Tag Archive for: Gavin Cromwell

Gabynako out to end season on a high

Gabynako will not be winning out of turn if he can strike Grade One gold for the first time in the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase at Punchestown on Thursday.

Narrowly beaten by subsequent Grand National hero Noble Yeats on his chasing debut at Galway, Gavin Cromwell’s charge opened his account at the second attempt at Fairyhouse before being placed at the highest level on three successive occasions.

The bold decision to supplement him for the Arkle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival paid off with Gabynako finishing a clear second to hot favourite Edwardstone, and his trainer is keeping his fingers crossed he can go one better.

Cromwell said: “He’s been running very well and it would be fantastic to get his head in front.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham well and we’re happy that he’s in good nick. We’re looking forward to it.

“He ran a blinder in the Arkle. We were just unfortunate to bump into Edwardstone, who was very good, but he ran a cracker in defeat.

“I think he’s probably better on better ground, so fingers crossed.”

Mark Walsh and Gentleman De Mee after winning at Aintree
Mark Walsh and Gentleman De Mee after winning at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

Gabynako is taken on by four Willie Mullins-trained runners, with Gentleman De Mee the likely favourite after beating Edwardstone in the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree three weeks ago.

He is joined by Blue Lord, Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam, who finished third, sixth and unseated in the Arkle respectively.

The field is completed by Henry de Bromhead’s pair of Coeur Sublime and Maskada.

Henry de Bromhead is well represented at Punchestown
Henry de Bromhead is well represented at Punchestown (Tim Goode/PA)

Ben Pauling’s Grand Annual winner Global Citizen had been declared for the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase but was ruled out on Wednesday.

Jessica Harrington’s Exit Poll heads the weights while Danny Mullins retains the ride on Mt Leinster.

Henry de Bromhead runs three owned by Robcour, with Rachael Blackmore preferring the claims of Zarkareva. Robbie Power rides Magic Daze with Darragh O’Keeffe on Tiger Voice.

De Bromhead also fields the Roger Brookhouse-owned Arahecan and Ingleby McKenzie, giving him five of the 12 runners.

Singing Banjo and Ballyboker Bridge, the last two winners of the Mongey Communications La Touche Cup, are back once again in which Christian Williams’ Potters Corner is the sole runner from Britain.

Paisley Park makes Irish bow in Punchestown feature

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park will compete away from home turf for the first time when he contests the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday.

The 10-year-old is a regular in top-class staying hurdles and took the ultimate prize in the division when landing the Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019.

A heart issue derailed his title defence the next year but in 2021 he finished a five-length third in the race to Flooring Porter and this time around he was beaten two and three-quarter lengths when third again to the same horse.

The pace with which Paisley Park galloped up the hill at Cheltenham and his upward trajectory this season have persuaded connections not to bring his season to a close and he will make his first start on Irish turf on Thursday.

“It’s something we haven’t tried before, but he’s certainly in good order and we’re looking forward to running him at Punchestown,” Lavelle said.

Emma Lavelle's Paisley Park
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park (Simon Cooper/PA)

“I think Cheltenham is a track that suits him really well because of the stiff finish and he’s had a good year. He was third in the Long Walk and he won the Cleeve again and we were delighted with how he ran in the Stayers’.

“It was a brilliant ride on Flooring Porter when (Danny Mullins) slowed the field down the hill. It stops Paisley Park’s momentum and it takes him a long time to get back going again. It was just one of those things and was his usual, genuine, staying finish.

“I think Punchestown, which is a big, galloping track, should suit him. He seems in really good shape, so we’ll see what happens.”

Willie Mullins’ Klassical Dream was a nine-length winner of this race last season and returns to the track to bid for a ninth success in the race for his trainer.

The gelding was also last seen in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham having started as the 11-4 favourite, but he and Paul Townend were not afforded the most competitive start and were ultimately beaten into fifth place.

Klassical Dream winning the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown
Klassical Dream winning the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown (Donall Farmer/PA)

Patrick Mullins, the trainer’s son and assistant, said: “We got the good start in Leopardstown and (at Cheltenham) Klassical started backing up and Paul ended up jumping off last and we are 10 lengths behind Flooring Porter straight away, so that was just the swing.

“I was a little bit disappointed with how weakly he finished. He travelled up there very well but I don’t think that was him at his best and I’d be disappointed if he couldn’t win at Punchestown.”

Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier will return to hurdles after spending his campaign thus far jumping fences.

The grey was a high quality novice hurdler and took the Grade One Albert Bartlett by a comfortable 11 lengths at Cheltenham last season.

Vanillier winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Vanillier winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

His progression to chasing saw his finish third on his debut over fences and go on to land a four-runner renewal of the Florida Pearl, but his jumping left something to be desired in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham last time out and has prompted Cromwell to return to the smaller obstacles at Punchestown.

“His work is good and his jumping was just terrible in Cheltenham, so we’re reverting back to hurdles and hoping that will work,” he said.

“He was a good novice hurdler last year, so we’ll see how we go.”

Elsewhere in the race is Gordon Elliott’s Sire Du Berlais, a winner last time out when defeating Flooring Porter to land the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.

He is owned by JP McManus and is one of two horses to run in his silks in the race, with Noel Meade’s Thedevilscoachman looking to follow up a Grade Two success in the Boyne Hurdle.

Ashdale Bob was the runner-up on that occasion and represents Jessica Harrington at Punchestown, with Mouse Morris’ Gentlemansgame and Mullins’ Concertista completing the field of eight.

Flooring Porter aiming to complete Cheltenham-Aintree double

Dual Stayers’ Hurdle hero Flooring Porter pays his first visit to Aintree for Saturday’s JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle.

Gavin Cromwell’s charge sparked scenes of wild celebration in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure when successfully defending his Festival crown last month under an inspired ride from Danny Mullins.

He is turned out just over three weeks later in a bid to secure further Grade One honours on Merseyside, and Cromwell admits only time will tell whether his latest Cheltenham success has taken its toll.

“He arrived on Wednesday and seems to have settled in fine,” said the County Meath-based trainer.

“He seems in good form and good and fresh. I suppose it comes up fairly quick (after Cheltenham) and we won’t really know until we run, but we’re happy to give it a go.

“It’s a good race. Obviously we’re meeting a few of the same horses as we did in Cheltenham and it’s a different track on a different day.

“I think the track will be fine for him, so we’ll see how we go.”

Flooring Porter renews rivalry with three horses he beat at Cheltenham, including the runner-up Thyme Hill and fourth home Champ.

Champ leads the way in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot
Champ leads the way in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot (Nigel French/PA)

The latter was beaten four lengths in the Cotswolds and his trainer Nicky Henderson is optimistic he can bridge the gap.

He told Unibet: “I’m keen on Champ. I just got the impression on his last two runs that he didn’t seem to be enjoying himself as much as he did when he won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

“He’s had a couple of surgical procedures on his back, which is his big issue, so I think a flat track may be more suitable for him.

“We’ve done a bit of practice on the flat at home and I think he enjoys it. He’s working well and is happy in himself.”

David Christie’s Koshari was not beaten far into seventh place in the Stayers’ Hurdle and won at Aintree on his stable debut in November.

“We’d be hoping for a good run anyway,” said Christie.

“He obviously like the track and you’d be hoping he might be able to get a bit closer (to Flooring Porter) than he did in Cheltenham, where he blew up going to the last.

“He’s probably not good enough to beat the top one or two, but if he could get into third or fourth you’d be very happy.”

Jessica Harrington’s Ashdale Bob also brings Festival placed form to the table after finishing third in the Pertemps Final.

Flooring Porter headlines Liverpool Hurdle contenders

Dual Stayers’ Hurdle hero Flooring Porter is among 10 entries for the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday.

Gavin Cromwell’s charge produced another dominant front-running performance to successfully defend his crown at last month’s Cheltenham Festival under an inspired ride from Danny Mullins.

Last season the seven-year-old rounded off his season at Punchestown, but Cromwell recently raised the possibility of him instead lining up on Merseyside before a potential trip to France later in the year.

His likely rivals on Grand National day include Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Thyme Hill, who won last year’s Liverpool Hurdle for Philip Hobbs.

Nicky Henderson looks set to saddle Champ, who won the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle over this course and distance last season in 2019 and was only four lengths behind Flooring Porter when fourth just over three weeks ago.

Thomas Darby and Molly Ollys Wishes are also in the mix for the extended three-mile contest.

Alan King’s Edwardstone will bid to supplement his Arkle success in the Poundland Maghull Novices’ Chase.

The eight-year-old has won his last five races over fences and will be widely expected to crown his tremendous season with another top-level success.

His biggest threat on ratings is Dan Skelton’s Third Time Lucki, who has already been beaten by Edwardstone twice this term, but will at least be fresh having sidestepped Cheltenham.

Edwardstone and Tom Cannon after winning the Arkle at Cheltenham
Edwardstone and Tom Cannon after winning the Arkle at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

Gentleman De Mee is an interesting contender from Ireland for Willie Mullins.

The first of three Grade Ones on the card is the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle, in which Stage Star could bid to bounce back from a disappointing run on soft ground at the Festival.

Nicky Henderson has given Supreme runner-up Jonbon the option of stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time, having also entered him for the two-mile Top Novices’ Hurdle on Thursday. Walking On Air is another possible for Henderson.

Ballymore runner-up Three Stripe Life, King’s North Lodge, Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle winner Banbridge and Skelton’s pair of Elle Est Bell and Lac De Constance also feature

Aintree aim for Stayers’ Hurdle hero Flooring Porter

Dual Stayers’ Hurdle winner Flooring Porter will be heading to Aintree for his next outing, with the possibility of a crack at the French Champion Hurdle also mooted.

As Gavin Cromwell’s stable star prefers to go left-handed, Punchestown was never on his agenda so another trip to Britain is upcoming.

In the past Flooring Porter has been too keen to get on with the job, but he behaved impeccably in the Cotswolds.

Given a brilliant front-running ride by Danny Mullins for the second successive year, his two-and-three-quarter-length success sparked wild celebrations from his winning syndicate, which goes by the same name as the horse.

Danny Mullins was carried around the paddock by the winning owners
Danny Mullins was carried around the paddock by the winning owners (Steven Paston/PA)

“Flooring Porter is great, he’s had a canter and he is 100 per cent,” said Cromwell.

“He has really grown up – it is just maturity, but when you take him out of his familiar surroundings it can affect him, but he is a very intelligent horse at the back of it all.

“We got him over there good and early which was a big help. He was a little on his toes for the first couple of days, but then got settled into the place and the red hood was a big help at the start.

“He definitely won’t go to Punchestown as he won’t go right-handed, so we will go to Aintree and there is a possibility he will go to Auteuil (Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil).”

Spades Are Trumps proves ace in Ulster National pack

Spades Are Trumps proved the ace in the pack when running out a convincing winner of the Randox Ulster National Handicap Chase at Downpatrick.

The nine-year-old, owned by JP McManus, trained by Gavin Cromwell and ridden by 7lb claimer Mark McDonagh, led at the final fence and sped away from his rivals.

All three named were continuing their fine recent form, having been on the scoreboard at the Cheltenham Festival.

There was an incident-packed start to the race with six casualties at the first two fences, including the 3-1 favourite Portstorm.

Notice To Close took the remainder along for most of the way until he weakened out of contention by the third-last fence.

It was a wide-open affair at that point, with Agent Boru making his bid for glory, but Spades Are Trumps (5-1) was going ominously well and soon stamped his authority on proceedings.

He pulled clear to score by six lengths from Agent Boru, with the winner’s stablemate Peaches And Cream six and half lengths away in third place.

McDonagh said: “A great week. I want to thank everyone for giving me opportunities, but for them I wouldn’t be here.

“He just took to the course, he travelled well and enjoyed being in and out.

“A lot of horses fell in the race. I’m sure if everybody stood up it could have been different.”

Mark McDonagh celebrates with Banbridge at Cheltenham
Mark McDonagh celebrates with Banbridge at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

On his victory on Banbridge in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, he said: “It was great, Joseph O’Brien has been good to me. I’ve been with him since January.

“The experience I am getting in the yard and office is great. To get opportunities on top of that is a bonus.

“There is not a single word that describes it. I’ve heard people call things indescribable and now it makes sense.”

Flooring Porter retains Stayers’ Hurdle title in style

Flooring Porter put up a brilliant performance to make all the running and repeat last year’s win in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Concerns on how Flooring Porter would react to a massive crowd after winning in near silence behind closed doors were allayed, as the Gavin Cromwell-trained seven-year-old put paid to the opposition.

Flooring Porter (4-1) was given a superb ride by Danny Mullins to join the elite band of multiple winners.

He enjoyed an easy lead with Mullins able to control the race throughout and had enough in hand to see off his rivals at the business.

Flooring Porter ran out a cosy winner by two and three-quarter lengths from Thyme Hill with Paisley Park, the 2019 winner, a nose away in third.

Cromwell said: “The plan was to make it, but of course he has the issues with the start. We wanted to make the running and he was foot perfect everywhere.

The Flooring Porter team in the Cheltenham winner's enclosure
The Flooring Porter team in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure (Tim Goode/PA)

“Danny was fantastic on him, when he jumped the third last he eased off and let him fill up, but to be honest I was worried he might get done for a turn of foot. Danny was cool though and knew what he was doing.

“I wasn’t too bad when he was down at the start as I was pretty confident he was going to be OK today, he seems to have matured and he’s behaved himself all the time he’s been here.

“At Leopardstown (at Christmas) Klassical Dream got a flyer and we didn’t, and it made the difference – he was beaten just over two lengths. We didn’t want the same to happen in this race.”

Cromwell hailed Mullins’ ride, adding: “Danny is so good on front- runners, he has a serious clock in his head.

“He maybe did get an easier lead this year, whether they might not have felt he was as good as he was, I don’t know.

“His jumping is unbelievable, he jumps more like a champion hurdler, he’s so slick, long or short, he gains ground at every hurdle.

“Last year was great but the crowd here is magic. I came here and won the Champion Hurdle with Espoir D’allen but he was an outsider. To win a big race with a fancied horse was brilliant, it all worked out.

“We’ll try to get him back here next year.”

Danny Mullins celebrates after Flooring Porter's success
Danny Mullins celebrates after Flooring Porter’s success (Tim Goode/PA)

Mullins added: “Everything went to plan. Big credit has to go to Gavin Cromwell. I love the horse but he’s quirky. His training is the reason we’re back here today again, Gavin’s done a fantastic job with this lad all year.

“I wasn’t too worried about the preliminaries, the more he gets into the season, the less gas is in his system. Gavin brought him over a few days early, he was a little bubbly one or two mornings, but this morning we were very happy with him. He was relaxed and showing a spark again.

“It’s funny going into a race at Cheltenham with such confidence in the horse but we believed in him.”

Philip Hobbs could look to Aintree or Punchestown with Thyme Hill
Philip Hobbs could look to Aintree or Punchestown with Thyme Hill (David Davies/PA)

Philip Hobbs felt better ground would have helped Thyme Hill, but was nevertheless pleased with his effort.

He said: “He ran really well and stayed on really well.

“A bit better ground might have helped us. I’m not sure where we’ll go now. It would be nice to go to Aintree for the race he won last year, but it’s only three weeks away so we’ll have to see how he is.

“Punchestown is a possibility as well.”

Paisley Park (right) narrowed the gap on last year
Paisley Park (right) narrowed the gap on last year (Mike Egerton/PA)

Paisley Park finished third last year but narrowed the gap from five lengths to just under three, delighting his trainer Emma Lavelle.

She said: “He’s run fantastic, he really has.

“He was flat out and just galloped. He was still the fastest up the hill, he just couldn’t be fast enough through the race.

“I’m just so proud of him. This is the fifth Festival he’s run at in a row and for him to continue to run the races that he runs, he’s just a very special horse.

“He was closer this year than he was last year to Flooring Porter and was a nose off being second.

“He has the heart of a lion and he loves it – and actually behaved impeccably today.

“Aidan (Coleman) said he needs the soft ground to slow everybody else down a little bit, but he’s probably better on the nicer ground when everything happens a bit quick for him.

“Today was arguably a better run than last year, so if he continues in this vein, he’ll keep going.”

Flooring Porter and Vanillier spearhead Cromwell’s Festival squad

Last year’s heroes Flooring Porter and Vanillier will lead Gavin Cromwell’s raid on the Cheltenham Festival.

Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle victor Flooring Porter and Albert Bartlett scorer Vanillier were among the horses the Navan trainer worked at Fairyhouse on Monday.

Flooring Porter bids to retain his Stayers’ crown while Vanillier is a leading fancy for the National Hunt Challenge Cup.

“The Cheltenham horses worked yesterday morning in Fairyhouse and it went well so I was happy with that,” Cromwell told Sky Sports Racing.

Of Flooring Porter, he said: “Danny Mullins rode him yesterday morning. He made him walk for a quite a while before he jumped off and he behaved very well. It was all about experience yesterday.

“He certainly has grown up. He wore a red hood a the start at Leopardstown. That worked well and he’ll certainly have that on for Cheltenham. I’m confident he’ll be OK.

“I know Klassical Dream got beat in Gowran the last day, but it was a massive run at Christmas and if he can reproduce that he’s going to take a lot of beating. Champ, I know he has to bounce back as well. He’s a very good horse in his own right.”

Cromwell is hoping Vanillier can overcome a disappointing run at Naas last time.

“He’s a funny horse. The same thing happened with him last year. He ran a stinker at the Dublin Racing Festival and bounced back from it,” he said. “Derek O’Connor rode him yesterday. He jumped six fences and worked and galloped. He did a nice piece of work and I’m delighted with him.

“He could be one of those horses that comes right in the spring. He seems to be in a good place at the moment so hopefully we can get him there. The way he worked yesterday, if Cheltenham was this week I’d be happy, so if we can keep him like that it would be good.”

Cromwell is likely to run My Mate Mozzie in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle rather than the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

“He flopped the last day in ground that wasn’t to his liking. I said from day one he wasn’t for proper winter ground but he seems to be in good nick,” he said.

“He has an entry in the County Hurdle. Looking at the way the Supreme is shaping up, I think we’d be better off going for the County Hurdle. That’s the plan at the moment.”

Gabynako is in two novice chases, the Brown Advisory and the Turners, formerly known as the Marsh.

“I suppose it will be more a case of trying to pick the easier option,” he said.

“If Galopin Des Champs and Henry’s horse (Bob Olinger) go for the Marsh, I’d be inclined to go for the Brown Advisory. We won’t make a decision until we have to.”

Darver Star is set to miss Cheltenham after disappointing in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday.

“I’m still scratching my head. He did a lovely bit of work last Tuesday. I couldn’t have been happier with him going there. He never rose a gallop and I can’t explain it,” said Cromwell.

“I think it’s one of those we’re going to have to put a line through.

“He’s in the Stayers’ but is probably unlikely to go there now on the back of that. We’ll probably hold fire and find something else.”

Darver aiming to Star in Boyne battle

Darver Star bids to get back on the winning trail in the BetVictor Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Tuesday.

The two-mile-five-furlong contest is one of two Grade Two prizes up for grabs on a card that was swiftly rescheduled after being cancelled on Sunday due to waterlogging.

Placed in both the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago, Darver Star has been campaigned over longer trips for much of this season.

Gavin Cromwell’s decision to switch his charge back to the smaller obstacles paid off with a wide-margin victory at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, while he was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Brewin’upastorm at Lingfield.

Cromwell said: “He’s in good shape. I just hope the ground isn’t too soft. We had a terrible night’s rain, so I really don’t know if the meeting will go ahead or not.

“I’ve just made an entry in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell on Sunday, so we’ll just have to see what the next 12 or 14 hours bring.”

Darver Star holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle next month, a race won by stable companion Flooring Porter last season.

On whether Darver Star could step up three miles at the Festival, Cromwell added: “It just depends. I suppose if he went and won the Boyne Hurdle, and stayed well, we’d leave him in it anyway.”

Matthew Smith is hoping stable star Ronald Pump can get his season back on track.

Ronald Pump needs to bounce back to form
Ronald Pump needs to bounce back to form (PA)

The Schiaparelli gelding kicked off his campaign by finishing second to the brilliant Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse, but has since disappointed at Ascot and Leopardstown.

Smith said: “He seems in good form now – he’s been freshened up since Christmas.

“He never settled at all in Ascot and burnt himself out, then I suppose Christmas in Leopardstown came too soon afterwards.

“We have no real plans after Tuesday. We didn’t even enter him for Cheltenham, but if things went well you could look at Aintree. If they didn’t, we’d make another plan. Nothing is set in stone.”

Noel Meade’s course winner Thedevilscoachman switches back to hurdles following successive placed efforts over fences, while Martin Brassil’s Thyestes Chase hero Longhouse Poet warms up for a potential tilt at the Grand National.

Gordon Elliott at Cheltenham
Gordon Elliott at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

The other Grade Two on the card is the BetVictor Ten Up Novice Chase, in which Gordon Elliott appears to hold the ace hand.

The Cullentra handler declared the Gigginstown House Stud-owned pair of Farouk D’Alene and Run Wild Fred, as well as Braeside.

Meade’s Grade One winner Beacon Edge and his stablemate Lieutenant Command also carry the Gigginstown silks, while Pat Griffin’s rank outsider Antey completes the line-up.

Stayers’ assignment not ruled out for Darver Star

Gavin Cromwell has not ruled out Darver Star contesting the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, despite expressing concerns over whether he will stay the three-mile trip.

The 10-year-old was narrowly denied a seventh career success over hurdles in the valuable Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Hurdle at Lingfield last weekend, finding Brewin’Upastorm a length and a quarter too good.

Third in the 2020 Champion Hurdle, Darver Star was seventh in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival meeting last year and Cromwell is adamant he will not be going back over fences in the foreseeable future.

“He will definitely stay over hurdles,” said the Navan-based handler. “There is no definite plan for him – he has plenty of options, but they are all over hurdles.”

Darver Star showed he retained plenty of ability when landing a minor event over two miles and three furlongs at Punchestown by 20 lengths prior to the three-runner affair at Lingfield, where he was overhauled in the final furlong, having got into a tussle with eventual third, Goshen, early in the straight.

However, Cromwell is still mulling over a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle on March 17, for which he is a best-priced 50-1.

He added: “He is entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but on the evidence of that run the other day, it might possibly be a bit too far for him.

“It was holding ground at Lingfield and when he joined Goshen and went up his inside, he latched on, travelled very strong and did a little bit too much too early in the race.

“If he does go to the Stayers’, we probably won’t run him beforehand, but he has the option of the Grade Two Boyne Hurdle (at Navan on February 20).

“There is also a Grade Two at Fairyhouse at the Easter Festival, plus there is also the option of Aintree. They are all options. We will have a think – there is no rush, but he has come out of it all right and all is good.”

Cromwell expecting better from Vanillier at Naas

Cheltenham Festival hero Vanillier bids to bounce back from Christmas disappointment in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase on Sunday.

Last season’s Albert Bartlett winner was beaten on his debut over fences at Down Royal in October, but raised his game to claim Grade Two honours at Punchestown the following month.

Vanillier was well fancied when stepped up to Grade One level for the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown, but finished behind Gordon Elliott’s pair of Fury Road and Run Wild Fred.

Trainer Gavin Cromwell is adamant his charge did not run up to form on that occasion and is hoping for an improved performance this weekend.

Vanillier winning at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Vanillier winning at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Michael Steele/PA)

He said: “For whatever reason, Vanillier he just didn’t spark at Leopardstown at Christmas but he worked earlier in the week and we were happy with him.

“It was just one of those days at Leopardstown and it wasn’t his true running. He seems well in himself so he deserves to take his chance and hopefully he will give a good account of himself.”

Vanillier will renew rivalry with Run Wild Fred, who is joined by stablemate Farouk D’alene.

Willie Mullins also possesses a strong hand, with three last-time-out winners declared in En Beton, Stattler and Stratum.

The other Grade Three on the card is the BetVictor Limestone Lad Hurdle, in which Elliott saddles a potential Champion Hurdle contender in Saint Felicien.

The French recruit made an impressive Irish debut at Gowran Park in November and puts his unbeaten record on the line on Sunday.

He is joined by two stable companions in Felix Desjy and Petit Mouchoir, with Joseph O’Brien’s Darasso, the Mullins-trained Whiskey Sour and Wolf Prince from Cromwell’s yard completing the field.

Cromwell, who claimed this prize with subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen in 2019, said: “Wolf Prince is probably badly handicapped and it suits to run in those conditions races to try pick up a few quid, but he’s pretty well exposed.

“The Limestone Lad Hurdle is a nice race and it was an important day when Espoir D’Allen won it. It’s not a big field, so while Wolf Prince has a bit to find on ratings, he might pick up a bit of prize money.”

Darver Star on course for Sunday spin at Lingfield

Gavin Cromwell has confirmed Darver Star an intended runner at the concluding afternoon of the inaugural Winter Million festival at Lingfield.

The Kalanisi gelding was placed in both the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago, while he has also finished second in a Grade One novice chase.

But having seemingly lost his way over the larger obstacles, the 10-year-old switched back to hurdles at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve and bagged a confidence-boosting victory by 20 lengths.

Cromwell is looking forward to saddling Darver Star in the £100,000 Weatherbys Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide Hurdle on Sunday, a race in which the trainer has also entered Wolf Prince.

He said: “I’m not certain about Wolf Prince just yet, but Darver Star will definitely go.

“I was delighted with him the last day – it was a massive improvement. As the race developed he warmed up into it and it was great to get his head in front again.

“There’s some good prize-money up for grabs at Lingfield and we’re looking forward to running him.”

Trainer Gavin Cromwell
Trainer Gavin Cromwell (David Davies/PA)

The County Meath-based trainer also has Fameaftertheglory entered to run in the £30,000 Winter Million Novices’ Hurdle on the same card.

The six-year-old has finished second on each of his two starts over hurdles to date and Cromwell is hoping he can make it third time lucky this weekend.

“He’s still a maiden, but he’s been knocking on the door and I think he warrants running in the race on Sunday, anyway,” he added.

“The testing ground will be ideal for him.”

Klassical Dream and Flooring Porter in the mix for Stayers’ Hurdle rematch

Last year’s winner Flooring Porter and his recent Leopardstown conqueror Klassical Dream are among 33 entries for the Paddy Powers Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to claim Festival glory last March for Gavin Cromwell and Danny Mullins.

He had to make do with the runner-up spot behind the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream in last month’s Christmas Hurdle and a rematch is likely to be on the cards in the Cotswolds.

Cromwell could also saddle Darver Star, while Closutton handler Mullins has seven contenders in total, with Asterion Forlonge and Melon both given the option of switching back to the smaller obstacles.

Asterion Forlonge fell at the final fence when seemingly booked for second behind stablemate Tornado Flyer in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Nicky Henderson has entered the JP McManus-owned pair of Buveur D’Air and Champ.

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air has been off the track since finishing fourth in the Aintree Hurdle last spring, while Champ successfully reverted to hurdles in the Long Walk at Ascot last month.

Champ has the option of returning to fences for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Henderson planning to make a decision on his Festival target nearer the time.

He said: “Champ has a Gold Cup and a Stayers’ Hurdle entry. It is a very difficult one to juggle and one we haven’t got to at this particular moment.

“No doubt, the most straightforward is the hurdles route, but on the other hand he has won an RSA.

“You can forget about the Gold Cup last year. He had a problem but we’ve ironed that out. The balls are up in the air.

“Ante-post markets have to be respected, but I can’t make decisions just to help things on that score.

“He is in both and they are both mega prizes. The Gold Cup is the blue riband, but the Stayers’ Hurdle isn’t bad either.”

Nicky Henderson with Buveur D'Air
Nicky Henderson with Buveur D’Air (Steven Paston/PA)

Of Buveur D’Air, who has also been entered for the Champion Hurdle, he added: “We’ve put him in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as his run over two-and-a-half at Aintree was a staggeringly good run.

“He tanked through the race and he got there too soon as his lead horse went over at the last on the far side.

“That left him with no cover and he tanked off. He was having such good fun. He showed us that day there is all sorts of life left in him.”

Thyme Hill, who was just under two lengths behind Champ when second in the Long Walk, is a likely runner for Philip Hobbs.

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park and the Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019 and 2020 respectively, also feature.

Willie Mullins is responsible for eight of 28 initial entries for the Close Brothers’ Mares’ Hurdle.

Ireland’s perennial champion trainer has saddled nine previous winners of the Grade One contest, with six of those victories provided by the brilliant Quevega.

Mullins appears intent on adding to his tally, with recent Relkeel Hurdle winner Stormy Ireland and Burning Victory, a former winner of the Triumph Hurdle, two of his leading hopes.

Telmesomethinggirl won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and could return for Henry de Bromhead, with Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala and Paul Hennessy’s Heaven Help Us other major players for Ireland.

Flooring Porter to take direct route to Stayers’ Hurdle defence

Flooring Porter will not run again before defending his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle after filling the runner-up spot when bidding for back-to-back wins in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.

A faller on his seasonal reappearance at Navan, Gavin Cromwell’s stable star engaged in an intriguing clash with the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream in Tuesday’s Grade One contest.

Klassical Dream lunged forward as soon as the tapes went up and stole several lengths at the start, after which he was pursued by Flooring Porter for the remainder of the race.

Cromwell’s charge was ultimately unable to reel in the leader, but emerged with plenty of credit after being beaten just two lengths and a rematch is likely to be on the cards at Cheltenham in March.

“I was delighted with the way he ran. He ran a good, solid race and it was a long way back to the third horse,” said Cromwell.

“The winner is obviously very good and I don’t know if we ever would have beaten him, but under different circumstances maybe we would have had a chance.

“It was a serious performance by both horses. We’ll go straight to Cheltenham now. That’s the route we took last year and it worked, so we won’t try to change it.”

The trainer’s other two runners in Grade One races over the festive period also had to make do with minor honours.

Vanillier in action at Punchestown
Vanillier in action at Punchestown (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Gabynako was beaten a long way into third place in the Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick, as was Vanillier in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday.

Cromwell added: “I was a little bit disappointed with Vanillier, to be honest – I thought he’d run better than that. He was a bit novicey at a couple of fences, but he jumped well on the whole.

“If you’re thinking about Cheltenham, you’d have to be looking at the National Hunt Chase for him.

“Gabynako ran a bit flat. I’d say Fairyhouse (when second in Drinmore Novice Chase) took its toll on him as he didn’t have the spark he had in his previous races.

“I’d say he’ll go straight to Cheltenham if that’s where we’re going. He could go for the two-and-a-half-mile novice or the three-mile.

“I think we’d be very conscious to try to avoid Willie’s horse that won the beginners chase in Leopardstown (Galopin Des Champs) – he was very impressive.”

Easing Leopardstown ground music to Cromwell’s ears

Any more rain at Leopardstown would be a boost for Vanillier in his bid to land the second top-flight success of his career on Wednesday.

The six-year-old, who claimed the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, takes on seven rivals in a quality renewal of the three-mile Neville Hotels Novice Chase.

Having stepped up markedly from his chasing debut to land the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase over an extended two and three-quarter miles at Punchestown last time out, Gavin Cromwell hopes he can handle the step up in class.

Watering has taken place at the Dublin track and the overnight rain on Monday was very welcome.

Cromwell said: “He’s in great nick and hopefully they keep splashing the water on. He doesn’t need soft ground, but he wants safe jumping ground.

“That’s his ideal trip and going left-handed is a positive as well. He needs to step up again now.”

Gordon Elliott has won four of the last six editions of the race and he declared Fury Road and Troytown Chase winner Run Wild Fred this time.

They will be joined by Ontheropes, who similarly drops back into novice company after producing a fine effort to finish fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury for Willie Mullins.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned Ontheropes, who won the Munster National at Limerick on his seasonal debut, will be ridden by Paul Townend.

Richard Thompson of Cheveley Park said: “He was just taken off his feet in the Ladbrokes Trophy, but stayed on at the end.

“He’s a dour stayer really. Newbury was a bit too much for him at this stage, but it was worth a go.

“Going back into a smaller field against novices, you’d like to think he has got a decent shout of being involved.”

Fellow Mullins inmate Bacardys, Henry de Bromhead’s Mr Incredible, Ashdale Bob for Jessica Harrington and the Francis Casey-trained Max Flamingo complete the field.