Olinger likely to bypass Dublin date

Bob Olinger is set to bypass next month’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

Henry de Bromhead’s latest Grade One winner is entered in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle over two miles.

However, given his victory in last week’s Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle was his third outing of the season, De Bromhead senses the six-year-old has perhaps already done enough before the spring.

Bob Olinger is joint-favourite with some bookmakers for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

“We were over the moon – I was delighted with him and he seems really good since,” De Bromhead told Racing TV.

“I would imagine we’ll skip Dublin. He’s entered in the two-miler, but I would imagine we’ll skip the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He’s been busy enough now, so we’ll back off him and aim him towards the spring.”

Bob Olinger bags Grade One glory at Naas

Bob Olinger continued his progression with an emphatic victory in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.

The point-to-point and bumper winner made a highly promising start to his hurdling career when runner-up to last season’s Champion Bumper hero Ferny Hollow at Gowran Park in November, before landing cramped odds at Navan last month.

Stepping up to the highest level for a Grade One contest rescheduled following the abandonment of racing last Sunday, Bob Olinger was the 6-4 favourite in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, and ultimately won with plenty in hand.

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Gabyanko cut out the running for much of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, with the keen-going Blue Lord his nearest pursuer, ahead of Bob Olinger in third.

Blue Lord looked to be travelling best early in the home straight, but had no answer when Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger found another gear between the final two flights and he ended up pulling six and a half lengths clear at the line.

Coral were suitably impressed, making the winner their 4-1 favourite (from 8-1) for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Blackmore said: “He’s always shown us a lot at home and I think today was the stamp of the kind of horse he is for the future. I’m delighted with him.

“I wanted to ride a straightforward enough race on him. He’s a simple horse to ride in that sense and I was happy most of the way.

“He jumped better today in the latter half of the race. The jump is there if you really ask him.

“He quickened up well and he seems to tick a lot of boxes.”

The leading rider believes Bob Olinger could be an even better horse once he has his attentions switched to the larger obstacles, adding: “I don’t think he’s a real, sharp Champion Hurdle horse in the making. Two and a half (miles) is ideal, but I wouldn’t rule out two either.

“For the future he’s probably going to be one for longer trips. He’s won a point-to-point and looks one for fences in the future.

“I’m delighted for Brian Acheson and Robcour (owners) who are very supportive of the game and to get a Grade One winner is brilliant.”

De Bromhead cues up Bob Olinger to state case in Lawlor’s

Henry de Bromhead plans to let Bob Olinger “do the talking” in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.

Impressive in winning a point-to-point and a Gowran Park bumper last season, Bob Olinger made a promising start to his hurdling career when pushing last season’s Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow all the way in November.

The Sholokhov gelding duly went one better at prohibitive odds when stepped up two and a half miles at Navan last month, and will bid to follow up at the top level in Wednesday’s rescheduled Grade One.

“We’ll let him do the talking and see. He works really well, and we like him a lot, so fingers crossed he’ll do it on the track,” de Bromhead told Sky Sports Racing last week.

“We’ll get (this race) out of the way and we’ll know more then. He won his point-to-point and looked good at Navan the other day.

“He’s got a lot of pace as well, though. We’ll probably enter him for the three novice hurdles at Cheltenham and see nearer the time, but in my mind it will be either the Supreme or the Ballymore, as opposed to the Albert Bartlett.”

Willie Mullins relies on Blue Lord in a bid to add to his record haul of eight victories in the Grade One contest.

The French import looked a high-class recruit when winning on his Irish debut at Punchestown, and connections are optimistic that he can prove his worth in Grade One company.

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Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “We were very impressed with Blue Lord in Punchestown. We think there’s a lot of improvement to come from him.

“He’s a horse who will jump a fence in time, but we think he is up to Grade One level, and this will tell us more.

“He came to us very well-schooled and he has always jumped well at ours.

“It’s a big step up, but that’s the way the programme is in Ireland. You’re only taking on horses with one or two more runs, so that’s not a major worry.”

Ashdale Bob and Crosshill give Jessica Harrington a strong hand.

Having claimed Grade Two honours in the Navan Novice Hurdle just over three weeks ago, Ashdale Bob arguably sets the standard here – while stablemate Crosshill won by 11 lengths on his hurdling bow before at Punchestown before chasing home Power Of Pause at the same venue.

“Ashdale Bob won the last day in Navan, and we’ve been very happy with him,” said Harrington’s daughter and assistant, Kate.

“Crosshill was very impressive over two and a half miles when winning his maiden hurdle, and that form has worked out well. We dropped back to two miles the last day, and I think we got the tactics wrong on that occasion.

“The step back up in trip will definitely suit.”

Gordon Elliott, who has landed three of the last four renewals with Death Duty (2017), Battleoverdoyen (2019) and Envoi Allen (2020), saddles two outsiders in Wide Receiver and Ragnar Lodbrok.

He told Betfair: “Wide Receiver is rated 130, but I think he is better than his rating suggests – and his form so far this season is good.

“His second to Ashdale Bob in a Navan maiden hurdle looks like a very good run in hindsight, and I was delighted with his effort at Leopardstown over Christmas when he won a maiden hurdle in good style – I could see him running a big race.

Gordon Elliott provides two of the contenders in Wednesday's Grade One at Naas
Gordon Elliott provides two of the contenders in Wednesday’s Grade One at Naas (PA)

“In truth Ragnar Lodbrok faces a stiff enough task here. But he’s in good form, and I think if he can put together a reasonable round of jumping, he could give a good account of himself.”

Gavin Cromwell’s Gabynako and the Noel Meade-trained Flanking Maneuver, who won a Fairyhouse maiden hurdle less than a fortnight ago, are the other hopefuls.

Meade said: “It’s a Grade One race and a big jump up from a maiden, but we like the horse and said we’d have a rattle at it.

“Putting the race back three days is a help, and he took his maiden race win really well.

“He actually never lost a pound from one day to the next, and that was part of the reason that we decided to run. He lost no weight at all.”

Monday Musings: Trainer Titles

The frost relented at three of Paul Nicholls’ most productive racecourses on Saturday morning and the 11-times champion National Hunt trainer took heavy toll with a remarkable seven winners, writes Tony Stafford. Kempton, Chepstow and above all Wincanton are the three.

At the same time he was emphatically (albeit inwardly) announcing that his re-building of stable strength back to that of its heyday when Kauto Star and Denman were in their pomp, has been fully achieved.

I was half aware of somebody being quoted on the television last night – definitely not in my favourite French-language and subtitled detective show Spiral on BBC4. It was: “Men can lie, women can lie, but numbers can’t!” The numbers are there for all to see in the 2020-21 jump trainers’ championship.

The Nicholls decline, if you could call it that, was characterised last season by a first failure in 19 to reach 100 wins, when 96 victories from 445 runs brought total UK prizemoney of £2.34million. Nicky Henderson, his sole realistic challenger over the past decade, won his fifth title and third of the last four with 118 winners and £2.54million in prizemoney.

That said, the normal post-Cheltenham section of the campaign with its handsome prizemoney levels especially at Aintree, Sandown’s finals day, and the Ayr Scottish Grand National meeting distorted the figures. Nicholls’ routine century would have been assured and the relatively close money margin for Henderson could easily have been bridged.

Henderson’s first interruption of a near-Martin Pipe-like monopoly for Nicholls since his first title in 2005-6 came in 2012-13, 27 years after his own first Trainers’ Championship in 1985-6. Henderson, now 70, lacks nothing in energy and horse-power but the die is already cast for 2020-21.

While Nicholls has been serenely proceeding towards title number 12 with already 107 victories and £1.46m in money won, Henderson is languishing on less than half the monetary rewards with £673K and just over half the winners, 57 from 268 runs, both well down on his normal schedule.

Considering the jumps season didn’t begin until July 1, Nicholls’s pace has been remarkable but so too has Dan Skelton’s 74 wins and £823k from 408 runs even allowing for the fact that his customary summer starting splurge has been abandoned – for the better – with some potential stars in the pot.

Lower down, some interesting names follow and Evan Williams, after his emotional capturing of the re-scheduled Coral Welsh Grand National with the heavily-backed and well-named in the circumstances favourite, Secret Reprieve, just edged over the half-million mark from only 30 wins.

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Williams was talking up the prospects of Secret Reprieve’s tackling a Grand National at Aintree and he will be hoping on Tuesday morning to see the Ruckers’ seven-year-old getting a few pounds more than his present mark of 142 – he was able to run on Saturday off 8lb lower after his previous win.  Secret Reprieve would probably make it into the top 40 with 142 but 145 makes it a certainty - if Covid doesn’t intervene again.

The next three trainers in the list, all within a winner or two of getting over the half-million are Messrs O’Neill, Fergal O’Brien and Twiston-Davies. Fergal’s consistent form has brought him to 70 compared to a previous best of 63 and with expansion firmly in place, a first century is the aim and seemingly a realistic one with three months to go, subject to acts of God, God forbid!

Nicholls’ Saturday seven-timer was also a contributor to another multi-winning performance on the day. Daryl Jacob must have gone to Wincanton confident of winning the opener on Ben Pauling’s highly-regarded Malinello but found Nicholls’ Flash Collonges, one of two Harry Skelton winners for his former boss, much too good.

I’ve no doubt that when that one lost he didn’t expect to win on five of his remaining six mounts.

The Nicholls winner for Jacob was Capeland, a 6-1 shot in the second most valuable race of the day there, the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase and the jockey also won races for Robert Walford, Alan King, Pauling and Milton Harris.

Within that quintet, he collected the big race, the re-staged Dipper Novices Chase, just a three-runner affair, on Messire Des Obeaux, where Alan King’s gelding shocked odds-on Protektorat in a rare reverse for the Skeltons in recent times. Both Flash Collonges and Messire Des Obeaux are sons of the late-lamented Saddler Maker.

Jacob’s five-timer worked out at a massive 3275-1. Nicholls’ septet, while not quite his best - he’s had an eight-in-a-day before now – amounts to more than treble that at 10,418-1. Of course to get the latter up, you’d need to navigate the 11 losers that besmirched his record. Jacob has surged onto 39 wins for the season but the title-holder Brian Hughes, with 90, looks to have a strong grip on his trophy, currently having 15 and 19 in hand of the two Harrys, Cobden and Skelton.

It’s very unusual in the depths of winter that Ireland suffers more than the UK, but there has been a flurry of abandonments across the Irish Sea with frost as the principal factor. Whatever happened to the milder west winds picking up moisture as they sweep across the Atlantic?

The perennial struggle at the top of the table there between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott is as compelling as ever. Usually at this point in the season Elliott has been ahead but this time it’s the other way round.

Mullins has already gone past the century with 104 wins from only 326 runs to earn €2.18m at a spectacular 32% strike rate.  An impressive 76 of the 162 individual horses he’s run since racing resumed have won.

Elliott is only around €70k behind Mullins in winnings but it has taken 125 wins from a bumper exactly 800 runs – almost double both Nicholls’ and Skelton’s number and treble Henderson’s – to get that close. Equally he has needed 292 horses, 90 of which have won, to make it that far.

Mullins is having his normal effect on the jockeys’ title race. Since Ruby Walsh’s retirement Paul Townend has been in pole position, but third-placed Henry de Bromhead’s 69 victories have given a big boost to Rachael Blackmore, his stable jockey.

Townend leads on 69, all but five for the Closutton trainer, but is far from secure for another title as Blackmore’s 46 wins for her boss have been supplemented by another 19 from outside rides making the deficit only four.

Talking of jockeys, the 2021 Flat championship will be very interesting given Oisin Murphy starts the year under a three-month ban imposed by the French authorities. He managed to get it reduced from the original six months on appeal and while it doesn’t interfere with the championship which starts in May, or the first phase of turf racing or indeed anything after March 11, it could still have an effect on his confidence.

No need to go into how he got the trace of drugs in his system. In these perilous times I wonder how many people contracting Covid, like my mate Steve Gilbey who said it was the most frightening experience of his life, know where they caught it. He says maybe it was Christmas shopping in Sainsburys.

Steve, a one-time repo man and night club bouncer before his more acceptable roles as a bodyguard and then Ray Tooth’s much-valued right-hand man, has seen and heard of many friends and some family members who haven’t managed to stave off the effects of the virus. I pray – as does Ray – that he’ll get through, just as I do that my son, his wife and their son, whose symptoms are less severe, will all recover soon.

Back to Flat jockeys, though, and as I said it could be a pivotal year. One Whatsapp I received just the other day made very interesting reading. It claimed that Ben Curtis would be joining Mark Johnston as stable jockey. Now confirmed as true, his odds of 10/1 for the title have plummeted to 3/1.

Mark’s most active jockeys, Joe Fanning and Franny Norton, both celebrated their 50th birthdays last year. Norton is the older by eight weeks, his birthday coming on July 27 to Fanning’s on September 24th (the same as my son incidentally!).

Between them they rode 56% of Johnston’s winners and 55% of the stable’s runners. Fanning was the busier – well, he’s younger, it makes sense! – with 50 wins from exactly 400 rides in 2020. Old-man Franny was only 75% as busy but just as tidy with his 45 from 300 rides. No other jockey achieved more than the 15 wins of P J McDonald. Then came William Buick and Silvestre De Sousa with ten each.  Curtis had six wins from 35 rides for the stable.

Their longevity says much for their iron constitutions but even more for the amazing loyalty of the trainer. Had he not kept them on, riding many of the yard’s best horses as well as the majority of the lesser performers, they would probably have retired a while ago.

A second compelling item on the same Whatsapp message concerned Paul Mulrennan who it seems might be getting closer to a connection with Karl Burke. Interesting? Not many!

Monalee setback likely to rule him out for the season

Monalee is likely to miss the rest of the season through injury, leaving A Plus Tard and Minella Indo as Henry de Bromhead’s two contenders for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Beaten less than two lengths into fourth place in last season’s blue riband, the 10-year-old was third to Presenting Percy on his reappearance at Tramore in November, setting himself up for a tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

However, travel restrictions ruled him out of the Boxing Day showpiece – and while he was given the alternative of taking on dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Tramore on New Year’s Day, a setback has put all plans on hold.

“We’re not quite sure how long he’ll be out for yet, but he’s unlikely to be back this season. We’re just waiting for more information, then we’ll see,” De Bromhead told Sky Sports Racing.

Monalee could miss the rest of the season through injury
Monalee could miss the rest of the season through injury (Niall Carson/PA)

“It’s very disappointing for that to happen, but hopefully we’ll get him back on track again.”

A Plus Tard leapt into the Gold Cup picture when producing a late burst to snatch victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

“That was a great day. He was really good and we were really delighted he did it so well in the end,” said De Bromhead.

“We’ve entered him for the Gold Cup and the Ryanair and I’d imagine we’d be leaning towards the Gold Cup at this stage, but obviously we’ll keep our options open and confirm nearer the time.”

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Minella Indo was favourite for the Savills Chase only to fall at the eighth fence. He will try to make amends in the Irish Gold Cup back at Leopardstown next month.

“He seems good now, so he’ll aim towards the Irish Gold Cup next and try to get him back with a clear round and get him going again,” said De Bromhead.

“He’s been good at home, not a bother on him.”

Notebook and Put The Kettle On were second and third respectively behind Chacun Pour Soi in the Grade One Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown.

Put The Kettle On is being aimed at the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Put The Kettle On is being aimed at the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Simon Cooper/PA)

De Bromhead reports the pair to be in good form and have the Queen Mother Champion Chase as their Cheltenham target, with Notebook heading first for the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown next month.

“I was delighted with them. They both ran really well. Notebook was great and Put The Kettle On was really good as well. Unfortunately, Chacun Pour Soi was better then them on the day” said the County Waterford trainer.

“I think Put The Kettle On is a lot better around Cheltenham. She loves that track so we’ll aim her for the Champion Chase.

“I’d say Notebook will go back for the Grade One two-mile chase at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, then I imagine on to the Champion Chase after that.”

De Bromhead also has a wealth of talent in the hurdling division, headed by Aspire Tower and Honeysuckle.

Aspire Tower's next race is likely to be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Aspire Tower’s next race is likely to be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

Aspire Tower is set to go to straight to Cheltenham for the Unibet Champion Hurdle after finishing second to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.

“He’s matured physically and mentally this year,” said De Bromhead.

“It was a brilliant performance in the three-year-old hurdle last Christmas and then he fell at Leopardstown in February and he just didn’t show up in the Triumph Hurdle. We gave him a good break and he’s back.

“He’s only just five now, but he’s strengthened and matured. I was delighted with his first two runs. His jumping let him down a tiny bit at Leopardstown, the third-last and the second-last, but we’ll work on that and we are aiming towards the Champion Hurdle.

“He’s got real size and scope and is a real athlete and loves jumping hurdles. He’s just clicked.

“I’d day his next target would be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. We might enter him for the Irish Champion Hurdle, but I think he could go straight to Cheltenham.”

De Bromhead is aiming Honeysuckle at the Irish Champion Hurdle – but would not be drawn as to whether she will run in Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle or go for the Mares’ Hurdle which she won in 2020.

“We’re aiming towards the Irish Champion Hurdle with her. That’s the plan,” he said.

“She seems in great form after the Hatton’s Grace and is really well in herself. She won it last year so we’ll give it another go.

“We’ll see how we go in February and make a decision (about which race at Cheltenham) after that. We have to make sure we get there and see who else is getting there as well. We’ll take it one race at a time.

“She was a timid filly when she first came. Now she’s a complete prima donna.”

Bob Olinger on course for Lawlor’s Of Naas

Bob Olinger is one of 12 horses confirmed for the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.

Impressive in winning a point-to-point and a Gowran Park bumper last season, Henry de Bromhead’s charge made a promising start to his hurdling career when pushing last season’s Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow all the way in November.

The Sholokhov gelding duly went one better at prohibitive odds when stepped up two and a half miles at Navan last month, and will bid to follow up at the top level on Sunday.

De Bromhead told Sky Sports Racing: “We like him a lot. He was good the first day against Ferny Hollow – when he probably lacked a bit of experience – and we stepped him up at Navan, and he won well.

“He seems in good form. It’s probably a little bit sooner than ideal (this weekend), but it’s just over three weeks, so we’re aiming towards that.

“We’re hoping for a good run.”

Gordon Elliott claimed the prize for the third time in the last four years with the brilliant Envoi Allen 12 months ago. This year the Cullentra handler has Fantasio D’alene, Farouk D’alene, Ragnar Lodbrok and Wide Receiver in the mix.

Willie Mullins has saddled a record eight previous winners and has just one contender this time around in Blue Lord, who looked a high-class recruit when winning on his Irish debut at Punchestown.

Jessica Harrington’s Ashdale Bob, a surprise winner of the Grade Two Navan Novice Hurdle on his latest appearance, also features.

On the undercard, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase could be an intriguing affair – with the Mullins-trained pair of Blackbow and Energumene, as well as De Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, among eight possibles.

Minella Escape impresses with Tramore triumph

Minella Escape looks sure to go on to bigger and better things after making it third time lucky over hurdles at Tramore.

A £100,000 recruit from the Irish point-to-point field, Henry de Bromhead’s charge fell at the final flight when odds-on for his hurdling bow at Punchestown in September, before filling the runner-up spot at Navan a month ago.

With the Willie Mullins-trained French recruit Gorki D’airy all the rage as the 5-4 favourite, Minella Escape was second best in the market for the Goodbye 2020 Hello 2021 Maiden Hurdle at 2-1, but proved seven lengths too strong under Rachael Blackmore.

De Bromhead said: “He was a little bit unlucky the first day. He was off for a bit before Navan and I wonder did that just catch him out.

“I’m delighted to get a winner here. He is a lovely horse, he won his point-to-point well and the way he jumped there, you’d be looking forward to a fence with him in time.”

Despite Gorki D’airy’s defeat, Mullins still enjoyed a double on the card, with the victory of dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo preceded by a winning debut over obstacles for Mr Coldstone in the David Flynn Construction Maiden Hurdle.

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The 8-1 shot did not race beyond seven furlongs in three outings on the Flat for Johnny Murtagh two years ago, but proved he has the stamina for jumping with a near three-length verdict on his return from a lengthy absence under Paul Townend.

“That was a nice performance. Paul said he jumped well and he took a good blow, so he thinks he will improve again. We will just go up in grade with him now,” said Mullins.

“I’m very happy to see him coming off three runs on the Flat over less than seven furlongs to be able to settle back into jump racing. I thought that might be a big ask for him on his first run over hurdles, but he did it well and Paul was very happy with him.

“He looks a nice, strong type and he will probably be a nice dual-purpose horse.”

Shakeytry justified 7-2 favouritism in the Core Bullion Traders Handicap Hurdle for trainer Edward O’Grady and jockey Phillip Enright.

Shakeytry in action at Tramore
Shakeytry in action at Tramore (PA)

O’Grady said: “It was his first run in a long time at Cork the last day and it was natural for him to come on for that. It wasn’t a particularly strong race today and it all seemed to work out well.

“He has very rarely been out of the first four and that is his third win today. The boys in the yard have done a great job with him because he hasn’t got great legs. They deserve great credit.

“Maybe we will go for another hurdle with him now before he goes back over fences.”

Days after his last-gasp victory aboard A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, jockey Darragh O’Keeffe was once again seen to good effect as he steered Andrew McNamara’s Lessofdnegativity to a narrow victory in the Tramore Medical Clinic Handicap Hurdle.

Robbie McNamara, representing his father, said: “He’s had a little wind operation since his last run. We just rode him a bit different today and gave him more of a chance early. Darragh took his time and gave him a brilliant ride – he is worth his weight in gold.

“He (Lessofdnegativity) is a half-brother to Joe Farrell, who won the Scottish National. He has a good, staying Irish pedigree and chasing will be his game.”

John McConnell’s Itsalonglongroad (7-2) landed the VS Direct No Limits Marketing Rated Novice Chase under 5lb claimer Simon Torrens.

The concluding Tom Carroll Memorial Handicap Chase went to Whoyakodding (14-1), trained by Garrett Ahern and ridden by James O’Sullivan.

De Bromhead hoping for speedy recovery for Monalee

Henry de Bromhead is unsure how long Monalee will spend on the sidelines following a recent setback.

Beaten less than two lengths into fourth place in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the nine-year-old finished third behind Presenting Percy and Kemboy on his reappearance at Tramore in November, setting him up for a tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

However, travel restrictions ruled him out of the Boxing Day showpiece – and while he was given the alternative of taking on dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Tramore, an injury has put all plans on hold.

Speaking after saddling a New Year’s Day winner at Tramore, De Bromhead said: “Monalee has unfortunately just had this setback.

“I’m not sure yet, but we’ll see how he is and hopefully we can get him back soon enough.”

Monalee is just one of three potential Gold Cup candidates for De Bromhead along with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo, who had contrasting fortunes in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Monday.

Minella Indo was favourite for a vintage renewal of the Grade One contest, but fell at the eighth fence, while A Plus Tard proved his stamina for the three-mile distance by charging home to claim a narrow victory over Kemboy and Melon.

De Bromhead is considering the possibility of the pair renewing rivalry in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in early February.

He added: “Minella Indo is in good form and seems perfect since Leopardstown. He’ll be entered in the Irish Gold Cup now.

“A Plus Tard is great, he seems in good form. I’m delighted with him, obviously.

“I haven’t made any plans for him yet. He’ll stay in and around that trip now.

“That was a career-best performance and it was great to get it. The Irish Gold Cup is a possibility, but we’ll see – I haven’t discussed anything yet with his owners.”

Limerick double for De Bromhead and Blackmore

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore combined to claim two winners on the belated final day of the Christmas Racing Festival at Limerick.

The six-race card was saved and swiftly re-scheduled to a midweek slot, following Sunday’s abandonment because of a waterlogged track.

Proceedings got under way with the ‘David Fitzgerald – Take It Easee’ Maiden Hurdle, which saw French import Kalkas open his Irish account at the second attempt.

Third on his only start in his homeland a year ago, Kalkas subsequently changed hands for £210,000, but was comprehensively beaten on his debut for De Bromhead at Navan earlier this month.

However, dropping back in distance, the 2-1 shot raised his game in the hands of Blackmore – ploughing through the mud to beat 11-10 favourite Rajsalad by two and a half lengths.

“He is a beautiful horse to ride. Derek O’Connor rode him the last day, and it was his idea to maybe step him back to two miles – he was spot on,” said Blackmore.

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“It was tough going out there, but he did it nicely.”

De Bromhead and Blackmore doubled up with Atlantic Fairy, who was even more impressive in the Roches Feeds Mares Maiden Hurdle.

Placed at Clonmel and Cork on her first couple of appearances over hurdles, the daughter of Jeremy was the 6-4 favourite to make it third time lucky – and came home 20 lengths clear of Nelly’s Money.

Blackmore added: “She was second in a point-to-point for Michael Byrne and she is owned by my sponsor Mark Phelan (of PCI Insurance), so it is great to ride a winner in his colours.

“Obviously her run the last day behind Master McShee got a form boost in Leopardstown, and she is nice – so hopefully there will be a lot more fun to be had with her.”

The Johnny Levins-trained Wishmoor was an 11-4 winner of the Goggin Buckley Veterans Handicap Chase under Ricky Doyle.

Levins, who is better known as a Flat trainer, said: “I thoroughly enjoy training this fellow. I was keen to get a few jumpers, and the plan is to get a few more so we can be busy during the winter as well.

“To be honest I didn’t watch one jump, I was looking at the ground – I get very nervous with the Flat, never mind the jumps!

“I’m delighted.”

Staker Wallace rewarded odds-on backers in the Earl Of Harrington Memorial Maiden Hunters Chase.

Fourth in the Foxhunter Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, Enda Bolger’s charge had since been beaten in successive point-to-points this winter.

But ridden by leading amateur Barry O’Neill, the JP McManus-owned gelding made no mistake back under Rules as he eased to a near two-length verdict over Super Citizen.

“We’ll follow the hunter chases around with him, but they are very hot and if I have to stay away from the better horses – at the back of my head, I think he could win a Ladies Cup at Punchestown,” said Bolger.

Moonlight Glory (5-2) won the Convermax Handicap Hurdle for trainer Eoin McCarthy and 7lb claimer Gearoid Brouder, before father and son Charles and Philip Byrnes teamed up to land the bumper with 7-2 chance Blazing Khal.

Minella Indo out to rubber stamp Gold Cup ticket

Minella Indo bids to enhance his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims in a mouthwatering renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

Mowed down late on by Champ in an epic RSA Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, Henry de Bromhead’s charge has been hugely impressive in winning his two starts this term at Wexford and Navan.

The seven-year-old is second only to dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in ante-post lists for the blue riband next March – and his credentials will face a thorough examination on Monday, with several multiple Grade One winners in opposition.

De Bromhead said: “It’s obviously a very good race and it will be Minella Indo’s first time really out of novice company.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

The Knockeen-based trainer also runs Balko Des Flos and A Plus Tard, with the latter a fascinating contender as he tackles the three-mile distance for the first time.

A Plus Tard is an interesting second string for De Bromhead
A Plus Tard is an interesting second string for De Bromhead (PA)
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De Bromhead added: “They all seem in good form. A Plus Tard is going up in trip and we’ll find out a lot about him. It’s certainly worth trying and he’s kind of limited by only going left-handed.

“It was either run over two miles or three miles and we said we’d try him over three miles and see how he fared. He seems very adaptable.”

Gordon Elliott also launches a formidable three-pronged assault, with last year’s winner Delta Work joined by esteemed stablemates Presenting Percy and Samcro.

Presenting Percy looked back to his best when landing a Listed prize at Thurles on his latest appearance, while Samcro steps up to three miles for the first time since his point-to-point days.

“Delta Work won the race last year and then won the Irish Gold Cup in February. He is a real Leopardstown specialist and I’m very pleased with how he has come forward from his first run of the season at Down Royal,” Elliott told Betfair.

“Presenting Percy was impressive at Thurles last time and looks to be back on track. I think he showed at Thurles that he could still be a Gold Cup player and he is another who has probably improved again since his last run. I’m really looking forward to running him.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see how Samcro gets on at three miles. I could see him travelling best of all on the run to two out and what happens after that is a bit of an unknown. A big run here would open up new options for him.”

Delta Work (right) sees off Kemboy and Presenting Percy in the Irish Gold Cup
Delta Work (right) sees off Kemboy and Presenting Percy in the Irish Gold Cup (PA)

Willie Mullins saddles five runners, with Allaho, Kemboy, Melon, Tornado Flyer and Easy Game all declared.

Kemboy was a runaway winner of this event two years ago before going on to win at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring, but has failed to recapture that form since, most recently chasing home Presenting Percy at Thurles.

David Mullins rides Kemboy, with stable jockey Paul Townend siding with Allaho, despite finishing a disappointing sixth on his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan at Punchestown.

Willie Mullins said: “We didn’t see what happened to Allaho the last day, but David (Mullins) said he didn’t jump and missed two fences. He has far more potential than any of the other horses in the race and I thought Paul should ride him.

“Kemboy likes the track and has done it around here before, but the ground might be too soft.

“It’s Melon’s first time over three miles and he has every chance.

“We have five runners, but they could all run well and not finish in the first three.

“It’s a top class-race and probably going to be better than a Gold Cup in Cheltenham.”

Fakir D’oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), Tout Est Permis (Noel Meade) and Jett (Jessica Harrington) complete the stellar field.

Minella Indo is one of 20 still in hunt for Savills glory

Minella Indo tops 20 possibles for next week’s Savills Chase, the feature event on the penultimate day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge has impressed with two comfortable victories so far this term, after having victory in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham snatched away in the shadow of the post by the flying finish of Champ.

Minella Indo heads the ante-post markets for next week’s three-mile contest, in which De Bromhead has also confirmed King George VI Chase possible Monalee – along with A Plus Tard, who could step back up in trip, and Balko Des Flos.

Gordon Elliott has a strong potential hand with his six-strong team currently including Presenting Percy, The Storyteller, Samcro and defending champion Delta Work.

Kemboy showed some of his old sparkle when second to Presenting Percy at Thurles on his return – and trainer Willie Mullins is another with multiple options, and has Allaho and Melon among his six entries.

Elliott has given The Storyteller an alternative over the smaller obstacles in the other Grade One on the card, the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, with Sire Du Berlais and Fury Road other eye-catching possibles for him.

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Mullins is well represented again, with last year’s fourth Barcardys in his trio, while Olly Murphy’s British raider Thomas Darby also features among 13 entries.

The final day of the fixture has two Grade One contests, with Mullins’ Saint Roi headlining eight contenders for the Matheson Hurdle.

Last year’s victor Sharjah and Grade One winner Saldier strengthen the Closutton trainer’s team – but Elliott’s Abacadabras is the main challenger, having edged out Saint Roi by a neck in the Morgiana last time.

A top-class field is in prospect for the Neville Hotels Novices Chase, with Mullins’ Monkfish bidding for Grade One honours after an impressive fencing bow.

He renews rivalry with Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition, whom he just beat in last term’s Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Elliott’s Pencilfulloflead is another name of note among 10 in contention.

Clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer reports the ground on the hurdles track for the final two days of the meeting to be on the softer side – but there is a possibility of watering on the chase course, with a dry forecast in prospect.

He said: “The wooden stick is only a guide, as much as a going description is only an opinion.

“What we can tell you is there is plenty of juice in the track right now.

“The chase track is good to yielding, the hurdle track for days one and two is mainly yielding, a little bit slower in places – yielding, yielding to soft in places.

“The hurdle track is on the inner lines for days three and four – and it’s more in the yielding to soft side, slower ground on the inside lines.”

That is not the case at present on parts of the chase track, however.

“There’s a bit of light rain this morning (Monday) and 10 millimetres in recent days,” Wyer added.

“The forecast in the immediate future is generally dry, a little showery, but generally dry.

“On that basis we are monitoring the situation regarding any watering on the chase track. If any watering is needed, it will be mainly from the winning post round to the three-mile start, just beyond the 10-furlong starting area.

“We’re considering options in that regard, but we’re happy where we are at this stage.”

Blackmore relishing King George chance with Monalee

Rachael Blackmore is confident Monalee can make his presence felt in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton.

The leading rider will cross the Irish Sea to compete in the Boxing Day showpiece for the first time aboard Henry de Bromhead’s charge, who is a general 8-1 shot to become the first Irish-trained winner since Kicking King in 2005.

Beaten less than two lengths into fourth place in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, Monalee was third behind multiple Grade One winners Presenting Percy and Kemboy on his reappearance in a Listed event at Thurles last month.

And Blackmore expects him to strip much fitter on Saturday.

“It’s very exciting. Everyone is very happy with Monalee at home and I’m really looking forward to it,” she said.

“The King George is a race that rolls off the tongue. It’s great to be heading over and it would be even better if we could go and win.

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“If you look at back at his run behind Delta Work in Leopardstown (when second in last year’s Savills Chase) and his run in the Gold Cup, both of those put him bang there.

“He always seems to take his first run, which we’re hoping he did in Thurles.”

Minella Indo following a dominant display at Navan
Minella Indo following a dominant display at Navan (Gary Carson/PA)

Two days after the King George, Blackmore is set to don the same colours of owner Barry Maloney aboard Minella Indo, who is the hot favourite for the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

The seven-year-old faces a rise in class against the likes of Presenting Percy, Kemboy and Delta Work, but has been hugely impressive in winning his two starts so far this term.

Blackmore added: “We couldn’t have asked him to do any more in Wexford or Navan.

“This is another step up, but we’re really looking forward to him.”

There could, however, be a potential stumbling block to Monalee and other Irish runners appearing at Kempton after the Irish Government announced on Sunday evening it would impose a 48-hour ban on travel from Britain to Ireland.

The country’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that ferries will continue to operate for freight.

Kempton Park will host its big Christmas meeting on December 26 and 27
Kempton Park will host its big Christmas meeting on December 26 and 27 (David Davies/PA)

He said: “We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted.

“I talked to the UK minister this morning and have been talking throughout the day with the Taoiseach (Micheal Martin) and the Tanaiste (Leo Varadkar), the health minister, foreign affairs minister and others involved.

“We have to do this because the UK Government themselves has put in place very strict restrictions on movements.

“This new strain of coronavirus, which they have identified, seems to have a much higher transmission rate.

“On a precautionary basis it’s right for us to follow up on the Dutch, Belgium, Italian and other governments will do the same.

“Any passengers who are in transit will have to set up mechanism to repatriate them in a safe way, but general travel between here and Britain is going to be restricted and we are going to review that at Cabinet to see if there will be any further changes.”

Bob Olinger could take Grade One test on the back of Navan success

Henry de Bromhead will consider testing the water at the highest level with Bob Olinger on his next start after the exciting prospect outclassed his rivals at Navan.

Impressive in winning his point-to-point and in a Gowran Park bumper last season, the five-year-old made a most encouraging start to his hurdling career when giving Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow a run for his money at Gowran last month.

On the strength of that form, the five-year-old was the 1-8 favourite to go one better in the Mervyn Gray Construction Maiden Hurdle and the result was never in doubt.

Sent straight to the lead by Rachael Blackmore, Bob Olinger passed the post with 14 lengths in hand – teeing him up for a potential tilt at the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle on January 10.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. Obviously it’s nerve-racking when there is that kind of expectation.

“He jumped well. Rachael said ideally she would have loved a lead or a bit of company, but it’s job done.

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“I’ve entered him in Naas in the two-and-a-half-mile race. We’ll see how he is, there are a few options there.

“He has a lot of pace and could drop back to two miles at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, or there is also the two-mile-six-furlong race there. I’d say he is very adaptable.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Fils D’oudairies (7-1) ran out an authoritative winner of the Rated Novice Chase, with Donagh Meyler the winning rider.

O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “It was a nice performance and a beautiful ride.

“He travelled like a dream the whole way around and loved the ground.

“I think he’s a horse with a big future if everything goes right for him.”

Stoughan Cross was a 40-1 winner of the Happy Christmas And New Year To All Our Members Handicap Chase for trainer Tom Gibney and jockey Darragh O’Keeffe, while Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy landed the Irish Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle with 15-8 shot Percy Warner.

“He did it very well. He probably wants a bit further, but he’s not slow either,” said Kennedy.

“It wasn’t a bad race and he’s a lovely horse.”

Jukebox Jive denied King Alex a four-timer in the 40,000 euro BetVictor Gamble Responsibly Tara Handicap Hurdle.

Owned and trained by Barry Connell, King Alex was the 100-30 favourite to add to his previous wins this season at Ballinrobe, Navan and Fairyhouse, but Gavin Cromwell’s 11-1 shot Jukebox Jive powered 13 lengths clear on the run-in under 5lb claimer Conor McNamara.

Cromwell’s assistant, Feidhlim Cunningham, said: “That was a great win. He loves that ground – he won a November Handicap on bottomless ground.

“He’s just not straightforward. We targeted this race and the ground came up ideal.

“We’ve no immediate plan for him. He wants bottomless ground and we’ll find something again on similar going.”

Reputations at stake as Holymacapony takes on elders at Navan

Holymacapony puts his unbeaten record and tall reputation on the line in the BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Novice Hurdle at Navan on Friday.

The winning point-to-pointer could hardly have been more impressive on his hurdling debut for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore at Punchestown last month.

The four-year-old, who carries the Monalee and Minella Indo colours of owner Barry Maloney, faces his elders for the first time at Grade Two level.

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore are a formidable combination
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore are a formidable combination (PA)

De Bromhead said: “He’s in great form. He won his maiden hurdle nicely at Punchestown, so this seemed like the right step forward for him.

“We’ll see where we are after Friday.”

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Champion trainer Willie Mullins has won a race formerly known as the Navan Novice Hurdle on a record seven occasions – and this year relies upon the brilliant Envoi Allen’s half-brother Fighter Allen, who also won at Punchestown last month.

Gordon Elliott has a couple of contenders in Fakiera and Eskylane – while Gavin Cromwell’s Gabynako, Jessica Harrington’s Ashdale Bob and the Noel Meade-trained Lieutenant Command complete the field.

The most valuable race on the card is the 40,000 euro BetVictor Gamble Responsibly Tara Handicap Hurdle, in which King Alex bids to make it four from four this season for owner-trainer Barry Connell.

Connell said: “He’s in good form and has already won around Navan this season. I think he’ll handle the track and the ground, and hopefully he’s the one to beat in the race.

“He has a nice racing weight of 11 stone, so we’ll hope for the best.”

Thereisnodoubt (Shane Crawley), Lord Erskine (Harry Rogers) and It Could Be You (Tom Mullins) are among King Alex’s rivals.

Letsbeclearaboutit winning at Punchestown
Letsbeclearaboutit winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

It could be argued that the most intriguing contest of the afternoon is the concluding BetVictor Flash Cashback “Future Champions” Flat Race, which stages a fascinating clash between the hugely exciting pair Letsbeclearaboutit and Sir Gerhard.

Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit has looked every inch a top-class prospect in winning each of his two starts under champion amateur Patrick Mullins, who is again on board.

Elliott’s £400,000 purchase Sir Gerhard is already a best-priced 4-1 favourite for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham following a 14-length romp on his rules debut at Down Royal under Jamie Codd, who has previously claimed this Listed prize aboard Samcro and Envoi Allen.

Codd said: “Letsbeclearaboutit and Sir Gerhard look like the two leading bumper horses in Ireland this year, so it will be interesting.

“I’m really looking forward to taking him (Letsbeclearaboutit) on. Sir Gerhard is in great form, and I wouldn’t be swapping him at this stage anyway – he’s a lovely horse.

“We’ll know a bit more on Friday.”

Put The Kettle On set to tackle Altior at Kempton

Henry de Bromhead is undeterred by the prospect of taking on Altior with his Arkle winner Put The Kettle On in Kempton’s Desert Orchid Chase.

The mare returned with a gutsy win in the Shloer Chase back at Cheltenham in November, and is set for another trip across the Irish Sea from De Bromhead’s County Waterford base on December 27.

“I’d say we’re pretty much going there – the last time I spoke with the owners we pretty much confirmed it, and I don’t see any reason to change, but obviously we’d have preferred Altior to have run in the Tingle Creek,” said De Bromhead.

“Her novice campaign was brilliant. She came from the summer season, and plenty have done it, but you are always under the radar when you do that. We had Notebook in the race as well, and he had won two Grade Ones on his way to the Arkle, so everyone was focused on him.

“To be fair to the mare, she’d won over course and distance and she loves it there. She had a fantastic year – and to go back and put up such a tough performance in the Shloer, she’s brilliant, and we’re lucky to have her.

“She’s very tough – bar coming to the last I could never see her winning the Shloer, but it’s testament to how tough she is and a brilliant ride from Aidan (Coleman).

“He has a great partnership with her, so he’ll be riding her again.”

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Special Tiara was twice a winner of the Desert Orchid Chase
Special Tiara was twice a winner of the Desert Orchid Chase (John Walton/PA)

Put The Kettle On is yet another classy two-mile chaser off the De Bromhead conveyor belt which includes two champion chasers in Sizing Europe and Special Tiara, twice a winner of the Desert Orchid.

He added: “Special Tiara was brilliant. The one that stands out is when Barry Geraghty rode him (2014) – the jumps the pair of them put in together were phenomenal really.

“There were ooos and ahhs from the crowd – they were incredible. He was brilliant, he won a Champion Chase and was placed year after year.”

Closer to home, De Bromhead will also be overseeing a strong raiding party on Leopardstown’s big Christmas meeting. But stable star Honeysuckle will not be there, instead waiting for the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Honeysuckle will not be running over Christmas
Honeysuckle will not be running over Christmas (PA Wire)

“Honeysuckle had the entry for Christmas, but it was only in case something silly happened in the Hatton’s Grace,” added De Bromhead.

“She’s definitely aiming towards the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Festival.

“Notebook will run – all being well he’s in great form and we’ll have a go at him (Chacun Pour Soi) on the 27th at Leopardstown (Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase).

“I had to put his run at Cheltenham down to how hard a race he had in the Irish Arkle with Cash Back, because they both tailed off.

“He came back all guns blazing the other day at Naas. I know he can jump a little right, but I don’t think you can blame his run in the Arkle just on that.

“He has run twice there and was possibly out of his depth the first year over hurdles, so I don’t want to say he doesn’t suit Cheltenham – I just think it was the hard race in the Irish Arkle.

“He was a dual Grade One winner last year, so he’d be bang there with the other good two-milers I’ve trained. He’s got that crazy streak jumping that a lot seem to have, and it really suits him. He’s rated over 160 now, so he’s bang there with them.”

With Minella Indo a hot favourite for the Savills Chase over three miles, he is likely to be joined by stablemate A Plus Tard.

“It’s something I just need to confirm with his owners, but the last time we spoke we were thinking of stepping him up in trip,” De Bromhead said of the latter.

“We’ll be monitoring the ground as well – if it was very soft we might reconsider the two-mile race he won last year.

“At the moment, we’re learning towards the three-mile race.”