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The Shunter leads McManus’ Plate party

Ante-post favourite The Shunter heads a formidable team for leading owner JP McManus in the €250,000 Tote Galway Plate.

The eight-year-old enjoyed an excellent campaign for trainer Emmet Mullins last term, winning the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso before successfully reverting to fences in the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He was snapped up by McManus before finishing second in a Grade One novice chase at the Grand National meeting at Aintree, and rounded off his campaign with a third-placed finish back over the smaller obstacles at Punchestown.

The Shunter is just one of seven McManus-owned runners declared, three trained by Joseph O’Brien.

McManus and O’Brien teamed up to win the 2020 Galway Plate with Early Doors and this year join forces with Top Moon, Darasso and potentially A Wave Of The Sea – who is first reserve.

O’Brien told Betfair: “Top Moon has been knocking on the door in valuable handicap chases, and it was great to see him get off the mark over fences at Wexford last time. I think this trip will suit him well, and he looks to have a fair chance if getting a bit of luck on the day.

“Darasso has come back to form in the last couple of months, winning two of his last three starts. This is a much more competitive race, and he has plenty of weight, but he has earned it. Hopefully he’ll acquit himself well.

“A Wave Of The Sea is the first reserve. He has his stamina to prove for this longer trip, but he gives the impression that he’ll stay it. He wouldn’t be one to rule out if he gets a run.”

O’Brien also saddles Assemble and Home By The Lee, adding: “Assemble was running a solid race at Killarney when falling at the second-last fence last time. His run in the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival showed he can be competitive in races like this, and hopefully he’ll run well.

“Home By The Lee was impressive when winning a valuable novices’ handicap chase at Naas in February and ran ok in the Irish Grand National. Getting back to this sort of trip might well suit him, and if he gets into a good rhythm with his jumping he might well outrun his big price.”

Willie Mullins has trained just one previous winner of the Galway Plate, with Blazing Tempo striking gold a decade ago.

The Closutton handler appears intent on adding to his tally, with last year’s runner-up Royal Rendezvous joined by six stablemates in Easy Game, Brahma Bull, Annamix Livelovelaugh and Koshari.

“Royal Rendezvous had a nice prep for this when winning a hurdle at Ballinrobe last time,” the champion trainer said on his website www.wpmullins.com.

“He was unlucky in this race last year and, with a little improvement, should go close again.

“Patrick (Mullins) has elected to ride Annamix, who jumps well enough and has been working well. He will like this nice ground and has a good chance.

“Easy Game has a lot of weight and faces a tough assignment. Brahma Bull won over three miles last time and might just find this trip a little short. With his rider’s (Jack Foley) 7lb claim, he has an each-way chance.

“Livelovelaugh will be suited by this trip, but might find things happening a bit fast around this tight track.

“Koshari has a lovely racing weight and could be well handicapped. He improved hugely to win over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival and has a decent chance if he keeps his jumping together.”

Sole Pretender delight for Norman Lee at Tipperary

Sole Pretender gave trainer Norman Lee a landmark victory with a determined performance in the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary.

Last seen finishing fifth in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, the Paul Townend-ridden seven-year-old was sent off the 5-4 favourite against seven rivals – which included six carrying the green and gold colours of JP McManus.

It would have been seven McManus-owned runners in the Grade Three contest had Magic Tricks not been declared a non runner.

He was prominent from flag-fall with Effernock Fizz and Darasso, as none of the others got into it.

When Effernock Fizz began to drop away from before the second-last, the market leader just had Darasso to contend with – and a fluent jump at the last helped to seal matters, with two lengths between them at the line. Modus took third, another 18 lengths back.

Lee said: “To win our first graded race is unreal and we are lucky to even have a horse to contest one, never mind win one. He is a credit to his owner and the lads at home.

“We thought he might be a little short today but every time we think that, he is still good enough and is always there. Paul gave him a great ride and went on the outer for the better ground.

“He has a high enough rating and while he didn’t win by a lot, we will stay in graded company and think about a Galway Hurdle. He shouldn’t go up.”

The trainer added: “We have a dozen horses in at home, he is our stable star. I don’t think three miles worked at Grade One level the last day. Eventually next year we’ll go for a Grade One race again – maybe he is a horse who will win Grade Twos and Threes, but we’ll keep dreaming with him.

“We are over the moon with him and Michael (Hogan, owner) is very important to him as horses like him are usually in big yards. We’ll treat him like the star he is for us.”

Enormity of historic National triumph still sinking in for De Bromhead

Henry de Bromhead was still on cloud nine on Sunday morning after saddling the one-two in Saturday’s Randox Grand National at Aintree.

Fresh from becoming the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup in the same week at the Cheltenham Festival, Minella Times provided the Knockeen handler with National glory, while stablemate Balko Des Flos filled the runner-up spot.

Just as he did after arriving home from Cheltenham, De Bromhead is required to quarantine for five days under Covid-19 protocols – giving him plenty of time to reflect on the enormity of his achievements – and those of Rachael Blackmore.

He said: “We got home safe ad sound last night and I’ve got a big smile on my face this morning, that’s for sure.

“It’s incredible – unreal. It’s hard to take it all in, to be honest. Hopefully it will sink in eventually.

“It’s a shame we can’t celebrate it properly, but isn’t it great it was all able to go ahead?”

De Bromhead’s remarkable success has been somewhat overshadowed by Blackmore, who became the first woman in history to ride the winner of the National – just as she was in the Champion Hurdle with the brilliant mare Honeysuckle.

The trainer has nothing but praise for his stable jockey, adding: “I’m absolutely delighted for Rachael. It’s brilliant for her and no one deserves it more.”

Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore on their way to National glory
Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore on their way to National glory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Minella Times, Balko Des Flos and Chris’s Dream – who unseated his rider four from home in the Grand National – were all reported to have returned to Ireland in good shape.

The winner appears unlikely to run again this season.

De Bromhead said: “They’re all home and the three of them seem great.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone yet regarding plans, but I’d be surprised (if he runs again this season).”

Owner JP McManus was winning the Grand National for a second time following the 2010 success of Don’t Push It, who famously provided 20-times champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy with his first and only victory in the race.

McManus’ racing manager, Frank Berry said: “It was a fantastic day and a great performance by Rachael and Minella Times. All credit to Henry and his team for producing the horse fit and well.

“I’m thrilled for JP and the whole family. It was a special occasion, with Rachael riding the winner – it’s a bit of history.

“Rachael has done it the hard way. She came from the bottom up and has worked really hard. It’s great to see her getting on good horses now and she’s delivering the goods.”

On future plans for Minella Times, Berry added: “You won’t see him again this year. He’ll have a good summer in Martinstown and we’ll plan next year’s campaign for him after that.

“It (next year’s Grand National) is a long time away, but you’d love to think he’ll be back there again.”

The best-fancied of seven McManus-owned runners in the 40-strong field was the Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now, who ran a fine race to finish third after being badly hampered by the fall of Double Shuffle at the 12th fence.

Berry said: “He ran an absolute blinder. He got caught up with a faller and Mark (Walsh) gave him a wonderful ride to nurse him back into the race.

“That’s the joys of the National. You need a bit of luck on the day.”

Elimay and Mount Ida clash at Fairyhouse

Elimay and Mount Ida are set to engage in an intriguing clash for the Download The BoyleSports App Mares Chase at Fairyhouse.

The Willie Mullins-trained Elimay was considered one of the bankers of the week at last month’s Cheltenham Festival when contesting the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, but came off second-best after a titanic tussle with stablemate Colreevy.

Denise Foster’s Mount Ida, meanwhile, did claim Festival glory – coming from a seemingly impossible position to run out a ready winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup.

Elimay is one of two runners for JP McManus in Saturday’s Listed contest, along with Demi Plie from Padraig Roche’s yard.

The leading owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said of Elimay: “She had a tough race in Cheltenham – but Willie seems happy with her, and there is not much else for her for a while, so she takes her chance.

“It looks a competitive race. Mount Ida was very good at the Festival and will take a lot of beating.”

Henry de Bromhead’s pair of Abbey Magic and Zarkareva complete the line-up.

The most valuable race on the opening afternoon of the Easter Festival is the 80,000 euro RYBO Handicap Hurdle.

A 20-strong field is headed by Thosedaysaregone, with Foster’s Eclair De Beaufeu next in the list following his fourth-placed finish in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Mullins has claimed five of the last eight renewals of the lucrative contest and this year saddles five runners in Foveros, Uradel, Ruaille Buaille, Hybery and Robinnia.

The McManus silks are carried by Foster’s Magic Tricks and the Des McDonogh-trained Hearts Are Trumps.

Berry added: “Hearts Are Trumps never runs a bad race and will hopefully run well.

“Magic Tricks is in good form, but lacks a bit of experience.”

McManus also has a leading contender for the 50,000 euro I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Series Final, in Capodanno.

Since arriving from France, the Manduro gelding has run three times for Mullins – winning at Clonmel as well as being placed twice.

“It’s a very competitive race, and three miles is a bit of an unknown,” said Berry.

“Willie thinks he’s in good form, so we’ll see how he goes.”

Capodanno’s rivals include stablemates Fighter Allen and Lady Breffni, top-weight On Eagles Wings and three Foster-trained runners in Dunboyne, Ragnar Lodbrok and Folcano.

National destination to be decided for Minella Times

A decision may be imminent on Minella Times’ big-race target this spring – with a choice of Grand Nationals still to be made.

Henry de Bromhead’s improving chaser has attracted market support into 16-1 with Coral for next month’s Randox Grand National, after punters discerned that he is Rachael Blackmore’s most likely ride at Aintree.

Blackmore’s brilliant Cheltenham Festival performance – as top rider at last week’s meeting with six victories, including the Champion Hurdle – has inevitably increased interest in her plans for the Aintree showpiece, which has never yet been won by a female jockey.

Minella Times retains an alternative entry in the Boylesports Irish Grand National, which will be run on Easter Monday – just five days before the equivalent at Liverpool.

The eight-year-old’s target could become clearer on Wednesday – when there is another forfeit stage for the Fairyhouse race – but Frank Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus, has stressed discussions are ongoing.

“He’s in the Irish National as well – we’ll make a decision on that in the morning,” he said.

“It’ll be whether he stays in the Irish National, or comes out tomorrow.

“It’s very much up in the air at the minute. Today, it’s 50-50 – we’ll decide in the morning whether he stays in or comes out.”

Minella Times is one of 17 possible Irish Grand National contenders for McManus – among whom however Time To Get Up, a decisive winner of the Midlands version at Uttoxeter on Saturday, is rated “unlikely” to take part.

Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times' regular jockey
Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times’ regular jockey (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Minella Times has yet to race beyond three miles. But in just three starts this season, ridden each time by Blackmore, he followed a Listowel victory by twice staying on well to be runner-up in valuable handicaps at Leopardstown.

“He’s run two good races in two very competitive handicaps,” added Berry.

“I don’t know about the (extra) trip bringing out much improvement – but he ran well in both of them.”

Time To Get Up proved stamina was his forte when he moved up to a marathon distance for the first time at the weekend, and has since been installed as market leader for Fairyhouse.

But Berry said: “It’s unlikely he’ll run (in the Irish National).”

Patience may be required too before the much-anticipated rules debut of another potential McManus star, Jonbon.

Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated
Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated “unlikely” to run at Fairyhouse (Mike Egerton/PA)

The powerhouse owner bought the five-year-old, full-brother to brilliant dual Cheltenham Festival winner Douvan, for £570,000 shortly after his wide-margin success in his only point-to-point at Dromahane last November.

Jonbon has subsequently gone into training with Nicky Henderson, and is entered in a bumper at Newbury on Saturday.

But the going is forecast to be good, with watering planned during the current dry spell – and Berry said: “He’ll be ground dependent.

“If it gets much drier I’d say you won’t see him there.”

The intention remains to run Jonbon this spring, however, when conditions allow.

“I’m sure it (the rain) will come back again,” added Berry.

“Nicky’s happy with him, (but) it will be ground dependent for Newbury anyway.

“He seems to have settled into Nicky’s nicely, and we’ll see how he gets on when he runs.”

Scoir Mear leads home McManus one-two-three in Leinster National

Scoir Mear led home a one-two-three for JP McManus in the Baroneracing.com Leinster National at Naas.

The leading owner fielded six of the 14 runners in the €80,000 feature and was ultimately well rewarded.

The Tom Mullins-trained Scoir Mear was a 17-2 chance in the hands of 5lb claimer Simon Torrens and dug deep after the final fence to see off 7-2 favourite Ten Ten by two lengths. Fitzhenry rounded off the McManus trifecta in third.

Mullins, who also saddled the fifth home Chavi Artist, said of the winner: “He’s been consistent all year. He’s a horse that needs a bit of light and I said to Simon to go wide and keep him happy. He said he loved it and jumped from fence to fence.

“We’ll see what JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) want to do – maybe he could go for the Irish National. I’m happy enough with today anyway.”

He added: “Chavi Artist was jumping so high at some of them that he couldn’t finish out. He went really high at the fourth-last and went down on his nose.

“I felt that was the end of him, but he came back into the race so he must have run a cracker.

“I’ll have to teach him to stay out of the clouds!”

Blazer leads triple challenge for Mullins in Leinster National

Blazer is one of three runners for Willie Mullins in the BARONERACING.COM Leinster National at Naas on Sunday.

The champion trainer saddled Pairofbrowneyes to land back-to-back runnings of the prestigious handicap chase in 2018 and 2019.

Blazer, one of six JP McManus-owned contenders for this year’s renewal, has not managed to get his head in front since winning at Punchestown in 2017, but assistant trainer Patrick Mullins is hoping he can deliver the big-race victory he has long promised.

He said: “Blazer has always threatened to have a big one in him.

“He finished second to Sharjah in a Galway Hurdle. He’s got a lovely racing weight in the Leinster National on Sunday.

“He’s definitely going to pop up one day at a big price in one of these types of races, so hopefully it could be this weekend maybe.”

Blazer is joined by a pair of stablemates in Class Conti and and Saturnas, who were last seen finishing third and fourth in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park.

“Class Conti has top-weight, which is going to make life difficult for him,” Mullins added.

“He ran very well in the Thyestes. Hopefully he can get some prize-money again, but with top-weight it’s going to be hard to win.

“Saturnas ran very well in the Thyestes as well. I think he could come forward from that.

“He’s got plenty of weight as well, which again won’t make life easy, but I’d expect him to be in the money, hopefully.”

Denise Foster’s Dounikos, Paul Nolan’s Fitzhenry and Ten Ten from Philip Dempsey’s yard also feature in a 16-strong field.

The preceding BAR ONE RACING Directors Plate Novice Chase sees Foster’s Conflated come up against the Mullins-trained Harrie.

Conflated sets the standard in the Grade Three contest, after finishing a distant third behind star novice Monkfish at Leopardstown last month, while Harrie faces a step up in class following an all-the-way victory at Thurles.

Grade Three honours are also up for grabs in the Bar One Racing “Download Our App” Kingsfurze Novice Hurdle, in which Mullins and McManus team up with Shadow Rider.

Impressive in winning at Limerick over the Christmas period, the seven-year-old was last seen finishing seventh in Grade One company at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He was disappointing in Leopardstown. We’re dropping back in trip and we know he’ll handle the heavy ground because he won on it in Limerick,” said Patrick Mullins.

“He shows us a lot at home so we’re hoping he can get back on track.”

Shadow Rider’s seven rivals include Keri Brion’s American challenger French Light and Tom Gibney’s recent Navan scorer Alko Rouge.

Late call on Fakir D’oudairies’ Cheltenham options

Joseph O’Brien plans to make a “last-minute” call on which race Fakir D’oudairies will contest at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old has performed well in defeat on each of his two previous appearances at the showpiece meeting – finishing fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019 and runner-up in the Arkle Trophy 12 months ago.

The son of Kapgarde was pulled up on his first start over three miles in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on his penultimate outing, before reverting to two miles to finish second to Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Fakir D’oudairies has the option of taking on Chacun Pour Soi again in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase next Wednesday, or stepping back up in distance for the Ryanair Chase the following afternoon.

“He’s in the Queen Mother and the Ryanair, and it will be between those,” O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing.

“At this stage it might be slightly favourite that he’ll go for the Ryanair, but a final decision hasn’t been made yet. Being quite honest, it will probably be left until the last minute.

“We’ve been very pleased with his preparation. He disappointed us a bit at Christmas, but he ran very well back at Leopardstown last time – and has been well since then.

“Chacun Pour Soi looks an outstanding horse, and this season he’s been untouchable really, but wherever you go at Cheltenham you’re going to meet the top animal in that division – there’s no easy touches.”

Fakir D’oudairies is set to be part of a team of “around 12 runners” for O’Brien in the Cotswolds next week.

The Piltown-based trainer could be well represented in the Grand Annual Chase, with both Embittered and Entoucas in the mix, while Busselton is an interesting contender for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

O’Brien said: “Embittered might run in the Arkle or the Grand Annual. He ran well in the County Hurdle last year and has performed well in all his starts this year, so we’re hoping for a good run from him.

“I don’t know if he has a huge amount up his sleeve, but I’m happy enough with the mark he has.

“Entoucas is in good shape, too. He has a couple of options, and the Grand Annual is one of those. He’ll go there with an each-way chance.

“The Boodles might be more likely (than the Triumph Hurdle) for Busselton. He’s run very well in his two runs for us so far, and we’re very pleased with him – I think he’ll acquit himself well in whatever race he goes for.”

He added: “It’s going to be a different Festival to what we’ve been used to, but we’re looking forward to the week.

“There’s some great races, and I think we’re well represented.

“Hopefully they all stay in one piece between now and next week.”

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.”

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.