Posts

Hennessy ‘in the stratosphere’ following Heaven’s Festival strike

Paul Hennessy is still on a high following the exploits of Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

Better known as a Derby-winning greyhound trainer, Hennessy struck on the biggest stage of all with one of only a handful of horses in his care.

Ridden confidently by 7lb claimer Richie Condon, the mare never saw another rival having built up an early advantage and was one of the most impressive winners of the week.

“I’m somewhere in the stratosphere, among the stars, that’s how it feels anyway,” said Hennessy.

Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance
Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance (Tim Goode/PA)

“I was sat on the couch with my wife, Susan, on Sunday and turned to her and said ‘I still can’t believe she went over to Cheltenham and won a race’ and she said the very same.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“I almost keep having to watch the race again and keep pressing rewind to make sure it actually happened and that I wasn’t dreaming. From where we are, to send one over and win is hard to believe.”

Having failed to take to fences, the mare has now won two valuable handicaps and a step up in class will be on the cards, possibly over three miles.

“When we exercise her at home, I never see her getting tired – whether it’s five laps or 10 laps, she always walks off the same way. It was just a theory of mind that she’d stay three miles,” said Hennessy.

“Richie was amazing on her and for a young chap who had never ridden the course before, although he walked it twice, he was brilliant. Even though there were false starts, he still managed to get her out.

“Danny Mullins has been our right-hand man since we started with the few horses. She had always been his ride until he wasn’t available. Richie gave her a good ride at Leopardstown and while experience counts for a lot at Cheltenham, once Danny wasn’t available I was happy to leave him on.

“Danny won the Stayers’ Hurdle too, so it was all good and Emmet (Mullins) had a winner – Emmet is my godchild and he is Danny’s cousin.

“We’re small fry and so is Richie, so for us to pull it off is amazing. We didn’t set out with any fancy plan. Taking part in Cheltenham is great, but to win is surreal. She actually ran a decent race in the Supreme last year.

“We can think about the Mares’ Hurdle or the Stayers’ next year. I think the further out in trip she goes will suit her grand.

“What happened to us this year was so wonderful, we wouldn’t be expecting anything like that to happen again, that is the truth.”

Hennessy will let the dust settle before considering Punchestown, but he is looking at two possible options.

“There’s a mares’ race over two and a half miles at Punchestown she could go for, or we could go over three miles if she’s in good form. That’s where we’re at,” he said.

“I would just like to thank the BHA, HRI and Cheltenham for how they ran the meeting. Everyone there was helping you, what they did with the accommodation and the Irish bubble was incredible, so they deserve a lot of credit.”

Heaven Help Us dominates Coral Cup

Heaven Help Us turned what is usually a competitive handicap into a procession when making nearly every yard of the running in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham.

Trained by Paul Hennessy, who until recently was better known as a greyhound handler, the 33-1 shot was left clear at the last when Blue Sari fell, but the winner had flown in any case.

Witness Protection attempted to keep pace with Heaven Help Us throughout, but by the home turn those exertions had taken a toll.

While the field tried to reel in the long-time leader, Heaven Help Us kept finding for 7lb claimer Richard Condon, pulling nine lengths clear at the line.

Nicky Henderson’s Craigneiche came out of the pack for second, with Tea Clipper and Sayo filling the places.

Condon was also on board when the mare won at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out, but she was defying an 12lb higher mark this time.

Hennessy said: “It’s unbelievable, quite incredible to be honest.

“We had a plan, something similar to Leopardstown. There were probably 26 Plan As in the race, but at least we got to use our Plan A.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“Richie was absolutely incredible on her – I don’t think anyone could have ridden her any better than that.

“Training greyhounds is our career. We have about 40 and we were lucky enough to win a couple of English Derbys.

“I only train three horses. It’s off the planet to win here – I can’t believe it.

“We needed a miracle. Heaven Help Us is her name and heaven has helped us today.”

After five successive Irish victories on St Patrick’s Day – including Put The Kettle On in the feature Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sky Pirate just held the late thrust of Entoucas to land a blow for Britain at last in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

Nick Scholfield was back on board, after missing Sky Pirate’s two mid-winter victories because of injury, and the partnership showed great tenacity to win by a short-head at 14-1.

Entoucas still appeared to be full of running at the last but just could not quite reel in Jonjo O’Neill’s winner in time.

Ibleo stayed on to be almost four lengths further back in third.

O’Neill was full of praise for Sholfield.

He said: “That was great, and Nick gave him a fantastic ride – he jumped quick and slick, and everything went right.

“He likes it here, he obviously stays (further) but is much better off a fast pace at two miles. That plays into his hands, because he travels and does everything nicely.”

A shot at the Arkle this week was in the reckoning at one stage, but O’Neill chose the handicap option.

“I thought if he couldn’t win this he definitely wouldn’t win the Arkle,” he said.

“I thought it was a good run at Warwick behind Allmankind, and he likes the track here, so it all went well – and the plan went right.

“He might have to take a step up in grade now – who knows until you try – but he was in great form coming here. That was the plan, so we’ll see what happens.

“Nick said he was probably in front a bit early, but when the gap came he had to take it.

“A winner at Cheltenham is what everyone wants, and it is what you work for. To have runners is fantastic – and winners is even better.

“He’s surpassed our expectations. He just came in a different horse (this season), and I can’t give you an answer why.”

Hennessy living Festival dream with Heaven Help Us

A return to the Cheltenham Festival is next on the agenda for Heaven Help Us following her victory at Leopardstown.

On a weekend dominated by the all-conquering Willie Mullins, Heaven Help Us struck a blow for the smaller trainer at the Dublin Racing Festival when claiming a narrow verdict in the Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle for Paul Hennessy.

The Kilkenny-based handler is no stranger to big-race success, having produced two winners of the English Greyhound Derby in Jaytee Jet (2016) and Priceless Blake (2019).

However, having been a long-time friend of the Mullins family, Hennessy admitted he is still on cloud nine as he reflected on one of the greatest days of his professional life.

Your first 30 days for just £1

He said: “I’ve just about come back down to earth. It was an unbelievable day – the stuff dreams are made of.

“We’re normally sat at home watching on TV. When you have a home-bred mare like this, you couldn’t dream of winning these races, and it was extra special to win it for John Turner (owner), who is a good friend of ours.

“Myself and Paddy (Mullins) were neighbours when I was a youngster and he’d often give me a lift to the races in the car. I remember going to the old Dundalk one day with him when it was a grass track.

“Those days fuelled my ambition for racing and I ended up doing the greyhounds after that, so it really was wonderful to win the race named after him on Sunday.

“I grew up with Willie and his brothers Tom and George. It’s a shame we couldn’t celebrate in The Lord Bagenal on Sunday night, but when the restrictions lift, we’ll have our night out – don’t worry about that!”

Heaven Help Us has already provided Hennessy with a winner at Cheltenham, having won a maiden hurdle at the track in October 2019, after which he said: “For us to win a race at Cheltenham is just ridiculous. You have a better chance of winning the EuroMillions.”

The seven-year-old subsequently returned to the Cotswolds to finish a creditable seventh in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and Hennessy is hoping she might get into one of the handicaps at the showpiece meeting next month.

He added: “We have her entered in the Martin Pipe (Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle), we have her in the Coral Cup and we have her in the County Hurdle. We’ve even put her in the Stayers’ Hurdle, just to try to make sure we get a day out in Cheltenham of some description!

“We did think about running her in a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown next week, to try to get her in the Pertemps Final, but I don’t want to run her so soon after winning the race on Sunday, so we’ll chance one of the other handicaps if we can get in.

“I think she’ll be near the base mark in them all. Personally, I’d be looking to be going up in trip for the Martin Pipe or the Coral Cup, rather than back in trip for the County Hurdle, but we mightn’t have a choice – whichever one we squeeze into is the one we’ll go for.

“She’s already been around Cheltenham. She won her maiden hurdle and ran a fantastic race in the Supreme last year when we were boxing above our weight, but we got a huge thrill out of it.

“We’re having a great time with her. You couldn’t ask for even half of it, in fairness.”

Hennessy and Condon in Leopardstown Heaven

Heaven Help Us provided trainer Paul Hennessy and young jockey Richard Condon with the biggest success of their careers in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.

The seven-year-old found herself back over timber after a relatively unsuccessful spell over fences and she looked much more at home.

Condon took a lead into the straight off Razzle Dazzle Love, before kicking off the bend and seemingly putting the race to bed.

However, the 16-1 chance slowed into the final flight and lost some momentum, giving JJ Slevin a squeak on Global Equity, but Heaven Help Us held on by a neck.

“It’s a great thrill to win Paddy’s race. We were neighbours and when I was a young lad he would often bring me to the races and make sure I got home as well,” said Hennessy, who is also a successful greyhound trainer.

“I’m ecstatic. You look at the strength of that race. I just thought she wasn’t mad about the fences, but she was second in a Grade One (over hurdles last season).

“I thought we’d switch back to hurdles and it worked out.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“Danny (Mullins) wasn’t available because Willie wanted him, but Richie came in and rode her out for me. I told him he could ride her and he took 7lb off.

“It’s great for us and for her. She won at Cheltenham for us and was second in a Grade One – she’s magic.

“She might go for a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown to try to get her into Cheltenham. I’d love to have a runner at the Festival.”

Not content with mopping up most of the Grade Ones over the weekend, Willie Mullins also scooped the valuable William Fry Handicap Hurdle with unconsidered 40-1 shot Maze Runner.

He was ridden by Conor McNamara, brother of Derby winner, Emmet.

He said: “It’s lovely to get it. I rode him the last day in Navan when he was a bit gassy and a bit keen.

“I got a lovely position, he relaxed but I was conscious to get there as late as I could. He was good and tough.”

Mullins added: “I’ll look forward to all the Festivals with him for the rest of the season and he can go back and race on the Flat as well. He can mix it between the two and he might win a chase at some stage.

“There could be a big handicap in him on the Flat.”

Mullins ended the meting as he started it with another winner in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, but it was with the relatively unconsidered Grangee (18-1) who prevailed.

Mullins said: Jody (Townend, jockey) springs a surprise. She did exactly as I asked her to, which was to keep her powder dry until the end.

“I was surprised she was beaten at Market Rasen but the winner (Eileendover) looks very good.

“We’ll have a chat about Cheltenham, the ground might be too good by Aintree.”

The Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go (10-1) won at the meeting for a third time in the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase after two wins over hurdles previously.

Byrnes is currently allowed runners as he has appealed against a six-month ban handed out following the Viking Hoard case.

“That’s his third win here and Mark was brilliant on him. We thought he would run well at Limerick over Christmas, but he just can’t jump out of the heavy ground,” said Byrnes.

Of the Viking Hoard case, he added: “I can’t say much with the appeal on Tuesday evening. It’s very upsetting for my family and racing in general and we have to let the case run its course.”