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Senor and Incredible chase Grade Two honours at Newbury

Ahoy Senor and Mr Incredible engage in an intriguing Anglo-Irish clash for the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase at Newbury on Saturday.

The Grade Two contest has an illustrious roll of honour, with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Native River, his then stablemate Thistlecrack and Santini all winners in the last decade.

The Lucinda Russell-trained Ahoy Senor sets the standard in this year’s renewal, having claimed the notable scalp of Bravemansgame when landing a Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree in the spring.

Due to a lack of suitable ground, the six-year-old was set a stiff task on his debut over fences at Carlisle, but was not done with in the Colin Parker Memorial when unseating Derek Fox two out.

Russell has been pleased with her stable star since and is looking forward to continuing his education in Berkshire.

She said: “We took Ahoy Senor down early so he missed any bad traffic. He had a canter round the track and a pick of grass this (Friday) morning and seems in really good form.

“We’re looking forward to it. He lacks a little bit of racing experience compared to the others, but he’s going really nicely at home.

“I think he’s probably come on for that Carlisle run, so fingers crossed he’ll be OK.”

The biggest threat to Ahoy Senor appears to be Mr Incredible, who represents the formidable combination of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Mr Incredible
Henry de Bromhead saddles Mr Incredible (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

The Westerner gelding looked a smart recruit to the chasing ranks when making a winning start in an eventful race at Naas three weeks ago – coming from a long way back to score with something to spare.

“He was really good at Naas – we were delighted with him. He won a fairly action-packed beginners chase,” said De Bromhead.

“It was either come here or supplement him for the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on Sunday as there’s very few options for him here between now and Christmas.”

Flash Collonges, who won three of his five starts over hurdles, debuts over the larger obstacles for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden, while Dan Skelton’s Wetherby winner Ashtown Lad completes the line-up.

Ashtown Lad at Wetherby
Ashtown Lad at Wetherby (Zac Goodwin/PA)

“He jumped very nicely at Wetherby and I think he’s stepped forward from that,” Skelton told Sky Sports Racing.

“We never got the chance to get him on the grass gallop before that due to the weather, he’s been in the interim and you should see an improved performance.

“Whether that’s good enough to go and win a Grade Two, time will tell, but I’m very happy with him.”

Saturday’s card gets under way with the Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, for which Alan King’s Nina The Terrier is the likely favourite.

The five-year-old tests the water in Listed class after completing a hat-trick at this venue, and King said: “She really impressed me when winning over the course and distance last time.

“I’m convinced that she’ll improve again when she goes back up in trip, but she has shown she is also very effective over the two miles so deserves a crack at this as she remains in top form.”

Listed honours are also up for grabs in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle – a race formerly known as the Gerry Feilden.

Jonjo O’Neill’s Soaring Glory won the Betfair Hurdle over the course and distance last season and made a successful reappearance at Ascot four weeks ago, while the Neil King-trained Onemorefortheroad is on a hat-trick following autumn wins at Stratford and Huntingdon.

King said: “This was the obvious race for him after Huntingdon. He loves a flat track and the better the ground, the better for him.

“We’re very lucky it’s cut up to this small field.

“It’s a step up in grade, but he’s earned it.”

Recent Cheltenham scorer Gowel Road (Nigel Twiston-Davies) is another with winning form at Newbury and Captain Morgs (Nicky Henderson) is the other hopeful.

Eklat De Rire heads 21 seeking Ladbrokes Trophy gold

Henry de Bromhead will aim to continue his domination of the major National Hunt prizes in Britain when Eklat De Rire lines up in a field of 21 for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.

Having dominated the last Cheltenham Festival by winning the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and saddling the first two home in the Gold Cup, De Bromhead then went on to provide the first two finishers in the Grand National.

Last weekend he proved he has not taken his foot off the gas when A Plus Tard turned the Betfair Chase into a procession and Eklat De Rire has been among the market leaders for one of the feature races of the season since making a winning comeback at Wexford.

Stablemate Chris’s Dream, however, does not make the journey meaning the weights rise by 4lb, leaving Willie Mullins’ Brahma Bull at the top.

Mullins also runs Munster National winner Ontheropes, another leading ante-post fancy and the mount of Sean O’Keeffe, and Annamix (Jack Foley).

Last year’s winner Cloth Cap is back once more, but will find life a bit tougher this time around on his mark of 154.

Cloth Cap led his rivals a merry dance in the race 12 months ago
Cloth Cap led his rivals a merry dance in the race 12 months ago (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Tom Scudamore retains the partnership, in preference to riding Remastered for his boss David Pipe.

“The ground was the deciding factor. David and I had a conversation about it a couple of days ago. I’ve come down on Cloth Cap and we’ll see if I’m right on Saturday,” said Scudamore.

“I was pleased with his run at Cheltenham (first time out). He has to improve for it, but there is no reason why not. It was his first run back off the wind op and he ran very pleasingly. It was only from the second last that we got run out of it. The conditions should suit him better on Saturday.

“I was having a great ride off him in the Grand National until he started making a noise and then the wheels came off very quickly. Hopefully that’s been rectified.”

The in-form Colin Tizzard runs Fiddlerontheroof, successful on his comeback in a strong race at Carlisle and Copperhead, winner of the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase in 2020 before losing his way completely last season. Mister Malarky is another going for Tizzard.

Potterman (far side) battles with Kitty's Light in the Bet 365 Gold Cup
Potterman (far side) battles with Kitty’s Light in the Bet 365 Gold Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paul Nicholls is represented by Enrilo, first past the post in the bet365 Gold Cup only to be demoted to third, while the beneficiary of that decision, Alan King’s Potterman, also runs. Stablemate Canelo also lines up.

Kitty’s Light was second in that Sandown race, as well as in the Charlie Hall Chase last time out and will aim to give Christian Williams a first win in the race.

Demachine, Brave Eagle, The Hollow Ginge, Cloudy Glen, Fortescue, Full Back, One More Fleurie and Danny Whizzbang complete the field.

Honeysuckle headlines Hatton’s Grace contenders

Honeysuckle will face a maximum of 10 rivals in her bid to win the Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s mare remains unbeaten in 12 races under rules, including the last two renewals of this Grade One, two Irish Champion Hurdles and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

She is set to be sent off at prohibitive odds to make it three in a row this weekend – but there is plenty of quality among her potential opposition, chiefly from the Willie Mullins stable.

He can choose from Klassical Dream, who defied a huge absence to win at the Punchestown Festival, Galway Hurdle winner Saldier and Grade One-winning mare Stormy Ireland.

Gordon Elliott has his own strong team to choose from with Abacadabras and Sire Du Berlais all set, while Ronald Pump, second in this race 12 months ago, could run for Matthew Smith.

Darasso, Latest Exhibition, Sams Profile and Skyace complete the list.

Jessica Harrington’s Lifetime Ambition is one of 12 in the Drinmore Novice Chase.

He made a very impressive chasing debut when he beat Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge at Down Royal and the two could meet again.

Gavin Cromwell’s Gabynako accounted for Fury Road at Fairyhouse recently and are another pair who could clash for a second time in quick succession.

Elliott’s Grand Paradis, who was a faller behind Lifetime Ambition but was not done with on that occasion, and Emmet Mullins’ Cape Gentleman are others of note.

While only nine have stood their ground in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle it looks sure to be an informative affair.

Cromwell’s My Mate Mozzie has looked classy in two starts over hurdles to date, while Elliott’s Mighty Potter and Three Stripe Life carry tall reputations.

Add in Colm Murphy’s unbeaten Impervious, Joseph O’Brien’s Uhtred and Emmet Mullin’s Crown Major and it will take a smart youngster to prevail.

Peter Roe, general manager of Fairyhouse, said: “We are delighted to see Honeysuckle head a star-studded line up for the fixture which is regarded as the best weekend’s racing in the first half of the season, there is a great strength in depth throughout the entries on both days.

“The ground is currently good, good to yielding in places with showers forecast from midweek on, and there will be fresh ground on each day.”

A Plus Tard in top form after Haydock demolition

Henry de Bromhead reports A Plus Tard to have returned to home in rude health following his brilliant victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

Runner-up to stablemate Minella Indo in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the seven-year-old is clear favourite to go one better in March off the back of his 22-length demolition job on Merseyside.

Next on the agenda for the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding is a defence of his crown in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

Minella Indo, meanwhile, could renew rivalry with A Plus Tard, or head for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Of his Haydock hero, De Bromhead said: “He’s great. He got home on Sunday morning and he was really good. He’s out in the field today and we’re really happy with him.

“He is certainly going to the Savills and no decision has been made on Minella Indo as yet. He’ll be entered for both that and the King George and we’ll see nearer the time what everyone wants to do.”

More immediately the County Waterford handler is looking forward to the return of his Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle, who will on Sunday bid to join Limestone Lad, Solerina and Apple’s Jade as a three-time winner of the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Honeysuckle is set to return this weekend
Honeysuckle is set to return this weekend (Brian Lawless/PA)

“Honeysuckle seems in great form,” the trainer added.

“She schooled this morning and jumped well. Rachael (Blackmore) was happy with her, so all good.”

Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Put The Kettle On, meanwhile, is set to go back against her own sex in a mares’ chase at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day.

A dual Cheltenham Festival winner, having also won the 2020 Arkle, she is likely to have her sights lowered after finishing third when bidding for back-to-back wins in the Shloer Chase – her first defeat in five visits to the Cotswolds.

Aidan Coleman and Aidan Coleman after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Aidan Coleman and Aidan Coleman after winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase (David Davies/Jockey Club)

De Bromhead said: “I thought it was a similar run to last year in the Shloer, it was just the ground was a lot softer last year, which gave her a chance to come back at them.

“She seems good and having discussed it with everyone, I’d say we’ll step her up in trip and run in the mares’ chase at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day.”

On which race she will contest at the Festival, he added: “We’ll see how it all unfolds. It’s not certain (she will defend her Champion Chase crown). She’ll probably have a few entries – obviously there’s the Mares’ Chase and there’s also the Ryanair.

“I would say she’ll be entered for all of those and we’ll see nearer the time. She seems a different lady in the spring, so we’ll see what way the ground is.”

Eklat De Rire has De Bromhead in the hunt for more weekend riches

Eklat De Rire will bid to continue Henry de Bromhead’s domination of the major jumps prizes in Britain this year with victory in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.

While the County Waterford handler has been a major force at the top level for a number of seasons, the success he has enjoyed in 2021 has been nothing short of remarkable.

The first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup in the same year at Cheltenham in March, De Bromhead then teamed up with Rachael Blackmore to make history in the Grand National the following month.

He made another successful raid when saddling Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard to become the first Irish-trained winner of Saturday’s Betfair Chase at Haydock, and even De Bromhead is struggling to comprehend the scale of his achievements.

Henry de Bromhead with A Plus Tard at Haydock
Henry de Bromhead with A Plus Tard at Haydock (Simon Marper/PA)

“It’s incredible to have the horses we have at the moment. When you list those races, they’re races I’d have dreamt of winning – it’s unreal, incredible,” he said.

In Eklat De Rire, De Bromhead houses a leading contender for this weekend’s feature event.

He could be joined by stablemate and top-weight Chris’s Dream, although his participation is less certain due to the likely underfoot conditions.

De Bromhead said: “There’s a bit of concern on the ground, obviously. They’re saying it’s good to soft and I think they’re watering at the moment.

“Both would probably prefer more ease in the ground, but we’ll see. I think there’s a little bit of rain forecast later in the week.

“It seems a great idea for both horses. Chris’s Dream probably really appreciates a good dig in the ground and is also entered in the Becher Chase at Aintree, so we’ll see where we’ll go.

“Although it sounds like it’s going to be lovely ground, he might want it even softer.”

Eklat De Rire won a Grade Three novice chase at Naas last season, before unseating Blackmore in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. He made a successful reappearance at Wexford last month.

“In the spring Peter Davies (owner) mentioned the race for Eklat De Rire. He’s based over there, so he’d love to see him run in it and we said we’d certainly aim towards it,” the trainer continued.

“He’s got good form and won well the other day. He’s a really nice staying chaser, so fingers crossed we’ll get him there and he’ll give a good account of himself.

“He had some very good runs over fences last year. He was very impressive in his novice chase at Naas and we thought he was going well at Cheltenham.

“He’s a horse we have high hopes for. How exposed or unexposed he is, I don’t know really. Once you’re up in the 150s, you’d be a brave man to be aiming for much beyond that, in my opinion.

“It seems a suitable race for him to go for, we’re happy with him and looking forward to it.”

De Bromhead’s pair are part of what is likely to be a formidable Irish challenge, with champion trainer Willie Mullins preparing to saddle ante-post favourite Onetheropes, as well as Brahma Bull and Annamix.

Hopes for the home team among 22 confirmations include Colin Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof, the Paul Nicholls-trained Enrilo, Christian Williams’ Kitty’s Light and last year’s winner Cloth Cap, trained by Jonjo O’Neill.

Clerk of the course Keith Ottesen expects the ground to be on the “easy side of good” come the weekend.

He said: “It was pretty dry and with the profile of these races there was no point sitting on your hands, so for the past few weeks we’ve been able to maintain ground on the easy side of good.

Fiddlerontheroof after winning at Carlisle
Fiddlerontheroof after winning at Carlisle (Ashley Iveson/PA)

“We’re really good to soft ground at the moment and we’re going to finish off a bit of watering today.

“It’s dry and sunny today and tomorrow it looks like it will be a misty, foggy start and quite cold. Wednesday is also a misty, damp start and then there’s a front coming in on Wednesday night with one to two millimetres of rain.

“On Thursday we could catch a chance of a shower, but on Friday it starts off cold again and then there’s a band of rain passing through from mid-morning and throughout racing and we should get two to five millimetres followed by some blustery showers.

“Saturday is a bit uncertain, but there’s another band of rain coming through, and it wouldn’t take much rain to put it the other way as the ground is properly good to soft and I don’t see it drying out. There’s no ground concerns in terms of it getting quick – it should be fair for everybody.”

Monday Musings: An APT Comparison?

Last March, as Rachael Blackmore urged her mount in the Cheltenham Gold Cup to close on stablemate Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy up the hill after the last fence, she would have been excused for saying: “A Plus Tard” or “see you later” in the English version, writes Tony Stafford.

The comment might have been Lostintraslation for some – the much-fancied horse of that name pulled up two from home that day – but after last weekend when both latter horses won major races, the path appears set for a march to greatness for the Henry De Bromhead seven-year-old.

Lostintranslation’s easy win in Ascot’s Chanelle Pharma Chase signalled another pointer to the revival in form of the Tizzard stable – soon by all accounts to have son Joe’s name rather than dad Colin’s above the stable entrance. That effort, though, could not compare with the Irish-trained horse’s performance in running away with the Betfair Chase at Haydock Park.

Most enjoyable for British racegoers as the Irish won this coveted Haydock autumn feature for the first time, was that A Plus Tard carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, the principal UK-owned breeder which every year produces top-class animals. With more than 100 mares and in excess of 110 in training every year, Flat racing is the bread and butter. Jumping is the winter release.

Under the careful management of Chris Richardson the stud has fuelled on the enthusiasm for jump racing of Patricia Thompson and her late husband David. The couple won the 1992 Grand National with last-minute buy Party Politics, trained by Nick Gaselee and ridden by Carl Llewellyn, and in recent years built up a select team of high-class jumpers in Ireland.

A class apart though is A Plus Tard and although only a seven-year-old he has just entered his fourth season as a steeplechaser, and still has only 12 races over fences (five wins, five seconds and two thirds) on his record.

Much of the talk before Saturday’s race surrounded the possibility that Bristol De Mai would equal the achievement of Kauto Star who won the Betfair four times in the first decade of the millennium with one unseated preventing an unblemished five-race record.

Bristol De Mai, trained for the last eight seasons by Nigel Twiston-Davies and, like Kauto Star, an early acquisition from France after precocious efforts over hurdles, has won three. Initially he beat in turn Gold Cup winners Cue Card and Native River. He was narrowly beaten in the race in 2019 to Lostintranslation before outstaying multiple Grade 1 winner Clan Des Obeaux last November.

As with those two multiple Betfair victors, A Plus Tard started in France. Whereas Kauto Star had already raced nine times (winning three) before his dramatic step up in form to win a four-year-old Graded hurdle at Auteuil when a 36-1 shot in late May, A Plus Tard never raced at that level. His moment came on his fifth and final start (and second win) when collecting a 40k to the winner 4yo handicap early in April 2018 there.

Like Kauto Star and Bristol De Mai before him A Plus Tard switched quickly to chasing, running as early as November of that year and finishing runner-up in a field of 13 at Gowran Park under Blackmore – the first of the 11 races in which they have combined.

Remarkably, three races on and less than four months after that initial association the now five-year-old ran away with the 20-runner Close Brothers Handicap Chase. The only horse of his age in the race, he did so giving weight and a 16-length thrashing to Grade 1 hurdle winner Tower Bridge with 18 other decent performers trailing far behind.

His next run brought defeat in third over three miles at Punchestown at the end of his busiest season with De Bromhead. He was restricted to only three races the next winter, sandwiching defeats on reappearance and when a close third behind Min in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham with a first Grade 1 triumph at Leopardstown over Christmas.

And last season was another cherry-picked campaign of just three races. Again Leopardstown provided the one win, another at Grade 1 level over Christmas but this time without Rachael who partnered instead Minella Indo, who fell before the race warmed up. Darragh O’Keeffe was the lucky man to step into her shoes. Back on A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup as chronicled at the start of the piece, second place to her stable-companion and other regular partner came as their rally up the hill was a little trop tard.

There is an uncanny symmetry about aspects of the early careers of Kauto Star and A Plus Tard. Both started in France and showed precocity. Certainly in the case of Kauto Star, he burned bright for many seasons. De Bromhead’s deliberate planning for his young improving star’s career offers hope that his will also be long-lasting

The Knockeen, County Waterford, trainer has run him sparingly and, with a horse of such talent, there is no need to go searching away beyond the top prizes. I would be surprised if he turned out more than four times, with Punchestown a possible after Cheltenham, especially if he wins the Gold Cup this time. Next will likely be the normal trip to Leopardstown for a Christmas hat-trick attempt.

Minella Indo, who comes from the parallel universe of Irish jumps talent, the point-to-point field, is the De Bromhead version of Paul Nicholls’ Denman. That great chaser was a contemporary of and in terms of merit almost exact counterpart of Kauto Star and he too came from the Irish pointing field.

Kauto Star was by 29 days the senior and in terms of their careers with Nicholls earned almost twice as much as his colleague and rival, collecting £2.2 million from 19 wins in 31 chases. Denman won 14 of 24 for £1.14 million

When Kauto Star won his first Betfair Chase as a six-year-old he was rated 173. Afterwards he even once touched as high as 190 but mostly was rated in his prime in the 180’s.

Although at seven a year older at the time of his first win in the race, A Plus Tard is rated 1lb lower at 172. It is worth reminding ourselves of the ease of his win, and on faster ground than is normal for the Betfair Chase.

Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille kept each other company for more than two-thirds of the race on Saturday before Royale Pagaille got the edge in that private battle, with A Plus Tard always tracking them going easily. He was sent to the front three out and, pulling away all the way home, the finishing margin of 22 lengths over Royal Pagaille could have been much greater had Rachael wished.

Remembering just how impressive Royal Pagaille (rated 163) had been in the Peter Marsh Chase over the same course and distance last January, it was salutary to see a similar disrespectful beating being handed out to him. The winner must be raised for the win although Kauto Star’s rating as he won successively his first Betfair, Tingle Creek (two miles) and the first of his five King Georges brought very little reaction from the handicapper.

There was definitely a hint of Kauto Star in the speed with which A Plus Tard disposed of his 2019 Close Brothers rivals at Cheltenham, and again as he cosied up to Royal Pagaille before asserting. This was an exceptional performance but there is still that stable-companion and last season’s Cheltenham defeat to avenge before we declare him the best of the bunch.

Rachael Blackmore also had to make a painful (at least it looked that way beforehand) choice between A Plus Tard and her 2021 Cheltenham Festival winner Bob Olinger when that horse also made his seasonal return at Gowran Park, again with Darragh O’Keeffe as the beneficiary.

Bob, the deeply-impressive unchallenged winner of last season’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle at the Festival, was appearing for the first time since and enjoyed a nice school round to defeat useful yardstick Bacardys (Willie Mullins). This was the champion trainer’s first try at assessing the likely threat to his own best novice chasers later in the season. It might have dented his optimism a bit, but he usually pulls one out of the hat!

One Saturday winner who will offer some hope of a domestic success at the Festival is the Nicky Henderson-trained but Hughie Morrison nurtured and developed grey, Buzz, who followed his Cesarewitch success with another dominant effort in the Coral (to you and me Ascot) Hurdle.

While there is an intermediate distance race for the top-class chasers (the Ryanair) at the Festival, two and a half mile hurdlers are forced to drop back to the minimum for the Champion Hurdle or stretch to three miles and a bit for the Stayers. Otherwise they can wait for Aintree which does cater for them.

I think the level Aintree circuit would be perfect to utilise Buzz’s Flat-race speed and he would be meeting horses partly used up trying either of the possible Cheltenham options. But then, who can resist the lure of Cheltenham? Certainly not, it seems, James Stafford and his Thurloe Thoroughbreds syndicate.

Buzz races for the partners but, with a portion of the proceeds of their victories going to the Royal Marsden, Buzz will always have a feel-good factor going for him.

Never mind additionally that James did casual shifts for me ages ago at The Daily Telegraph and thereafter always greets me on the country’s racecourses as “Uncle Tone”. I can think of worse forms of address – indeed I’ve received a few in my time!

- TS

A Plus Tard canters to Betfair Chase glory

A Plus Tard made a stunning return to action with a comprehensive victory in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

A close second to stablemate Minella Indo in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, the Henry de Bromhead-trained runner was the 11-10 favourite to make a victorious reappearance on Merseyside.

Ridden with supreme confidence by Rachael Blackmore, A Plus Tard settled well off the early pace set by Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille and was still cantering in behind as the race really began with four to jump.

Bristol De Mai, a three-times race winner, was the first to really give way, with A Plus Tard making effortless ground to come upsides Royale Pagaille and assume control with the minimum of fuss.

Blackmore barely had to move as A Plus Tard kicked on approaching the second-last, clearing the final obstacle in style to coast home by 22 lengths from Royale Pagaille.

Chatham Street Lad and Clondaw Castle were the only other finishers, with Imperial Aura falling at the 13the fence and Bristol De Mai and Waiting Patiently both pulled up.

Coral, Betfair and Paddy Power all make A Plus Tard the 4-1 favourite to go one place better in the 2022 Gold Cup.

De Bromhead said of the Cheveley Park Stud-owned winner: “My heart was in my mouth as normal, but Rachael was brilliant and obviously A Plus Tard was brilliant as well.

“With his preference for left-handed tracks, this just seemed the obvious place to go – I was sick of getting beat in the Fortria Chase at Navan for the last couple of years over two miles!

“This is a fantastic race, it’s brilliant to win it and it’s brilliant for the Thompsons (of Cheveley Park).”

A Plus Tard created his own piece of history in victory, becoming the first Irish-trained winner of the race since its inception in 2005.

De Bromhead added: “After the 10th person told me no Irish horse had ever won it before, I started to wonder why we were here at all, but he’s got so much class.

“He’s won a Grade One over two (miles) and a couple of Grade Ones over three. He’s still only seven, so fingers crossed he’s got a long career ahead of him.

“He’s achieved a hell of a lot for a horse of his age. He’d been working really well and everyone was very happy with him.

“There’s a great crowd here and we always get a great reception.”

A Plus Tard is set to run at Leopardstown again
A Plus Tard is set to run at Leopardstown again (Niall Carson/PA)

A Plus Tard is now set to tread a familiar route to the Cheltenham Festival, with Leopardstown the next port of call.

He snatched a dramatic victory in the Savills Chase last Christmas and a title defence is uppermost in the mind of De Bromhead, who has the King George at Kempton as a likely destination for Minella Indo.

He added: “Because of his preference for left-handed tracks, the Savills Chase at Leopardstown seems to be the sensible way to go.”

Blackmore had not previously ridden around Haydock, but she enjoyed her Merseyside debut.

She said: “That was incredible – I’ll definitely like coming back to Haydock from now on!

“It was a fantastic performance. He’s such a classy horse and couldn’t have done it any better.

“He jumped fantastically and felt superb and I was happy everywhere. It’s not often races are that straightforward, but it’s very enjoyable when they are.

“You only have to look back at what he’s done. It wasn’t his day in March, but he’s proved today he’s extremely good.”

Rachael Blackmore with her Betfair Chase trophy
Rachael Blackmore with her Betfair Chase trophy (Simon Marper/PA)

Blackmore admits A Plus Tard is a personal favourite, having given her a breakthrough Festival win in the 2019 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

“He’s very special to me as he gave me my first ever Cheltenham winner,” she added.

“He’s got gears, he stays and jumps really well. He cruises along without doing too much.

“He’s already established and is improving the whole time. He did nothing wrong in Cheltenham in March – everything went right for him and Minella Indo was a better horse on the day.

“Henry has got a massive yard of extremely talented horses and he is bang up there.”

Bob Olinger makes perfect start to life over fences

Bob Olinger made a winning start over fences with a comfortable verdict in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase at Gowran Park.

The six-year-old won three of his four starts over hurdles for Henry de Bromhead last term, culminating in Grade One victories at Naas in January and then in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

His planned start at Punchestown last week was scuppered by a stone bruise, but he was clearly over that issue as he cantered home in the hands of Darragh O’Keeffe.

Barcardys set the early gallop, with Bob Olinger racing alongside, and turning for home there were only really three contenders in the frame as Ashdale Bob made a dash for glory in the middle of the pair.

However, when O’Keeffe asked him Bob Olinger upped a gear and despite a slight stumble after jumping the third-last – at which Ashdale Bob came to grief – the result was never in doubt.

The 1-3 favourite cleared the final two fences safely, coming home six and a half lengths clear of Barcardys, with Master McShee a further 10 lengths back in third.

Bob Olinger’s regular rider Rachael Blackmore was absent as she was at Haydock to ride A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, and O’Keeffe was thrilled to team up with the top-class performer.

He said: “It was some experience. He jumped brilliant, travelled great and it’s as good a feeling as I’ve ever got on the racetrack. It was unreal.

“He has a serious engine and it was just a privilege to get the ride on him.”

When asked if he was a little novicey at a few fences, he added: “If you want to be critical of him, I suppose you could say that, but it’s his first run over fences and these take plenty of jumping.

“Overall I thought his jumping was very good and he’ll come on plenty from today as well.

“He has the scope and he won a point to point for Pat Doyle. Today was just about getting round, we know he has the engine.”

De Bromhead enjoyed what he saw watching on from Haydock.

He said: “He looked good. I’m happy that he got round and jumped well and seemed to win nicely.

“We’ll see where we go. There’s a nice race at Limerick at Christmas, but we’ll enjoy today and see after that.”

Gordon Elliot sent out two smart hurdlers
Gordon Elliot sent out two smart hurdlers (Brian Lawless/PA)

Gordon Elliott unleashed two useful hurdling prospects in Indigo Breeze and Saint Felicien, both partnered by Davy Russell.

Indigo Breeze (11-4) had two runs over obstacles last season, disappointing when well beaten by Gaillard Du Mesnil on the second occasion, but he appeared to be back to his best as he swooped late to collar Deploy The Getaway in the Noreside Catering Irish EBF Maiden Hurdle.

Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse. We’ve been trying to slow him down at home because he’s a bit hard on himself and keen.

“He’ll come on from that and he wants two and a half miles. We’ll try to find something small again for him.”

Saint Felicien (11-8 favourite) impressed on his Irish debut with an effortless two-and-a-quarter-length win in the Robcour colours in the Proficient Engineering Ltd Novice Hurdle.

Elliott added: “He’s a good horse and there is an awful lot of improvement in him. I think he is a fair horse.

“We’ll try to split them up, we’ve a few horses for the same sort of thing, and I’ll talk to the owner and see what he wants to do. He’s a very nice horse.”

De Bromhead looking to Gowran for Bob Olinger fencing bow

Bob Olinger could make his eagerly-awaited chasing debut at Gowran Park on Saturday after missing his intended weekend engagement due to a stone bruise.

The six-year-old was a superb winner of the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when last seen, and was due to run over fences for the first time at Punchestown in what would also have been his seasonal debut.

Bruising on the sole of his hoof scuppered that plan, but trainer Henry de Bromhead has an alternative contest in mind.

“Bob Olinger just wasn’t 100 per cent, so we said we’d leave him and maybe go to Gowran next week,” he said. “It’s not a big thing.

“There is a two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase at Gowran so hopefully he’ll go for that.”

Notebook in line for John Durkan following Fortria triumph

Notebook returned to form with a convincing victory in the Grade Two Tote Fortria Chase at Navan.

Henry de Bromhead’s eight-year-old made most of the running as he accounted for Samcro, in the same ownership of Gigginstown House Stud, by 10 lengths.

Samcro looked a big danger two out, but Rachael Blackmore got a big jump out of Notebook and the 8-15 favourite bounded clear.

Winner of the Irish Arkle, this was Notebook’s first victory since he struck at this level in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas almost 12 months ago, after which he took on the best at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Aintree without success.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that, he was really good and jumped great. He was brilliant.

“It was an ideal race for him, he loves jumping and is such a class jumper – that’s his forte.

“I thought we were struggling between the third-last and second-last, but he winged the second-last and was away again.”

When asked if he could step up in trip, De Bromhead added: “I think we have to try it. He’s in the John Durkan so we could have a look at that.

“He won really well at Naas first time last year and then it was just Chacun Pour Soi, that was the problem after that. He’s a very good horse in his own right and I think everyone is keen to try him over further.”

Ginto (30-100 favourite) confirmed the promise of his point-to-point and bumper form with a winning debut in the Kilberry Pub & Kitchen Maiden Hurdle.

Making all under Jack Kennedy, the Gordon Elliott-trained five-year-old appreciated the two-and-a-half-mile trip to score by five and a half lengths from Benny The Duke.

“Jack said it was like a piece of work for him, he wasn’t doing a stroke going around there on his own. It’s job done,” said Elliott.

“He’s got very strong, he’s a big bull, and he needs to get out, get a bit of work, and get going.

“He’s probably going to be more of a staying horse. It’s grand to start the day off well.”

Ginto was cut to 25-1 from 33-1 for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with Paddy Power.

Elliott completed a double when Buddy Rich (5-1) got off the mark over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

The eight-year-old had run second in his four previous starts over fences and got his head in front by being seeing off Ballyadam by four lengths under Davy Russell.

The first two had the finish between them, after Wide Receiver and Hannon fell independently at the penultimate obstacle. Wide Receiver’s fall sadly proved fatal for the six-year-old, while Kennedy was taken to hospital for X-rays on a suspected broken arm.

“He’s been a great horse, he runs well every day, and it’s great for John (Keegan) as it’s the first horse he’s had with us. He’s local and he’s a good fella,” said Elliott. “He doesn’t want real soft ground so as soon as the ground goes we’ll leave him off.

“It’s obviously bittersweet with the other horse, who was running a good race too.”

The Elliott yard brought up a treble on the day when Gringo D’aubrelle (4-6 favourite) ran out an impressive winner of the bumper under Jamie Codd.

Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse. I fancied him in a bumper at Thurles and he came home lame, and then he blew up the last day when he was beaten by a good horse of Charles Byrnes’.”

Quilixios and Kidder clash in Naas feature

Cheltenham Festival winners Quilixios and Jeff Kidder will lock horns for the second time on a quality card at Naas on Saturday.

Unbeaten in his first three starts for Gordon Elliott, Quilixios was switched to Henry de Bromhead’s yard prior to winning the Triumph Hurdle in March under Rachael Blackmore.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding subsequently disappointed at Punchestown behind the Noel Meade-trained Jeff Kidder, who had previously won the Fred Winter at Cheltenham and a Fairyhouse Grade Two.

The pair will renew rivalry in the Grade Three BetVictor Fishery Lane Hurdle, with Quilixios making his first appearance since his Punchestown defeat in May.

De Bromhead said: “It is always hard for the juvenile hurdlers when they step up with the big guns, but this is the perfect opportunity to get his season started as it is for four-year-olds only and we’ll see how we get on before planning from there.

“He’s done really well in the summer. He looks great and we’re really happy with him.

“It’s all systems go now to start off in a lovely race for him at Naas.”

While Quilixios has been off the track for six months, Jeff Kidder is race-fit after three spins on the Flat between July and October.

The four-year-old has been a beaten favourite on each occasion, but Meade is hoping a return to the jumping game will see him in a better light.

He said: “Henry’s horse didn’t run his race in Punchestown and I think he’s going to be very hard to beat if he has him right.

“My horse has been very disappointing on the Flat, but he’s in good form and we’ll do our best.”

Teahupoo (Gordon Elliott), An Epic Song (Martin Brassil), Autumn Evening (Jessica Harrington) and Vultan (Joseph O’Brien) are the other hopefuls.

Grade Three honours are also up for grabs in the following Poplar Square Chase, in which De Bromhead and Blackmore team up with Captain Guinness.

The six-year-old won on his debut over fences at Punchestown last season before going on the chase home the top-class Energumene at Naas before finishing third in the Arkle.

He failed to complete on his other two starts at Leopardstown in Punchestown, but De Bromhead is looking forward to his return.

He added: “Captain Guinness wears his heart on his sleeve, but is exciting when he puts it all together.

“He’s in really good form, he’s summered really well and he seems ready to go.

“We always thought he was a brilliant jumper so touch wood, I think he has just been unfortunate. It’s just one of those things, but he’s usually very good.”

Elliott has a pair of runners in Felix Desjy and Andy Dufresne, while Gavin Cromwell saddles Darver Star, who never quite got his act together over fences last term after being placed in both the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle previous season.

Big outsiders Choungaya (Andrew McNamara) and Serpolette (Eamon Delaney) complete the field.

Minella Times out to turn National dreams into reality again

Minella Times will bid to make Henry de Bromhead’s impossible dream come true a second time as he sets out this season to try to retain his Randox Grand National title.

De Bromhead was responsible for a remarkable one-two at Aintree in April, with 100-1 stablemate Balko Des Flos chasing home the Rachael Blackmore-ridden winner.

Blackmore’s success was a major sporting milestone, in the world-famous race no female jockey had ever won before – and, of course, it was an achievement which followed her and County Waterford trainer de Bromhead’s phenomenally successful Cheltenham Festival.

Minella Times will soon begin to tread a path back to Liverpool next spring, even as his jockey is still getting her head properly round this year’s victory.

“It’s something that everyone would dream about,” said Blackmore.

“It is THE race, I suppose, and it’s still hard to believe you’ve actually won it – it’s incredible.

“It’s definitely a replay I love watching! It’s still hard to comprehend it all.

“I know that might be silly to say … but it was such an incredible day.

“It hit me just when we crossed the line. It was an incredible feeling and one that I’ll never forget.”

Minella Times produced a flawless round of jumping to claim the famous marathon by six and a half lengths, and Blackmore realised from a very early stage he was adapting perfectly to the unique National fences.

“He was phenomenal,” she said.

“I knew after jumping two or three fences on him that he was really going to take to them.

“When we landed over the last I still felt like he was galloping for me – he was picking up for me.

“I suppose one side of my head was saying ‘you’re going to win the Grand National, we’re going to win’ and the other side was saying ‘nah, something’s going to pass you in a couple of seconds’ so the feeling when you cross the line and you know that you’re in front is unbelievable.”

Minella Times’ 2021-22 campaign will revolve around repeat bid for the race, and Blackmore believes he has the credentials to emulate all-time greats Red Rum and Tiger Roll by successfully defending his title.

“I can’t see why not!” she said.

“He loved it around there, which is a big help. I’m sure Henry and JP (McManus, owner) will discuss his plans for the season, but he’s a very special horse to me.

“He’s such a genuine horse. He’s fantastic to jump – he’s been trained to perfection.”

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore celebrate Minella Times' Aintree victory
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore celebrate Minella Times’ Aintree victory (David Davies/PA)

De Bromhead is less bullish at this early stage, and finds it hard to envision how last season’s superb campaign could ever be topped.

The Irishman, who also trained the first two home in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, said: “You dream of winning it once – I wouldn’t dare to dream of winning it twice.

“I’m not sure (how we follow last year) – I suppose try not to change too much. Keep it the same as last year – and then expect the worst, and hope for the best!

“It was all pretty surreal. Still now when I see the photos I suddenly go ‘my God, we won the National and the Gold Cup!’.

“It was just incredible, the whole thing, and we’re probably still waiting to wake up.”

Minella Times had never previously run over the National course, and De Bromhead was unsure as to whether his jumping style would suit the track.

He said: “I suppose you never really know – some people would say he nearly jumps too well, in the sense that he makes such a shape over them.

“You don’t really know until you go and do it. We made some makeshift fences here, and the first day we schooled him he was having a right look at them.”

Any concerns were quickly dispelled, with Blackmore and her partner expertly navigating their way around.

“It was brilliant, and he was giving them so much height, nearly jumping them too well,” added De Bromhead, whose third National contender Chris’s Dream was still in contention too when he unseated four fences from home.

Reflecting again on Minella Times’ performance, he said: “It was an exhibition – he jumped brilliantly the whole way, (and) Rachael was brilliant on him.

“I suppose the first round is survival, and they’re all still standing. To have three in it and three going out on the second circuit was amazing.

“Then you jump the Canal Turn, and they’re all still there – it’s starting to go well and it’s unreal.  Then unfortunately we lost Chris’s Dream, and we see Balko tanking away, but Rachael is cantering and winging fences. It’s nearly disbelief to me.

“I’m looking at (eventual third) Any Second Now and thinking ‘I hope he’s not going to come back and beat both of mine’. You’ve watched it every year for so long, and you can see how races can be lost.

“Rachael had kept plenty. She was getting in the right place – they say you need a lot of luck in the National, and I think we got that. Also, just the way Rachael was manoeuvring around there was incredible.”

A Plus Tard will be De Bromhead’s Haydock pioneer

A Plus Tard is on course to be Henry de Bromhead’s first Haydock runner in the Betfair Chase later this month.

The trainer is targeting the extended three-mile-one-furlong contest as a starting point for his Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up, who made a seamless transition to top-class staying races last term.

A Grade One winner over two miles and a furlong back in 2019, A Plus Tard moved back up to three miles at Christmas and duly won the Savills Chase – before then chasing home stablemate Minella Indo at Cheltenham.

De Bromhead said: “A Plus Tard is in mighty form – he worked really well the other day, and we’re aiming for the Betfair Chase.

“I ran him in the Fortria over two miles for his first run (last year), and he got beaten, but he sort of fooled me completely as he beat Chacun Pour Soi the previous year over two miles.

“Looking at the re-run of the Ryanair, it just looked like he was staying on at the end, so we all agreed to give him a go over three miles – and he was brilliant in the Savills Chase.

“There was no question about his stamina at Cheltenham. He’s an amazing horse to win a Grade One over two miles and a Grade one over three miles – there’s not many that do it. He’s brilliant and he’s still only seven, so he’s improving all the time.”

De Bromhead has never had a competitive runner at Haydock, but became acquainted with the track when the Irish-trained contenders for last season’s Grand National meeting were billeted there because of Covid restrictions.

He added: “We were there for Aintree in our bubble, and I was amazed how tight it was. I hadn’t pictured that at all, but it looks a lovely track.

“If everything goes well, I would imagine we’ll start in the Betfair, aim for the Savills – and then he went straight for the Gold Cup last year, so probably something similar.”

While A Plus Tard is set to stay in Ireland over Christmas, De Bromhead has two options for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton – in Minella Indo and second-season star Envoi Allen.

Both reappeared at Down Royal last Saturday when Minella Indo had to settle for third behind Frodon in the Champion Chase, while Envoi Allen won a Grade Two contest to put behind him a nightmare spring which saw him lose his unbeaten record when falling at the Cheltenham Festival before being pulled up at Punchestown.

De Bromhead is keen to send Minella Indo for the King George, but may swerve the contest with Envoi Allen.

He said: “I’d say Indo is highly likely. Envoi Allen, I’m not sure. He’s a second-season novice, we’ll see. It was great to get that run the other day, he looked brilliant again – he could, but we haven’t made any plans with him.

“I know Indo is maybe not your typical King George horse, but we’ll certainly weigh it up nearer the time.

“It could be the King George or the Savills – we’ll see how that goes. He’ll come on plenty for Down Royal – he was a little bit shorter than I thought he was, and he caught me out a little bit, but he still ran a cracker.”

Envoi Allen, a Grade One winner in bumper company as well as over hurdles and at novice chase level, was trying three miles for the first time when sustaining an injury at Punchestown – and De Bromhead has certainly not ruled out another try at the distance.

He said: “He seemed to love jumping and galloping at that pace last week, so I think that’s interesting with him. Obviously we want to look at three miles some time – but he’s got solid form, a very high cruising speed, he jumps quick, (so) he’s probably got a lot of attributes for two to two and a half miles.

“I haven’t discussed it with connections, so I’m not sure which way we’ll go as yet, but he’s very versatile. He’s not run (completed the course) over three miles, so you don’t know if he’ll stay, but it’s something you want to find out some time soon.”

De Bromhead not only has a plethora of talented chasers, he also houses the reigning champion hurdler Honeysuckle – who boasts a perfect record of 12 wins in as many starts.

The seven-year-old obliterated her Cheltenham rivals by six and a half lengths in the spring and will kick off her campaign in the Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, where she will be bidding to emulate the late Solerina and Apple’s Jade in winning the race for a third successive year.

“She’s great, she’s a superstar and she’s doing really well,” he said.

“She loves working up the hill here, but she loves her days away as well.

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore were brilliant winners of the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore were brilliant winners of the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“She’ll have a few of those before the Hatton’s Grace, which is where we’ll start out again with her. It’s a tried-and-tested route – and of course, it’s all about Cheltenham in March.

“She’s a fantastic mare.”

Put The Kettle On is another distaff star for De Bromhead, having completed a massive Festival hat-trick for the trainer last season by winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The seven-year-old is unbeaten in four starts at Cheltenham. After skipping a run in last month’s PWC Champion Chase because of unsuitable ground at Gowran, Put The Kettle On will return to her spiritual home next week to make her seasonal bow.

De Bromhead said: “She’s going for the Shloer Chase. She seems in great form – she worked really well on Wednesday. Sadly we couldn’t run in the PWC at Gowran, so we go for the Shloer now, and we’re really happy with her.

“Obviously she loves Cheltenham. Whatever it is – the tightness, the undulations – she just loves it around there. Aidan (Coleman) gets a fantastic tune out of her.”

De Bromhead mulling Christmas options for Minella Indo

Kempton and Leopardstown are likely to come under the microscope as possible destinations for the next outing of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained gelding returned to action at Down Royal on Saturday, and while ultimately having to settle for third behind all-the-way winner Frodon in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, it was a performance that offered plenty of encouragement for the season ahead.

As did that of Envoi Allen, who was back to his brilliant best in the Grade Two Join Racing TV Chase.

The Waterford handler said: “Both were really good, Indo was brilliant and Envoi was good.”

Asked if he was happy with the run of Minella Indo, De Bromhead replied: “Absolutely, it’s a long year and fair play to Frodon and the (Paul) Nicholls team as they did a brilliant job to have him how he was.

“Our guy just takes a bit to warm up and ultimately Cheltenham is his place, he seems to grow another leg there. He’s incredible over there.

“Possibly the King George or the Savills Chase could be next, we’ll see. Probably neither are ideal, but he’s there and we want to run him.”

Options are fluid for Envoi Allen, after what was his first victory under De Bromhead’s care since moving from Gordon Elliott, having fallen at Cheltenham in March and suffered an injury at Punchestown.

De Bromhead said: “We haven’t really discussed Envoi Allen yet. There are a few options and the John Durkan (at Punchestown) would look an obvious one.

“He looked very pacey, I thought, and he is a Champion Bumper winner. We haven’t discussed plans at all yet.”

All eyes on Envoi Allen in Down Royal comeback

Envoi Allen bids to get his career back on track as he returns to action at Down Royal on Saturday.

The seven-year-old was unbeaten in 11 starts under rules, including Grade Ones in bumper company and over both hurdles and fences, before his winning streak ended at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Sent off a hot favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase on his first start for Henry De Bromhead having transferred from Gordon Elliott’s care, Envoi Allen crashed out at the fourth fence and was then pulled up when he went on a retrieval mission at Punchestown.

Jack Kennedy cuts a disconsolate figure on his way to meet Henry de Bromhead after the Cheltenham fall
Jack Kennedy cuts a disconsolate figure on his way to meet Henry de Bromhead after the Cheltenham fall (David Davies/PA)

It later became apparent Envoi Allen had picked up an injury but having had successful surgery, De Bromhead is looking forward to seeing him back in the Join Racing TV Chase.

“Envoi Allen had a chip removed in the spring and he seems in good form and is moving really well. All is good,” said De Bromhead.

“The races are so competitive no matter where you go and this race is for second-season novices and he won his beginners’ chase there.”

Rachael Blackmore rode at Punchestown and will again be in the plate as both Jack Kennedy and Davy Russell, who had previously teamed up with Envoi Allen over obstacles, are required to ride for Elliott, who sends Coko Beach and Vado Forte.

Blackmore told BetVictor: “I pulled him up last time out at Punchestown. It was found that he had chipped his hind joint afterwards which required an operation, all went well and he had a nice summer break.

“He has been in a while and seems in great form at home. He has won twice at this meeting in impressive style on both occasions, fingers crossed we can replicate that start to the season and see him back to his very best once again.”

On taking on his former stable star, Elliott said: “Envoi Allen is different class, so we will only be riding for second.”