seven may not necessarily have things entirely their own way, as Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender was a good winner at Cork in April and was fifth in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown on his latest start.

Recent Curragh handicap winner Effernock Fizz, trained by Katy Brown, completes the line-up.

Andy Dufresne out to measure up at highest level

Andy Dufresne’s connections expect to find out if he is capable of mixing it at the highest level in the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

Now in the care of Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves his suspension, the seven-year-old has always carried a tall home reputation since JP McManus paid £330,000 for him after winning a point-to-point.

A Grade Two hurdles winner, his future was always going to be as a chaser – and he had no trouble winning twice earlier in the season over bigger obstacles.

He was only third in the Flogas Novice Chase last time, but there was no disgrace in being beaten by 2022 Gold Cup favourite Monkfish and Irish National top weight Latest Exhibition.

McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry said: “He’s had a bit of a break, and he’s in good form. We hope he can run a good race.

“I’d say he’d be competitive over any trip. He’s not tied to the two-and-a-half – but it certainly should be fine, on this nice ground.

“He’s been very consistent and hasn’t ever run a bad race. Whether he’s up to this standard, we’ll find out on the day.

Of Andy Dufresne’s Leopardstown run, he added: “It was a respectable run. He definitely wasn’t quite in the same league as them (Monkfish and Latest Exhibition) – but having said that, he jumped well and ran well.”

McManus also has the Willie Mullins-trained Janidil in the field.

He was still in contention in the Leopardstown race when falling four from home – having chased home stablemate Colreevy, also a subsequent Cheltenham winner, prior to that.

“He’s been a bit disappointing. His jumping hasn’t been great,” said Berry.

“He’s done a lot of schooling since, and we hope he can put a good run together on Sunday.

“He won nicely the first time (over fences at Naas) – but he made a couple of mistakes and then had that fall.

“Willie’s very happy with him, though, so we’re hopeful.”

Mullins is also responsible for Asterion Forlonge, out again quickly having finished a five-length third to Chantry House in the Marsh Chase, and Franco De Port – who was last of five in the Arkle behind Shishkin.

Conflated, a stablemate of Andy Dufresne, represents Gigginstown House Stud – as does the Joseph O’Brien-trained mare Scarlet And Dove, who was giving Colreevy a race when falling at Thurles in January. She has won twice since.

“Scarlet And Dove has had a great season – winning three times over fences, including a Grade Three and a Grade Two novice chase in the space of eight days,” O’Brien told Betfair.

“This is obviously a tougher ask of her – but with a few of the big guns not running, we thought it was worth letting her take her chance against the boys. Finishing in the frame would be a good result.”

National destination to be decided for Minella Times

A decision may be imminent on Minella Times’ big-race target this spring – with a choice of Grand Nationals still to be made.

Henry de Bromhead’s improving chaser has attracted market support into 16-1 with Coral for next month’s Randox Grand National, after punters discerned that he is Rachael Blackmore’s most likely ride at Aintree.

Blackmore’s brilliant Cheltenham Festival performance – as top rider at last week’s meeting with six victories, including the Champion Hurdle – has inevitably increased interest in her plans for the Aintree showpiece, which has never yet been won by a female jockey.

Minella Times retains an alternative entry in the Boylesports Irish Grand National, which will be run on Easter Monday – just five days before the equivalent at Liverpool.

The eight-year-old’s target could become clearer on Wednesday – when there is another forfeit stage for the Fairyhouse race – but Frank Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus, has stressed discussions are ongoing.

“He’s in the Irish National as well – we’ll make a decision on that in the morning,” he said.

“It’ll be whether he stays in the Irish National, or comes out tomorrow.

“It’s very much up in the air at the minute. Today, it’s 50-50 – we’ll decide in the morning whether he stays in or comes out.”

Minella Times is one of 17 possible Irish Grand National contenders for McManus – among whom however Time To Get Up, a decisive winner of the Midlands version at Uttoxeter on Saturday, is rated “unlikely” to take part.

Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times' regular jockey
Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times’ regular jockey (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Minella Times has yet to race beyond three miles. But in just three starts this season, ridden each time by Blackmore, he followed a Listowel victory by twice staying on well to be runner-up in valuable handicaps at Leopardstown.

“He’s run two good races in two very competitive handicaps,” added Berry.

“I don’t know about the (extra) trip bringing out much improvement – but he ran well in both of them.”

Time To Get Up proved stamina was his forte when he moved up to a marathon distance for the first time at the weekend, and has since been installed as market leader for Fairyhouse.

But Berry said: “It’s unlikely he’ll run (in the Irish National).”

Patience may be required too before the much-anticipated rules debut of another potential McManus star, Jonbon.

Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated
Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated “unlikely” to run at Fairyhouse (Mike Egerton/PA)

The powerhouse owner bought the five-year-old, full-brother to brilliant dual Cheltenham Festival winner Douvan, for £570,000 shortly after his wide-margin success in his only point-to-point at Dromahane last November.

Jonbon has subsequently gone into training with Nicky Henderson, and is entered in a bumper at Newbury on Saturday.

But the going is forecast to be good, with watering planned during the current dry spell – and Berry said: “He’ll be ground dependent.

“If it gets much drier I’d say you won’t see him there.”

The intention remains to run Jonbon this spring, however, when conditions allow.

“I’m sure it (the rain) will come back again,” added Berry.

“Nicky’s happy with him, (but) it will be ground dependent for Newbury anyway.

“He seems to have settled into Nicky’s nicely, and we’ll see how he gets on when he runs.”

Champ set to return in Denman Chase

Champ is set to put his Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup claims on the line in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

The nine-year-old is among 10 entries for the Grade Two contest over three miles.

Trained by Nicky Henderson, Champ has not raced since winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March due to several minor issues, but is ready to return to action.

“Nicky’s very happy with him and the plan is to run there,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He’s had a few niggly problems, but he seems to be back now. Lets hope the racing is on and we get there on Saturday.

“We’ll be looking to be forward to it and hope everything goes well.

Clan Des Obeaux could take on Champ at Newbury
Clan Des Obeaux could take on Champ at Newbury (Steven Paston/PA)

“It would be most important to get a run into him before the Gold Cup.”

Champ’s potential rivals are headed by Paul Nicholls’ dual King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux and the Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation, who was third in last year’s Gold Cup.

Nicholls can also call on Secret Investor while the list is completed by Aso, Ballyoptic, Cepage, Definitly Red, Kalashnikov and The Conditional.

Altior has just five possible rivals as he bids to win the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Chase for a fourth time.

The dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero will attempt to get back on track after being beaten by Nube Negra on his reappearance at Kempton in December.

The Alan King-trained Sceau Royal, runner-up to Altior in this race 12 months ago, is in the mix with Fanion D’Estruval, Greanateen, Magic Saint and Sky Pirate completing the sextet.

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 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.”

No plans for McManus to fill Geraghty role

Racing manager Frank Berry has reiterated there are no plans to replace Barry Geraghty as retained rider for owner JP McManus in the UK.

The McManus team will continue to use the best jockeys for their horses which are scattered around a host of top trainers, including Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, Philip Hobbs, Alan King and Harry Fry.

In Ireland, Mark Walsh has continued to be retained by McManus since Geraghty retired in July.

“There are no plans at all. Everything is the same as it was. We are carrying on as normal,” said Berry.

The Champion Hurdle will again be Epatante's main objective
The Champion Hurdle will again be Epatante’s main objective (Simon Cooper/PA)

One of the star rides up for grabs this season will be Epatante, whose main aim will be to hang on to her Champion Hurdle crown.

The Nicky Henderson-trained mare was one of five winners for Geraghty at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

“Nicky is very happy with her. We don’t know at the minute where she will start off. She has a good few options. We’ll see when she’s ready,” said Berry.

“The Champion Hurdle is definitely the target.”

Buveur D’Air has been off the track since suffering an injury at Newcastle
Buveur D’Air has been off the track since suffering an injury at Newcastle (PA)

Berry reported Buveur D’Air to be well on the road to recovery after being injured when bidding to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle for the third year running at Newcastle in November.

The nine-year-old underwent surgery following his narrow defeat by Cornerstone Lad after he returned with a splinter of wood in his foot.

“He’s back in Nicky’s and it’s so far, so good,” said Berry.

“It’s taken him a long time to get over the injury, but he’s back being ridden out and we’re just taking it day by day with him.

“He’ll tell us when he’s ready. He’s on the road back and it would be great to see him again.”

McManus has an exciting young hurdler in Saint Roi, who won the highly-competitive County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The five-year-old, trained by Willie Mullins, made an impressive return to action when winning a Grade Three contest at Tipperary at the weekend.

Saint Roi is likely to run next in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal at the end of the month.

“He did it nicely the other day. The conditions of the race suited him well,” said Berry.

“I think Willie is thinking of going to the north with him.”

Easysland has the Cheltenham Festival on his agenda again
Easysland has the Cheltenham Festival on his agenda again (Simon Cooper/PA)

McManus’s champion cross-country performer, Easysland, has the Cheltenham Festival has his main objective again.

He purchased the David Cottin-trained six-year-old after his victory at Cheltenham in December.

“The plan will be to come back for the cross-country,” said Berry.

“He’s very well. They are happy with him. I’m sure if there is a race they will give him a run over there before he comes back to England.

“He’ll stick to the cross-country route. It’s a possibility he could go to Cheltenham before the Festival. There is nothing written in stone.”