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Anibale Fly starts Grand National trail in Bobbyjo Chase

Anibale Fly will warm up for a potential third tilt at the Randox Grand National with his first competitive appearance in almost a year in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.

The 11-year-old has been a fantastic servant to trainer Tony Martin and owner JP McManus, placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018 and 2019, as well as finishing fourth and fifth in the last two runnings of the National behind Tiger Roll.

Anibale Fly, who has not managed to get his head in front since landing the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in 2017, has been off the track since finishing third over hurdles at Naas last March.

McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry said: “Tony is very happy with him. He’d be hoping he’d improve for the run.

“He was to run in the Red Mills Chase in Gowran last week, but it was called off.

“He’s had one or two issues that have delayed his comeback, so hopefully we can get him out now and he’ll run a nice race.

“That (Grand National) is the plan if all goes well and we can get him there.”

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Willie Mullins has saddled a record 10 previous winners of Saturday’s feature race, first striking gold with his subsequent National hero Hedgehunter in 2005.

This year the Closutton handler fires a twin assault – with last year’s winner Acapella Bourgeois joined by stablemate Burrows Saint, who provided Mullins with his first Irish Grand National success in 2019.

Philip Dempsey’s The Long Mile, who also carries the McManus silks, and Tout Est Permis from Noel Meade’s yard complete the line-up.

Of The Long Mile, Berry added: “He’s up a good bit in grade, but he needs to run to qualify for the National, so we’ll see how he runs.”

The first of three Grade Threes on the card is the Norman Colfer Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle, for which the Gordon Elliott-trained Teahupoo will be a hot favourite.

The French recruit made an impressive Irish debut over the course and distance in January, and holds several engagements at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

“I was very pleased with his first start for us when he won a conditions event at this track last month,” Elliott told Betfair.

“He possibly had fortune on his side, because a horse of Willie’s (Youmdor) came down at the last when holding a slender lead.

“In fairness though, our horse had managed to get Youmdor off the bridle – and the way he went to the line suggested that it would have been close enough if both horses had cleared the last without incident.

“He looks like he has progressed from that last run, which would suggest that he has a future at graded level, and I’d like to think he will be closely involved.”

Teahupoo’s five rivals include Tax For Max, who is an interesting addition to the Mullins yard, having competed at Group One level on the Flat in Germany.

Fairyhouse also stages the Red Mills Trial Hurdle, after it was switched from the recently abandoned fixture at Gowran Park.

Elliott is hoping Petit Mouchoir can make the most of having his sights lowered, after finishing a well-beaten fifth behind Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

He said: “Petit Mouchoir should run well. On ratings and at the weights, he is reasonably treated by the race conditions, and this race does represent quite a drop in class following two runs in Grade Ones at Leopardstown.

“The first of those saw him finish an excellent third to Sharjah – and while he was well beaten behind Honeysuckle next time, I wasn’t that disappointed because he probably paid the price for trying to match strides with an exceptional winner.

“Had we ridden him differently he could have run a good deal better, I suspect. I’m hoping he will run his usual solid race.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Jason The Militant appears for the first time since finishing a close third in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, while Joseph O’Brien has declared Darasso to run in blinkers just six days after finishing third in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

Thedevilscoachman lifts Punchestown Listed honours

Thedevilscoachman continued his progression with a fourth win from five career starts at Punchestown on Sunday.

Successful on his racecourse debut in a bumper at Naas last season, Noel Meade’s charge made a victorious start over hurdles at Cork in November, before finishing fifth behind Appreciate It in Grade One company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Having since bounced back to winning ways at Navan, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old was the 15-8 favourite as he stepped back up in class for the Listed I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.

And after travelling strongly for much of the two-mile contest under Mark Walsh, there was a lot to like about the way he knuckled down after the final flight to see off American challenger French Light by two lengths.

Paddy Power left Thedevilscoachman unchanged at 16-1 for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Meade said: “It was a nice race for him. He’s so laidback – he just does whatever you want him to do.

“I’ll have to talk to JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) about plans and see what they are thinking. We’ll see where the handicapper puts him in.

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“He’s a nice horse to have. When you pick him up he has a great turn of foot, which is what you want in a real racehorse.”

Shady Operator also emerged as a potential Cheltenham contender for McManus after justifying even-money favouritism in the opening P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.

Making his cross-country debut for trainer Enda Bolger, the eight-year-old took to it like a duck to water in the hands of Derek O’Connor to leave connections contemplating whether to have a crack at the Glenfarclas Chase in the Cotswolds.

“He did it well. He’s an experienced handicapper, but it was his first time over the course. He’d taken well to the banks at home and Derek said he was very professional,” said Bolger.

“We’ll see now how he is after this. I don’t know whether he’d be good enough to go to Cheltenham or not. He could be a horse to come back here in the spring, but we’ll see when we get him home and talk to the boss man.

“It’s Derek’s first winner over the banks.”

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combined to land both divisions of the Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle, with Pont Aval (9-2) bouncing back to form in division one and Jungle Boogie (2-13 favourite) claiming his second win from as many starts in division two.

Mullins said of Pont Aval: “She’d been doing nice work at home for the last couple of weeks. She was disappointing at Christmas and it’s good to see her back to form.

“Two and a half miles plus will be the programme for her for the rest of the season.”

Jungle Boogie may have earned himself a place on the champion trainer’s Cheltenham team following his 30-length success.

“He’s a brave horse and he was just a bit keen with Paul. He likes to get on about his job, likes to get on with jumping. I think he was too keen to jump well,” Mullins added.

“He looks a decent sort and we’ll see if the owner wants to travel (to Cheltenham) with him. He’s well entered up and could be one for the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett, but he could be very keen to be going for one of those races.

“We’ll see how he comes out of this first.”

Dermot McLoughlin’s Thunderosa (15-2) claimed the David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle under 7lb claimer Paddy O’Hanlon, before Jack Kennedy steered the Liz Doyle-trained Farmix (4-1) to an impressive win in the Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Rated Novice Chase.

Doyle said: “He’s not a quick horse, but he jumps so well and has such a big, long stride that we’ll keep him to two (miles).

“He might get an entry in a handicap in Cheltenham. He’s not overly experienced, so we’ll see what happens.”

Gigolo’ Dai Dai (10-1) won the concluding bumper for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey David Roche.

Elimay to put Festival credentials on line at Naas

Elimay bids to confirm herself a leading contender for Cheltenham Festival honours by providing Willie Mullins with a fourth successive victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas.

The JP McManus-owned grey has had to make do with the runner-up spot in her two previous outings this season – going down by a nose to Buildmeupbuttercup in a Listed hurdle at Punchestown, before chasing home another stablemate in Allaho in a Grade Two chase at Thurles.

On the strength of that most recent piece of form, Elimay heads ante-post lists for the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham next month with several bookmakers, but must first come through Saturday’s Listed assignment in County Kildare.

The owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said: “She’s a very consistent mare. Shattered Love will be no easy mare to take on, but Elimay is in good form and hopefully she’ll give a good account of herself.

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“We’ll get this weekend out of the way before we make any plans. She’s in a few races over there (Cheltenham), but let’s see how we go on Saturday first.

“Willie is happy with her, so hopefully all goes well.”

Elimay concedes 5lb to each of her four rivals, with Mullins also saddling Yukon Lil as he aims to add to the recent triumphs of Benie Des Dieux, Pravalaguna and Cut The Mustard in the two-mile feature on a card which is subject to a 7.30am inspection because of forecast snow and ice.

Shattered Love on her way to winning at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival
Shattered Love on her way to winning at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival (Tim Goode/PA)

The biggest threat to the Closutton pair is the Gordon Elliott-trained Shattered Love, who is already a Festival heroine, having landed what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds three years ago.

In the twilight of her racing career at the age of 10, the daughter of Yeats switches back to fences following a disappointing effort when last seen contesting a handicap hurdle at Navan in early December.

“This trip is a bit on the short side for Shattered Love, but I am keen to get a run into her before the new mares’ chase at Cheltenham, and this looked a nice option for her,” Elliott told Betfair.

“She’s in good form and has been ready to run again for the last few weeks, so I’m looking forward to getting her out again – and despite the distance not being ideal, I’d expect a good run from her.

“Elimay will be hard to beat, though.”

Elliott’s second string Tintangle and John Ryan’s outsider Waitnsee complete the field.

Elliott added: “Tintangle is a disappointing mare. She has plenty of ability and would be more than good enough to play a leading role here at her best, but you just don’t know what to expect from her.

“After a good run back over hurdles at Navan in December, she was going to be well beaten when coming down at the second-last in a mares handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last weekend.

“She did run well in this last year (finished second) and hopefully she will do so again, but she does have her own ideas about things.”

Damalisque enters Leopardstown reckoning with Navan victory

Damalisque could make a swift reappearance at next weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival after leading home a one-two-three for leading owner JP McManus in the featured Navan Handicap Hurdle on Friday.

A field of 20 runners went to post for the 40,000 euros contest, the main event on a card which was saved and rescheduled after being abandoned due to frost last Saturday.

Having been narrowly beaten when favourite for the similarly competitive Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle at Naas on his latest appearance, the Eddie Harty-trained Damalisque was well fancied to go one better in the hands of Mark Walsh.

Supporters of the 5-1 chance would have been thrilled to see him travelling strongly all the way up the home straight and he never looked in serious danger of being caught after hitting the front – passing the post with seven and a half lengths in hand over Mon Lino.

Harty, who saddled the McManus-owned Kilfenora to win the race last season, said of his latest victor: “He was possibly a bit unlucky in the Brown Lad, where he ran a huge race, and it’s nice to repay the faith by winning the race again for JP.

“He’s entered next week at Leopardstown (William Fry Handicap Hurdle) and he might sneak in now with a penalty for this.

“He’s won well there over two and a half miles and I don’t see why he wouldn’t get three miles at Leopardstown. We’ll see how he comes out of this before making a final decision.

“He’s a nice horse and has had his problems through the years, but he’s come good now.”

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Damalisque’s triumph was the highlight of a four-timer for McManus and Walsh, with the pair also striking gold with Thedevilscoachman, Gars De Sceaux and Sir Bob.

Dual winner Thedevilscoachman (3-1) was dropping in class for the Dunmoe Rated Novice Hurdle, having finished fifth behind star novice Appreciate It in a Grade One at Leopardstown last month, and made the most of the opportunity to with a decisive three-length verdict.

“I was a bit disappointed with him at Leopardstown, but Mark said he was very green,” said Meade.

“I don’t know where we will go next or what we will do, but he’s a nice horse.

“He’s very laidback. He’s only just lobbing along until you want him and then he picks up.”

Odds-on backers were made to sweat before collecting their winnings after division two of the Graigs Lane Maiden Hurdle, with Fair Frontieres making Gordon Elliott’s 8-15 favourite Gars De Sceaux pull out all the stops.

“Mark said he’s a grand horse. He missed the last two hurdles and landed on all fours,” said Elliott.

“He’s a big, raw horse and one for next year. I’d say he won’t be a horse until he jumps a fence.”

An excellent day for the McManus-Walsh combination was completed by Robert Tyner’s Sir Bob (14-1) in the Ardmulchan Handicap Hurdle.

Elliott was less happy after division one of the maiden hurdle, with his 10-11 shot Folcano controversially beaten a nose by John Joseph Murphy’s Brazos (11-2).

The stewards called an inquiry shortly after the pair had passed the line after it became clear the winner had drifted right after the final flight – but to the surprise of many, the placings remained unaltered.

Elliott added: “I thought he (Folcano) should have got it. It’s disappointing for the owners. I’ll have to discuss it (an appeal) with them, but we’ll probably take it on the chin.

“The consistency of these stewards inquiries is barbaric. I don’t know what you have to do to get a race.”

The Cullentra handler went on to land the bumper with the impressive newcomer Three Stripe Life (4-5 favourite), ridden by Jamie Codd.

Elliott said: “We think a good bit of him and he’s done everything right at home.

“He could be a Cheltenham bumper horse – I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

Mr Hendricks (10-1) could be targeted at the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter after landing the Wilkinstown Beginners Chase for Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power.

Harrington said: “He was very good. He’s been crying out for three miles and he has to go left-handed.

“He’s an enormous horse – over 17 hands. He jumped well and Robert is delighted with him.

“A long time ago I said the Midlands National could be a race for him, so he could easily end up there.

“I have a good record in the race with novices. Miss Orchestra (1998) and Intelligent (2003) won it and Badgerlaw was second.”

Fakir D’oudairies returns to the fray at Naas

Last season’s Arkle runner-up Fakir D’oudairies faces some familiar rivals on his return to action in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas on Saturday.

Formerly a high-class juvenile hurdler, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old made a smooth transition to the larger obstacles for Joseph O’Brien last season – scoring on his chasing debut at Navan before claiming Grade One honours in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse.

He subsequently chased home Notebook at Leopardstown, before finding only Put The Kettle On too strong in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

Frank Berry, the owner’s racing manager, said: “He impressed many last year and he was just unlucky that he ran into one in the Arkle.

“He’s got a penalty to carry, so he’s having to give weight to some good horses, which makes it not that simple. He’s in good form, though, and Joseph has chosen to start him off here.

“It’s all about getting him started, he won the Drinmore over further last year but he’s not short of pace.

“I’m sure whatever he does he’ll improve for the run.”

After beating Fakir D’oudairies before following up in the Irish Arkle, Notebook was favourite for the Arkle itself at the Festival in March, but finished a disappointing sixth.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead is hopeful he can bounce back on his return to action, saying: “He seems in great form and we’re looking forward to getting him out again.

“He’s ready to start back his season.”

The Willie Mullins-trained Cash Back was runner-up to Notebook in the Irish Arkle, but fell when beaten at Cheltenham.

The field is completed by John Queally’s Djingle.

The other Grade Two on the card is the Old Persian At Glenview Stud Fishery Lane Hurdle, in which Gordon Elliott’s Call Me Lyreen puts his unbeaten record on the line against Mullins’ French recruit Gars En Noir, among others.

Berlais lifts Lismullen honours on seasonal bow

Dual Cheltenham Festival hero Sire Du Berlais made a winning return to action in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old has won the last two renewals of the Pertemps Final at the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds for Gordon Elliott, but faced a step up in class and a drop in trip for this two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two.

The blinkered 9-2 chance was on the heels of the leaders rounding the home turn and responded to Mark Walsh’s urgings on the run-in to get up and beat long-time leader French Dynamite by half a length.

Matthew Smith’s stable star Ronald Pump was the 9-4 favourite on his first start since filling the runner-up spot in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and was not completely done with when crashing out at the final obstacle.

Noel Meade’s Sixshooter finished third.

Elliott said: “It was a good performance. Mark said he needed the whole length of the straight to get there – he wants three miles.

“Obviously I’ll have to speak to Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) and JP, but I’d imagine the three-mile race in Leopardstown at Christmas would be the place to go with him now. He has no choice really now but to go for a Grade One.

“He’s been a great little horse around the yard. The Stayers’ Hurdle would look the race for him long-term.”

Paddy Power cut Sire Du Berlais to 10-1 from 16-1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.