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Blackmore in fine form with Killarney treble

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a hat-trick of winners during a successful day on the opening card of Killarney’s three-day May meeting.

Mr Tambourine Man triumphed on his second run over hurdles when taking the Follow Killarney Races On Instagram Maiden Hurdle to give the Grand National-winning jockey the first leg of her treble when riding for trainer John Halley.

The four-year-old was previously campaigned on the Flat by Aidan O’Brien and joined Halley’s yard in April to embark on his jumping career.

The Galileo gelding was fourth on his hurdling debut at Kilbeggan, a run he built on to come home eight lengths ahead of San Pedro.

“He had a lovely run the last day in Kilbeggan so (he was) stepping up on that,” Blackmore said of the 4-1 scorer. “It was great he could do that today.

“John does loads of schooling with them, but the penny is still only dropping with him on the jumping side of it.”

Blackmore sealed a double after steering Henry de Bromhead’s Cavalry Master to a four-and-a-half-length victory in the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Novice Chase.

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A seven-year-old by Milan, the grey Cavalry Master (2-1) was an impressive winner at Kilbeggan and handled another furlong on this occasion with aplomb.

“He stepped up again from the last day and is taking to chasing very well,” Blackmore said.

“In the past he won a two-mile bumper at Kilbeggan, so we weren’t sure if he’d stay, but the last day he stayed really well.

“He was up in trip a little further again today and stayed on well again.”

Gin On Lime (15-8) then became Blackmore’s third winner when she prevailed in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase for De Bromhead, easily beating stablemate and 7-4 favourite Tune The Chello by 42 lengths, having been left clear two out.

“She is a very good mare on her day and really enjoyed it there,” Blackmore said.

“She had a little break and seems to have come back from it really well.

“The ground is on the better side of yielding, she jumped and travelled brilliantly and could go through the summer.”

Noel Meade’s Jesse Evans could head for the Galway Hurdle after victory in the Kelly Farm Modernisation Ltd Handicap Hurdle.

The 9-2 winner was a competitive third at Punchestown and improved on that run to succeed by half a length under Sean Flanagan.

“He is obviously a smart horse and his run at Punchestown was his first in a competitive handicap and it has sharpened him up,” the jockey said.

“He might need a trip in time or exactly what we have had today, a really strong gallop – the Galway Hurdle could be a possibility.”

Getaway Gorgeous became a Listed winner when taking the Tourist Attraction Mares Hurdle for Brian Hayes and Willie Mullins.

Running for the first time since finishing last of 23 runners in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the mare was this time triumphant as she defeated Western Victory by a length and a half.

The seven-year-old was kept towards the rear of the field for much of the race, but began to pick her rivals off in the final furlongs and overcame a messy jump at the last to prevail at 11-2.

“She landed there at the back of the second-last and I had to keep going then and she jinked at the last when she got a bit of light and was wandering around a bit,” Hayes said.

“She was due to run without a hood in Punchestown, but slipped up on the way to the start and was withdrawn, so today was only her second run without a hood and having no hood today maybe lit the fire again and she won well.

“She ran OK when finishing 10th in the Paddy Mullins Hurdle (in February) which worked out to be a great race and I was delighted with her today.”

Envoi Allen suffered chipped joint in Punchestown defeat

A chipped joint has emerged as a viable excuse for Envoi Allen’s disappointing performance at last week’s Punchestown Festival.

Unbeaten in his first 11 starts under rules, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding met with defeat for the first time after falling when bidding for a third win at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Hopes were high he could bounce back to his brilliant best for a much-anticipated clash with Monkfish in Punchestown’s Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

However, Henry de Bromhead’s charge was struggling a long way from home before eventually being pulled up by Rachael Blackmore, while Monkfish failed to reel in his stablemate Colreevy.

Things have not gone to plan of late for Envoi Allen
Things have not gone to plan of late for Envoi Allen (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Envoi Allen was found to lame post-race and a subsequent CT scan at Fethard Equine Hospital has revealed the extent of his injury.

Cheveley Park’s managing director Chris Richardson said: “From the results of the investigations, it appears he has (chipped a joint).

“If you look at the picture of him taking off about a furlong before the second fence, it was the most unbelievable leap.

“Rachael obviously did the right thing by pulling him up. You could see that she had one tight rein and one loose rein, so things weren’t as expected.”

Rachael Blackmore with Sir Gerhard at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore with Sir Gerhard at Cheltenham (Michael Steele/PA)

Envoi Allen’s Cheltenham mishap was a rare blip at the Festival for the Cheveley Park team, who won with Sir Gerhard, Quilixios and Allaho, and went close to Gold Cup glory with A Plus Tard.

The Cheltenham winners were beaten at Punchestown, but Richardson added: “All the horses have had a long season and we had a wonderful Cheltenham.

“They can all go on holiday now and we can look forward to next year.”

Quilixios seeks to extend unbeaten record

Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line on the final afternoon of the Punchestown Festival.

Making his first start for Henry de Bromhead after being moved from Gordon Elliott’s stable, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding ran out an authoritative winner of the juvenile championship in the Cotswolds.

The four-year-old renews rivalry on Saturday with the third and fourth from Cheltenham, in the Willie Mullins-trained Haut En Couleurs and Denise Foster’s Zanahiyr.

De Bromhead has high hopes his charge can come out on top once more in the Grade One Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.

“He’s been really good and looks amazing. Obviously he only came to us just prior to Cheltenham, but he seems in really good form,” said the Waterford-based trainer.

“He seems to have a very high cruising speed – he jumps well and he’s a very exciting horse.

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“You’d hope he’d jump a fence, looking at his technique and everything. He’s a lovely, big, scopey horse – he’s a big fella and is exciting for the future.”

The first two from the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham are also in contention.

Jeff Kidder on his way to victory at Fairyhouse
Jeff Kidder on his way to victory at Fairyhouse (Niall Carson/PA)

Noel Meade’s Jeff Kidder, who has since won a Grade Two at Fairyhouse, led Mullins’ Saint Sam home at Prestbury Park – but both need to progress further to match the form of Quilixios.

French raider Mica Malpic (David Cottin), Druid’s Altar (Joseph O’Brien), Palace Rock (Francis Casey) and Zoffanien (Denis Hogan) complete the line-up.

Willie Mullins is responsible for four of the nine runners declared for the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – a Grade One contest he has won seven times in the last 10 runnings.

This year’s quartet is headed by Concertista, who is bidding to bounce back from a narrow defeat to Black Tears when odds-on for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Skyace has enjoyed a fantastic season
Skyace has enjoyed a fantastic season (Niall Carson/PA)

The Closutton handler also saddles Burning Victory – not seen since winning last year’s Triumph Hurdle – as well as My Sister Sarah and Stormy Ireland.

There would be no more popular winner than former Mullins inmate Skyace, for trainer Shark Hanlon.

The £600 purchase has won five times this season – most recently claiming Grade One honours in novice company at Fairyhouse.

Hanlon acknowledges the fact his stable star faces a much tougher assignment this weekend, but he is relishing the challenge.

He said: “It’s a step up in class for her, and we’re taking her out of novice company, but this is probably going to be her last run for a while – and she’s entitled to be there.

“She’s in great order and good form. The prize-money is so big as far down as fourth place, so we’ll give it our best shot.

“She’s entitled to take them on.”

Another ex-Mullins runner Laurina makes her first start for new connections, with Global Equity (Joseph O’Brien), Minella Melody (De Bromhead) and Politesse (Lorna Fowler) the other hopefuls.

Honeysuckle out to complete Champion double

Henry de Bromhead is delighted with Honeysuckle as the dream mare bids to take her perfect record under rules to 12 in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

Honeysuckle has simply gone from strength to strength and has already won seven Grade Ones.

Her latest triumph at the top level came at the Cheltenham Festival last month when she lifted the biggest prize of them all, the Champion Hurdle.

Success on Friday would be a fitting way to cap her remarkable campaign.

Honeysuckle has never run at Punchestown – but it is where she was sold for €110,000 three years ago, just days after winning a point-to-point. She went to be trained by De Bromhead – and the rest is history.

“Every Sunday morning she reminds me how good she could be over fences as she just starts popping away and she does jump them really well,” he said.

“She’s done that all her life, so we don’t really think about it, and to win at Punchestown would be brilliant. It’s where we started the journey.”

De Bromhead was thrilled by her success at Cheltenham.

“She came off the bridle a little coming down the hill, but once she came upsides it was nice to watch,” he added.

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“I was surprised she was that far back, but obviously it worked out – Rachael (Blackmore) was brilliant on her. They’re a great combination.

“She seems good. This is the first time she has run back after travelling, so that’s different. But she seems really well, and we’re happy.

“We’ll see about chasing – it’s something to discuss in the summer. She’s so good over hurdles you wonder if you can visualise her in a mares’ beginners’ chase somewhere.”

Blackmore and Honeysuckle have been an invincible partnership for the past three seasons.

“I love riding her, but that goes without saying,” the Grand National-winning jockey told BetVictor.

“She was incredible in Cheltenham, and seems to be improving all the time.

“She seems to have come out of Cheltenham really well. She didn’t go to Punchestown last year, but seems so well this year we’re hoping to keep it going.

“I think her performances this year show she’s improving. From the Irish Champion to Cheltenham, she’s improved with every run – and I’m just very lucky to have her.”

De Bromhead boosts his challenge with Champion Hurdle fourth Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant accompanying their illustrious stablemate.

“Aspire Tower will take her on again,” added the County Waterford handler.

“He’s in great form and came out of Cheltenham well, but his jumping let him down a bit there.

“Jason The Militant was a bit unfortunate (to unseat) at Aintree, but he seems in mighty form.

“It was frustrating. But he came back safe and sound, and we can’t complain too much.”

Sharjah, runner-up to Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, takes the mighty mare on again and is Willie Mullins’ only representative in the race.

“Sharjah ran a fantastic race in Cheltenham,” said the champion trainer.

“I don’t think he could have improved much more.”

Former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante will be taking on Honeysuckle again
Former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante will be taking on Honeysuckle again (Tim Goode/PA)

Epatante was only third in the defence of her Cheltenham crown. But connections are pleased with the Nicky Henderson-trained mare as she has another crack at Honeysuckle. It is also her first race in Ireland.

“It’s a great race, and Honeysuckle is going to be very hard to beat,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“Nicky’s very happy with her, but he was happy with her going to Cheltenham as well. She has a bit to do to reverse the placings – Honeysuckle is very good and she is going to take a lot of beating.

“We just hope she runs a big race.”

Bob Olinger misses Punchestown outing

Bob Olinger is a late absentee from Friday’s Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

Henry de Bromhead’s hugely impressive Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner was found to be coughing on the morning of the race.

Having claimed a clean sweep of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at Cheltenham, De Bromhead has yet to fire at Punchestown – and Gold Cup hero Minella Indo was also a late absentee with a stone bruise.

De Bromhead had earlier taken out Decimation, who only ran two days ago.

In their absence only four remain, with three trained by Willie Mullins.

Jessica Harrington’s saddles Ashdale Bob, who was a narrow Grade Two winner at Fairyhouse this month.

“He’s probably up against it, but he hasn’t gone to Cheltenham and he’s won two Grade Twos, so he’s entitled to take his chance,” she said.

“It was great to see him win at Fairyhouse.”

Mullins’ runners are headed by Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was second to Bob Olinger at Cheltenham, with Ganapathi and N’golo completing the field.

Mullins said on his website: “Gaillard Du Mesnil came out of the Cheltenham race well. Realistically our other two runners are running for place money.

“Ganapathi found the trip too sharp in the County Hurdle, but that experience will help him here.

“N’golo ran too free in the Albert Bartlett but a change of tactics here might enable him to get a good share of the prize money.”

Concertista heads Mullins’ quartet in Mares Champion Hurdle

Willie Mullins launches a four-pronged assault as he bids to continue his dominance of the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

The champion trainer has saddled seven of the last 10 winners of Saturday’s Grade One contest, with brilliant mares Annie Power and Benie Des Dieux both landing back-to-back renewals.

This year’s quartet is headed by Concertista, who was a beaten odds-on favourite at the Cheltenham Festival last month when touched off by Black Tears in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Mullins also runs Burning Victory – not seen since winning the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham last year – as well as My Sister Sarah and Stormy Ireland, who returned from a spell with Paul Nicholls to make a successful second debut for the Closutton yard at Fairyhouse over Easter.

Former Mullins inmate Skyace would be a popular winner for trainer Shark Hanlon.

Bought for the bargain-basement price of £600, the six-year-old has since won five races, including a Grade One success – a first for her trainer – at Fairyhouse on her latest appearance.

Another ex-Mullins runner Laurina makes her first start for new connections.

Global Equity (Joseph O’Brien), Minella Melody (Henry de Bromhead) and Politesse (Lorna Fowler) complete the nine-strong field.

Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the following Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, in which Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios renews rivalry with a couple of Cheltenham foes.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding made a successful first start for De Bromhead, having been moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard, when powering up the famous hill in the Cotswolds last month.

He is taken on again by the Mullins-trained third Haut En Couleurs and Denise Foster’s fourth Zanahiyr.

The first two from the Boodles at Cheltenham are also in the mix – Noel Meade’s Jeff Kidder and Mullins’ Saint Sam.

Jeff Kidder has since continued his progression with a Grade Two success at Fairyhouse.

David Cottin’s Mica Malpic is an intriguing challenger from France, with Druid’s Altar (O’Brien), Palace Rock (Francis Casey) and Zoffanien (Denis Hogan) completing the field.

Honeysuckle heads Punchestown’s Champion Hurdle field

Henry de Bromhead fires a three-strong team in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown – with the peerless Honeysuckle at the forefront.

The brilliant mare has taken her form to a new level this season, winning a second Irish Champion Hurdle before a dominant display in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

She is 11 from 11 under Rules and is odds-on to remain unbeaten against seven rivals on Friday.

De Bromhead also fields the five-year-old Aspire Tower, a fine fourth at Cheltenham, and Jason The Militant who unseated Rachael Blackmore at Aintree.

Denise Foster’s Abacadabras returned to winning ways at Aintree, though, and will ensure Honeysuckle does not face a stroll in the park.

Willie Mullins’ Sharjah got closest to her last month and also lines up, as does Nicky Henderson’s Epatante – winner of the 2020 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

With Goshen and Darver Star completing the eight-strong field, the race is set to be one of the highlights of the week.

Just six have been declared in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle – and they include De Bromhead’s Decimation, due to run on Wednesday.

Stablemate Bob Olinger is the headline act, though, after his imperious display at Cheltenham in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Mullins will field three of his rivals – Gaillard Du Mesnil, who proved no match for him at Cheltenham, Ganapathi  and N’Golo.

Jessica Harrington’s Ashdale Bob, a Grade Two winner at Fairyhouse last time out, is also in the field. But Mullins’ Supreme winner Appreciate It is a notable absentee.

Minella Indo ruled out of Punchestown with bruised foot

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo has been ruled out of the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday with a bruised foot.

Henry de Bromhead was forced to pull the plug on his intended seasonal swansong when he discovered the problem on Monday.

Minella Indo led home a historic one-two for the trainer in the Gold Cup last month, when beating stablemate A Plus Tard.

“It’s a very minor thing, but it’s the right thing to do and we thought we’d let everybody know sooner rather than later,” said De Bromhead.

“He just didn’t seem right when we were looking at him and when we had a look he’s bruised the sole of his foot.

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“We’ll call it a day now, he’s had a great season.”

Minella Indo’s win capped a fantastic Cheltenham for the De Bromhead team, having also won the Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle and the Champion Chase with Put The Kettle On – the first time all three feature races had been won by the same trainer in one year.

De Bromhead then went on to saddle the first two home in the Grand National with Rachael Blackmore creating history on Minella Times, beating Balko Des Flos.

In the absence of Minella Indo, Al Boum Photo, who had won the previous two Gold Cups at Cheltenham and was third this year, is the new 13-8 favourite with Coral.

Al Boum Photo (left) is now favourite for the Punchestown Gold Cup
Al Boum Photo (left) is now favourite for the Punchestown Gold Cup (Michael Steele/PA)

“Not much has gone wrong for Henry de Bromhead in recent weeks, but the setback to Minella Indo means the trainer won’t be adding the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup to his incredible big-race haul this season,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

A field of six will now line up, including a four-pronged challenge from the Willie Mullins stable, with last year’s winner Kemboy, Easy Game and Melon joining Al Boum Photo.

Paul Nicholls sends over Clan Des Obeaux, winner of the Betway Bowl at Aintree this month, while Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies is the other contender.

Cheltenham Festival winners Galopin Des Champs and Vanillier clash in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.

The latter lifted the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle for Gavin Cromwell, while the Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs took the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

Vanillier will be out to follow up his Cheltenham success at Punchestown on Wednesday
Vanillier will be out to follow up his Cheltenham success at Punchestown on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

Mullins also has Albert Bartlett fourth Stattler – with the third, John McConnell’s Streets Of Doyen, also in the mix in an eight-runner field.

Sir Gerhard, for the Mullins stable, is the headline act in the third Grade One race on the card, the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion INH Flat Race.

The six-year-old attempts to take his perfect record under Rules to four after his success in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.

He got the better of stable companion Kilcruit by half a length that day, and the pair clash again in a mouth-watering contest.

Mick Halford’s Ardla, Eric Bloodaxe from Joseph O’Brien’s yard and Stuart Crawford’s O’Toole are also among the eight runners.

Envoi Allen seeking Punchestown redemption

Envoi Allen bids to put Cheltenham disappointment behind him when meeting Monkfish in a much-anticipated clash at Punchestown on Tuesday.

Already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner having won the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Envoi Allen was widely expected to complete the hat-trick on his return to the Cotswolds for the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month.

However, having barely put a foot wrong in three previous outings over fences, Envoi Allen fell at the fourth obstacle at Cheltenham on what his first start for trainer Henry de Bromhead after being moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard.

De Bromhead reports the seven-year-old in rude health ahead of his latest assignment in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, but is wary of the threat posed by the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish – winner of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

He said: “I think we know him a bit better now. He seems much more settled, even schooling him the other morning. He seems really good and we’re happy with him.

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“Of course you have to respect Monkfish – he’s been impressive all year. Perhaps Cheltenham was his least impressive (performance), but prior to that he’s been unreal.

“It looks a brilliant race, you want these top horses taking each other on.

“We haven’t done anything different, he had some physio and he’s schooled well since, I think we’ve done all we can.”

Monkfish after winning at Cheltenham
Monkfish after winning at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Monkfish was more solid than spectacular in extending his unbeaten record over fences to four at Prestbury Park, but is nevertheless the marginal favourite over Envoi Allen.

Mullins also runs Colreevy – who on the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham – and Franco De Port.

“Monkfish didn’t jump with the same flair that he jumped (with previously) and he didn’t gallop with the same flair (at Cheltenham),” said the champion trainer.

“Colreevy has been covered by Walk In The Park and this will probably be her last run. The Flynns (owners) are out-and-out breeders and she is a fantastic looking mare and hopefully she’ll be lucky.

“From winning the Arkle at Christmas over two miles, I’m putting Franco De Port in over three miles and that will tell us where we are going next year.”

Mullins also possesses a strong hand in the first of three Grade Ones on the card, the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

With Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Appreciate It a notable absentee, the Closutton handler relies upon Blue Lord – who fell at the last when seemingly booked for second in the Supreme – and dual Grade Two-winning mare Echoes In Rain.

Mullins said: “Blue Lord was going to run a fantastic race at Cheltenham before he fell at the last. I think he will improve for the flatter track and the nicer ground we will have at Punchestown.

“Echoes In Rain is interesting. Her performance in Fairyhouse was very good and she is getting a nice fillies allowance, so we’ll see.”

Uhtred (Joseph O’Brien), Colonel Mustard (Lorna Fowler) and Dewcup (Ted Walsh) are the other hopefuls.

Minella Indo bids for famous double at Punchestown

Minella Indo heads a field of seven for the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup.

Henry de Bromhead’s eight-year-old will bid to become the fourth Cheltenham Gold Cup winner this century to complete the coveted double in the same season after Kicking King (2005), War Of Attrition (2006) and Sizing John (2017).

Jack Kennedy, who partnered Minella Indo to glory at Cheltenham, retains the ride on Wednesday.

He faces a four-pronged challenge from Willie Mullins’ stable, including last year’s winner Kemboy.

Al Boum Photo, winner of the Gold Cup in 2019 and 2020 and third this year, takes on Minella Indo again. Easy Game and Melon complete Mullins’ team.

Paul Nicholls sends over Clan Des Obeaux, winner of the Betway Bowl at Aintree this month, while Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies is the other contender.

Cheltenham Festival winners Galopin Des Champs and Vanillier clash in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.

The latter lifted the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle for Gavin Cromwell, while the Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs took the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

Vanillier will be out to follow up his Cheltenham success at Punchestown on Wednesday
Vanillier will be out to follow up his Cheltenham success at Punchestown on Wednesday (Tim Goode/PA)

Mullins also has Albert Bartlett fourth Stattler – with the third, John McConnell’s Streets Of Doyen, also in the mix in an eight-runner field.

Sir Gerhard, for the Mullins stable, is the headline act in the third Grade One race on the card, the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion INH Flat Race.

The six-year-old attempts to take his perfect record under Rules to four after his success in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.

He got the better of stable companion Kilcruit by half a length that day, and the pair clash again in a mouth-watering contest.

Mick Halford’s Ardla, Eric Bloodaxe from Joseph O’Brien’s yard and Stuart Crawford’s O’Toole are also among the eight runners.

Cheltenham victor Minella Indo tops 11 in Punchestown mix

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo will face a maximum of 10 rivals when he bids to follow up at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge led home stablemate A Plus Tard to win the blue riband at Prestbury Park last month under Jack Kennedy, who will once again be on board in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup next week.

The eight-year-old is set to renew rivalry with the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.

Al Boum Photo will bid to get back to winning ways
Al Boum Photo will bid to get back to winning ways (PA)

Al Boum Photo finished an honourable third when bidding for a Gold Cup hat-trick in the Cotswolds, while Kemboy – who had previously beaten Minella Indo when landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown – was only ninth.

Kemboy famously sent Ruby Walsh into retirement when beating Al Boum Photo in the last running of the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019.

Mullins has also left in Ryanair Chase winner Allaho, Easy Game and Melon, while British hopes will be carried by Clan Des Obeaux, who was supplemented on Thursday morning at a cost of 25,000 euro.

The dual King George winner got back on the winning trail in the Betway Bowl at Aintree earlier in the month – and trainer Paul Nicholls is looking forward to seeing him take on the Irish in a race he won with Neptune Collonges in both 2007 and 2008.

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“This is weather is ideal for him, this time of year suits him and the track should suit,” said Nicholls.

“He’s in good shape and looks fantastic, so we’re really looking forward to it.

“We’ve been very successful at Punchestown in the past, with Neptune Collonges and Master Minded and others.

“It’s all about having the horses that are good enough to be competitive in those races.”

Denise Foster’s pair of Tiger Roll and The Storyteller, Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir d’Oudairies and the Tom Mullins-trained Court Maid are the other hopefuls.

The feature event on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival on Tuesday is the William Hill Champion Chase.

Willie Mullis has already stated his intention to run both the aforementioned Allaho and Chacun Pour Soi in this Grade One contest, along with Cilaos Emery.

Fakir d’Oudairies also has this option, while Kim Bailey and Dan Skelton hope to send First Flow and Nube Negra across the Irish Sea.

Castlegrace Paddy (Pat Fahy), Daly Tiger (Noel Meade) and De Bromhead’s Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On complete the nine confirmations, although the latter is set to contest Saturday’s Celebration Chase at Sandown.

The Mullins-trained Appreciate It is the star attraction among 13 still in the mix for the first Grade One of the week – the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Appreciate It was a wide-margin winner at Cheltenham
Appreciate It was a wide-margin winner at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A runaway winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old will be a warm order to follow up back on home soil.

Echoes In Rain and Blue Lord are also part of a strong Mullins team in the same race, while De Bromhead has confirmed Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner Bob Olinger, although he appears more likely to run later in the week.

The third and arguably most exciting of the three Grade One races on day one is the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, which is set to stage a mouthwatering clash between the Mullins-trained Monkfish and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen.

The champion trainer also has Cheltenham Festival heroine Colreevy and Franco De Port in a field of eight.

The main supporting races to the Gold Cup on Wednesday are the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles and the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

Flooring Porter winning the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham
Flooring Porter winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Gavin Cromwell’s Vanillier will bid to supplement his win in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in the former, while Mullins is ready to let Champion Bumper one-two Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard lock horns again in the latter.

Cromwell also trains the likely favourite for the big race on Thursday – the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.

Flooring Porter made every yard of the running to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and will be well fancied to follow up.

A 19-strong entry also includes Paul Nolan’s Pertemps Final winner Mrs Milner, Denise Foster’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Sire Du Berlais and Noel Meade’s fourth Beacon Edge.

Energumene, who disappointingly missed the Arkle Cheltenham after suffering a setback, is one of eight remaining contenders for the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase.

Envoi Allen also has the option of running in this two-mile contest.

De Bromhead looking forward to latest round of superstar action

Henry de Bromhead is not allowing himself to get carried away as he prepares an array of stars for the Punchestown Festival.

De Bromhead won the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase and saddled the first two in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham – the first time all three championship races had been won by the same trainer at the Festival – and then topped that by sending out the first and second in the Randox Grand National.

While he is quite happy for his jockey Rachael Blackmore to take most of the plaudits, the quietly-spoken Waterford trainer is finding it hard to keep in the background with the sheer number of brilliant horses he has assembled.

“The whole thing feels surreal,” said De Bromhead.

Henry de Bromhead with Gold Cup hero Minella Indo
Henry de Bromhead with Gold Cup hero Minella Indo (Morgan Treacy/Handout)

“I was just getting my head around Cheltenham and then we went and won the National. They are the races you grow up watching and dream of having runners in.

“Everyone is sick of my superlatives and I’ve run out of things to say, it’s just brilliant.

“We’ve all watched the National again, but it’s just a busy time of year – we’re flat out.

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“Hopefully when things calm down after Punchestown we’ll be able to savour it even more, but the times we are in we’re not able to celebrate much – but that is better for my liver anyhow. If it was a normal Cheltenham, I’m not sure if I’d have even seen Cheltenham!

“Everyone gets on a run, but it is incredible ours has happened now. We’ve got years of experience in the teams at home, we’re always developing, it’s a great team, owners have confidence and faith in us and we’ve brilliant jockeys.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things, but no one is more surprised than I am.”

Honeysuckle will put her unbeaten record on the line at Punchestown
Honeysuckle will put her unbeaten record on the line at Punchestown (Michael Steele/PA)

De Bromhead will run most of his Cheltenham winners at Punchestown, including Gold Cup hero Minella Indo and the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle.

Minella Indo is set for the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on the second day, Wednesday, with Jack Kennedy keeping the ride.

“He’s really good, he’s so laid back. We backed off for a few days afterwards and he started getting chubby, but we started back with him again and he seems in great form and we’re happy with him,” said De Bromhead.

Honeysuckle has the prospect of going chasing still in the background, but for now her sights are fixed on the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Friday week.

Envoi Allen is poised for action at Punchestown
Envoi Allen is poised for action at Punchestown (PA)

“She seems really good, came out of Cheltenham really well and we’re really excited about it and looking forward to the race,” said De Bromhead.

One rare blip in recent weeks for the stable was when new recruit Envoi Allen fell at Cheltenham, but he is on target for a mouthwatering clash with Monkfish in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase on the opening day.

De Bromhead said: “He’s on course, he’s in great form and worked really well at the Curragh last week.

“Obviously Cheltenham was unfortunate, it was a novicey mistake but he seems in great form and we’re good to go.”

It has been a momentous year for Rachael Blackmore
It has been a momentous year for Rachael Blackmore (Tim Goode/PA)

Bob Olinger and Quilixios are others due to run at a meeting which will also decide who is champion jockey, with Blackmore chasing down Paul Townend.

The gap is currently eight, with Townend still sidelined with a foot injury.

“I’m not sure what Paul’s situation is, I don’t know if he’ll be back. It’s going to be tough even if he’s not back, but we’ll be trying to do our best and support her the best we can,” said De Bromhead, who expects to be represented by Plan Of Attack in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown on Saturday, with Blackmore aboard.

“You can all see for yourself (what her strengths are), in the National it was like she could see around corners, she saw dangers before they happened.

“She’s brilliant to work with and knows how hard you have to work to succeed. She gets on with everyone and knows how to ride winners.

“I’ve said it all before, but I think she’s just brilliant – we’re very lucky to have her.”

Altior could clash with Put The Kettle on at Sandown

Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On is among Altior’s potential rivals in the bet365 Celebration Chase at Sandown.

Having missed out on bidding for a hat-trick in the Champion Chase for the second year in succession following a late setback, Nicky Henderson’s Altior looks set to round off his campaign by bidding for a fourth win in the final Grade One of the season on Saturday.

The 11-year-old might not have things all his own way, however, with Henry de Bromhead’s mare Put The Kettle On set to be in opposition.

Aidan Coleman celebrates at Cheltenham with Put The Kettle On
Aidan Coleman celebrates at Cheltenham with Put The Kettle On (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The Stowaway mare claimed her second Festival success in the Champion Chase last month, following on from her victory in the Arkle Trophy 12 months earlier.

De Bromhead could also saddle Ornua, while Paul Nicholls has a couple of hopefuls in Dolos and Greaneteen.

Another leading contender is Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, who inflicted a shock defeat on Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton earlier in the season, before finishing second to Put The Kettle On at Cheltenham.

Gary Moore’s Editeur Du Gite, Ann Hamilton’s stable star Nuts Well and Sceau Royal from Alan King’s yard also feature.

Frodon and Tiger Roll could lock horns in the Grade Two bet365 Oaksey Chase.

Tiger Roll could be seen at Sandown on Saturday
Tiger Roll could be seen at Sandown on Saturday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Winner of the King George at Kempton, the Nicholls-trained Frodon was last seen finishing an honourable fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Tiger Roll was fourth on his latest outing in Aintree’s Betway Bowl.

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the bet365 Hurdle, in which Goshen is the headline act.

The five-year-old hung his chance away in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month and connections will be hoping he can bounce back to his best on his return to a right-handed track.

He could be taken on by the last two winners of the race in Call Me Lord and Younevercall, among others.

Blackmore draws blank at Tramore in race to catch Townend

Rachael Blackmore remained eight winners behind Paul Townend in the race for the Irish jump jockeys’ championship after drawing a blank at Tramore on Sunday, where she missed her final mount of the day following a heavy fall.

With Townend currently on the sidelines due to a foot injury picked up at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting, Blackmore would have been hoping to make more of an inroad into the reigning champion’s lead since her Aintree heroics on Minella Times. But in that time the deficit has only been cut by two.

Blackmore finished in the money on her first three rides of the afternoon without ever looking likely to win, before Game Of War came crashing down at the last in the Green Acre Marketing Handicap Chase.

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Despite walking away she was stood down, with the ride on Western Boy in the Lismore Handicap Chase going to Sean Flanagan. The 15-8 favourite was unplaced.

As for Townend, whether he makes it back for the Punchestown Festival is still unclear.

His main employer, champion trainer Willie Mullins, who saddled a treble with Gelee Blanche (3-1), En Beton (evens favourite) and Bapaume (11-8 favourite), said there was no further news on his condition.

“I have no update on Paul Townend. We are just waiting for as long as we have to wait,” said Mullins after the victory of Gelee Blanche.

He added of that winner: “Hopefully now she can improve as the summer goes on. She has a lot of Galway connections with the Tiger Tail Again Syndicate, so I’d imagine that will be her long-term aim, get back to the Festival in Galway this summer.”

Bapaume, meanwhile, could revert to hurdles at Punchestown.

Mullins said: “We’ll probably go back over hurdles at Punchestown, possibly for a handicap hurdle if he comes out of this well.

“Otherwise we can look over the next month for a similar type of race down the country. Even though the timing isn’t right to go to Punchestown, he mightn’t have had as hard a race as normally with Spyglass Hill making that mistake and the race falling into his lap a bit.”

Henry de Bromhead also enjoyed a winner on a day when he paraded stable stars including Aintree hero Minella Times, Champion Hurdle-winning mare Honeysuckle and Gold Cup victor Minella Indo.

The win came in the concluding bumper with Mind Your Money (15-8), after which the Waterford trainer said: “She is a lovely mare and I’m delighted with that.

“Obviously her run the last day looked really good. Harry (Swan) was brilliant on her. She jumps really well at home so hopefully she will have a nice career over hurdles.

“The parade was incredible and there was a great reception. It’s such a shame that crowd can’t be here, but it was lovely for us and all the team to get a reception like it.”

Rachael Blackmore on the crest of a wave after National heroics

Rachael Blackmore is still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of her achievement after claiming Randox Grand National glory at Aintree.

The 31-year-old is used to breaking boundaries, having risen from relative obscurity to becoming one of the leading National Hunt jockeys on either side of the Irish Sea in the space of six years as a professional.

Just last month Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, aboard the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, and her six winners at the Festival saw her crowned leading jockey.

While those significant triumphs transcended sport to a certain degree, Saturday’s historic victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase has seen reluctant superstar Blackmore receive global acclaim.

“It’s still hard to process it all, to be honest. It’s been unbelievable,” she said.

“I was meant to fly home on Saturday night, but I missed my flight so I came home on the boat on Sunday and got home on Sunday evening.

“I genuinely lay awake in bed all night on Saturday. I was completely exhausted and got into bed thinking I was going to have a great night’s sleep, but I just could not shut down. I’ve been catching up on sleep ever since!

“I just couldn’t believe what had happened, I suppose. Your adrenaline would still be up and you’d be thinking about what was one of the biggest days of my life, so sleep just wouldn’t allow!”

Blackmore is well used to big-race success, but admits the feeling of winning the National on the Henry de Bromhead-trained Minella Times was different to anything she has experienced before.

Rachael Blackmore receives the Randox Grand National trophy
Rachael Blackmore receives the Randox Grand National trophy (David Davies/PA)

“It’s a very exciting race to be part of,” she told the PA news agency.

“I’d ridden Minella Times before, and he’s a beautiful horse to ride who jumps really well, so I was looking forward to going over the National fences with him.

“There’s a lot of anticipation in the build-up to the National. It’s so unique – 40 horses and 30 jumps. I suppose excitement was the overriding emotion on Saturday morning.

“You know very quickly if a horse is taking to the fences or not, and Minella Times absolutely took to them. After we jumped two or three fences, I knew he was really enjoying himself, and we got a fantastic passage around.

“Once you’ve got over The Chair and the water jump, you can kind of take a breath then as you’ve got over everything and you just have to go and do it once more!”

While Minella Times appeared to have victory in safe-keeping up the run-in, it was not until he passed the post that Blackmore let herself believe she had secured the most momentous of wins.

She added: “I could hear the commentator saying we were four lengths ahead, and I knew my horse wasn’t fading under me – he was going to stay galloping to the line. That is when I had the realisation that it might happen – and a few strides later it did happen.

“The feeling was just complete elation. It’s slightly different to Cheltenham – where you’re riding Honeysuckle in a Champion Hurdle, she’s favourite, and there’s a good bit of pressure attached to it.

“Going out in the Grand National, I didn’t feel any pressure. There’s not the same expectation, because everyone involved knows the amount of luck that’s involved.

“After Honeysuckle, my initial feeling was more relief, and then joy, whereas after the National it was complete joy straightaway.”

Rachael Blackmore could not believe she had claimed National glory
Rachael Blackmore could not believe she had claimed National glory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)
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Usually so composed in a race and afterwards, Blackmore did not find it so easy to keep her emotions in check on Merseyside.

“I probably was (emotional) afterwards, but it’s the Aintree Grand National – it’s such a big race,” she said.

“That’s not to say they’re not big races at Cheltenham. But Cheltenham is four days, with extremely important horses running every day – you can’t really allow yourself to kick back on Tuesday evening and enjoy the day, because you’ve a very important day the next day.

“After the National, Aintree was done. I had a ride in the bumper, but it’s just different.”

Among those who have congratulated Blackmore on her National triumph are tennis great Billie Jean King and Ringo Starr, drummer with The Beatles.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said.

“We used to go on camping holidays to France when we were younger, and The Beatles would be on the CD player in the car.

“I grew up listening to them, so it’s hard to believe when you’ve got people like that sending you well wishes.

“I’ve received well-wishes from everywhere, and people are just so kind. I feel extremely lucky to be in the position I’m in.”

Unlike many of her weighing-room colleagues, Blackmore was not bred to be a jockey.

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

However, from an early age, the daughter of a dairy farmer and a secondary schoolteacher loved horses –  and the Grand National in particular.

She added: “I remember when the sileage was cut trying to get my pony to jump the channels of grass in the field – and imagined I was jumping fences at Aintree.

“The Grand National was the first thing that captured my imagination in the world of racing. It’s that kind of special race that captures a global audience – I never thought that I’d be winning it some day.

“I know I keep saying it, but it is genuinely hard to comprehend.”

Blackmore has certainly not had it easy, kicking off her riding career as an amateur struggling for winners on the point-to-point circuit before making the bold decision to turn professional at the age of 25.

Her career in the paid ranks got off to a steady rather than spectacular start, but she insists she never doubted she had made the right decision.

She said: “It took me a while to get that first winner as a professional, but I was no stranger to waiting a long time for a winner – they didn’t exactly come thick and fast as an amateur.

“There was never a moment where I thought ‘have I done the right thing?’, and that was mainly because I was riding a lot more.

“I was going racing nearly every day. It might have only been for one or two rides, but I was racing a lot more than before – which meant I was getting more practice and getting better at what I was doing.

“I received a lot of support. Shark Hanlon was my main backer then, and I wasn’t getting anxious because the winner wasn’t coming because that is racing, unfortunately.”

Not one to seek the limelight, Blackmore is nevertheless aware of her current position as a role model to potential jockeys of the future – whether that be male or female.

She said: “When I was starting off, I was seeing Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh achieving massive things. Seeing what they were achieving encouraged me and never made me think about gender – I never entered the weighing room thinking about gender.

“Hopefully that will just carry on now, and the same encouragement will be there for other people.

“We’re very lucky in our sport that it (gender) isn’t an issue. It’s the same with the likes of Hollie Doyle on the Flat – you’d be hoping that those things will all help.”

Blackmore is keen to pay tribute to De Bromhead, who himself has enjoyed remarkable success at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Henry de Bromhead and Blackmore at Aintree
Henry de Bromhead and Blackmore at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

As if becoming the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup in the same week were not enough, he also saddled the second in the Gold Cup and the first two in the Grand National, with Minella Times followed home by stablemate Balko Des Flos.

“Henry’s achievements are nothing short of phenomenal,” she said.

“It’s incredible what he’s done – it has never happened before. I really hope that angle of it is not forgotten.

“To train those winners in Cheltenham, and have a one-two in the Gold Cup, was incredible – and then to come out and have a one-two in the Grand National, it really is a phenomenal story.

“He’s an exceptional trainer, and I feel very lucky to be part of his team. He’s got a very good team of staff that work for him, and it’s a privilege to be part of the whole thing.”

Blackmore and Townend (left) are battling out for the jockeys' championship in Ireland
Blackmore and Townend (left) are battling out for the jockeys’ championship in Ireland (PA)

With Cheltenham and Aintree in the rear-view mirror for this season, Blackmore is relishing the challenges ahead – with the Punchestown Festival next on the big-race calendar.

She can look forward to plenty of high-profile mounts and potentially making more history, as a thrilling race with Paul Townend to be crowned Ireland’s champion jockey comes to its climax.

Theirs is a friendship and rivalry which dates back to Blackmore claiming a very first victory on the pony racing circuit when she was just 15.

“I’d say I rode in five or six pony races in total, and Paul would have been very accomplished at the time and the champion pony race rider,” said Blackmore.

“For me, it took a lot longer for the penny to drop. He was extremely good back then, and I was definitely not in the same league.

Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore during the Grand National
Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore during the Grand National (Tim Goode/PA)

“You wouldn’t think we’d be in the situation we are now if you look back at the video. If you had to pick someone to ride a Grand National winner of the future from that video, I’d say I’d have been about 500-1!”

She added: “The last four weeks have been brilliant, but you can never accomplish everything you want to accomplish in racing.

“Racing is constantly turning. We came back from Cheltenham, and that was brilliant, but a few days later we were in Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National – then we were in Aintree and now we’re gearing up for Punchestown.

“It’s a constant, evolving wheel where you’re definitely enjoying what’s happening, but you’re also getting focused on what’s coming up.

“I suppose there’s pressure there to prove you are what people say you are. But at the same time, if pressure got to me I’d probably be in the wrong job.

“It isn’t really a job to me. You’re a very privileged person when you can do something you love and get paid for it.”

Although Blackmore’s focus is very much ending a remarkable campaign on a high at present, she hopes there will be time to celebrate this summer – once coronavirus restrictions allow.

She said: “The minute Covid has decided to cease and resist, there will be a party!

“We have a break at the end of June, so it would be nice to get away if we can, but I don’t think you can do too much planning in the current circumstances.”