Tag Archive for: JP McManus

Istabraq soaks up the attention at 30th birthday celebrations

Beloved hurdler Istabraq enjoyed his very own birthday party on reaching the ripe age of 30 on Monday.

The Sadler’s Wells gelding is an all-time great of the hurdling division, a 25-time winner whose three consecutive Champion Hurdles and four successive Irish Champion Hurdles are the stuff of folklore among sworn-in racing fans and casual onlookers alike.

Alongside that infallible run in Champion Hurdles both sides of the Irish Sea, the bay was triumphant in a host of other big races and amassed over £1million in prize money while jointly becoming the second-highest rated hurdler of all time in the eyes of Timeform.

After retirement in 2002 Istabraq left the yard of trainer Aidan O’Brien and settled into life away from the track at Martinstown, the Cork stud of owner JP McManus.

Twenty years later the horse remains happily pensioned in the care of his owner and is cared for daily by Lara Hegarty, who marked his 30th birthday by organising a party whose attendees included McManus and Sir Anthony McCoy.

“I’m mad about him so for the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting stuff online, I’ve got a banner and a cake and he’s got a new rug with ’30th birthday’ written on the side of it. He’s spoilt rotten, but he deserves every bit of it,” she said.

“I know he’s a massive profile and he’s won so much but it’s just nice to see the other side of him as well, he’s just his usual cheeky self.

“He’s retired now and he’s spoilt rotten in his retirement, he gets the best of everything and it’s nice to see that side of him as well as Istabraq the champion hurdler.

“He’s so well cared for and it’s so nice to see him enjoying it because he deserves it.”

Istabraq spends his days at pasture with former Grade One-winning chaser Gilgamboa and is more spritely than one might expect of a horse of advancing years.

“He gets the best of everything, if there’s anything he needs he will get it. He goes out in the field all day with Gilgamboa, they potter around in the field then he comes in and gets his groom and his carrot and goes into his bed for the night,” said Hegarty.

“People probably think because he’s 30 he just strolls about the place, but he’s so lively in himself.

“When he comes in he might decide he wants to head down for a carrot and he will take you the whole way down to the feed room and he will wait for his carrot. You can’t stop him!

“He’s very clever, when we get new horses in the barn he knows, and he’ll drag you over because he has to say hello. Then he goes on to the next horse and you could be there for 10 minutes while he goes and says hello to each horse and then he messes and starts pulling their headcollars off.”

Istabraq and Charlie Swan on their way to Irish Champion Hurdle glory
Istabraq and Charlie Swan on their way to Irish Champion Hurdle glory (Chris Bacon/PA)

Born on May 23 1992 and famously purchased by the late John Durkan after a brief Flat campaign in the hands of John Gosden, Istabraq is synonymous with McManus’ green and gold silks and it is no surprise that owner and horse have developed a strong a bond.

“JP always comes down to see him and he’s mad about him,” Hegarty said.

“Istabraq knows him as well, JP comes in and he neighs over the door when he sees him.”

JP McManus joins Aintree Hall of Fame

Owner JP McManus, a two-time Randox Grand National winner, was inducted into the Aintree Hall of Fame on Saturday morning.

The Irish businessman, who claimed the 2010 renewal with Don’t Push It and last year’s running with Minella Times, was accompanied by his wife Noreen and their children and grandchildren as he became an ‘Aintree legend’.

A plaque bearing McManus’ name now hangs on the Hall of Fame wall in McCoy’s Bar, which honours 20-times champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy – the rider best known for wearing the owner’s famous green and gold silks.

McManus has a long history with Aintree, with Deep Gale his first National runner in 1982 when falling at the first fence. But his first memory is from 1960.

AP McCoy celebrates with Don't Push It
AP McCoy celebrates with Don’t Push It (David Davies/PA)

He said: “I remember Merryman II, who won that year, and then Nicolaus Silver the following year. The first I saw on television was Kilmore in 1962 with Fred Winter, and after that Ayala, Team Spirit – I remember them very well.

“I didn’t come here until 1976 (Rag Trade won that year). Then I was here for all of them except for the year of foot and mouth disease (2001).

“I’ve had some wonderful memories here and it would be unfair to pick one over the others, but the day that Don’t Push It won was very, very special. We’ve had a few disappointments, but you just celebrate the wins and forget about everything else.

“I love it, I look forward to it very much. And I hope that my grandkids who are here this year – all of them except my namesake, JP – I hope they want to come every year. It’s lovely to have them here.”

Fakir D’Oudairies has McCoy smiling at Ascot

Sir Anthony McCoy admits he misses the big days, the good horses.

Still just a few seasons removed from the saddle, the 20-times champion used to don JP McManus’ famous green and gold hoop silks, now he represents the powerful owner as a spokesman on the big occasions like Betfair Ascot Chase day.

A man renowned for his dry wit, he was even caught cracking a smile when lifting the glass trophy that gallant Fakir D’Oudairies had landed in the Grade One feature on deep ground on Saturday.

“Don’t tell anyone!” quipped McCoy when told he’d smiled.

McCoy is becoming well versed in the art of saying something, but telling nothing. He smiles at that suggestion, too.

He had won this race “a few times – I can’t remember what on”.

“I do remember I won it on Tresor De Mai and he was one I didn’t think would ever win a Grade One,” added McCoy in more typical fashion.

Fakir D’Oudairies had him upbeat, however. The tempo of the two-mile-and five-furlong event was more than adequate for the conditions and Mark Walsh gave the Joseph O’Brien-trained seven-year-old a peach of a ride.

Though he got in close and had his momentum slightly slowed at the penultimate fence, he picked up and found a determination that saw him overhaul the game Two For Gold and gain a third top-level success.

Fakir D’Oudairies has had the misfortune to have come up against crack chaser Allaho and has been beaten by him in their last three clashes. They could lock horns again in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, although McCoy hinted that Aintree, where he won the Melling Chase last April, might be the plan.

“It was easier for him today. He is a good horse. He’ll go somewhere where he can win again,” said McCoy.

“It was nice for him to win. He is a good, tough horse. He is a credit and is a consistent horse and just keeps finding.

Tony McCoy (centre-left) is all smiles after lifting the Betfair Ascot Chase trophy
Tony McCoy (centre-left) is all smiles after lifting the Betfair Ascot Chase trophy (Simon Marper/PA)

“It looked a fairly run race and it is tiring ground and they are all entitled to make mistakes, aren’t they? He is a good, solid horse.

“You’d miss riding a horse like that, but I saw a few earlier in the day that I wouldn’t have missed riding!”

Fakir D’Oudairies is, like McCoy, a serious individual. An uncomplicated, ruthless grinder not known for an added gear, he is in equal parts dependable and persistent, a horse with a tattooed heart on his sleeve, giving his all.

“He is a consistent horse at a high level,” added McCoy. “It is hard when you run into good horses all the time like Allaho, and you are going to get beaten once in a while.”

Walsh took a page from the McCoy playbook. He was not going to be beaten, not today. The rider had suffered a family bereavement, and did well to just about keep his emotions in check after landing another Grade One.

Mark Walsh is interviewed after his Ascot success
Mark Walsh is interviewed after his Ascot success (Simon Marper/PA)

“Unfortunately I lost my uncle. He was a great racing fan and a great man, so I want to dedicate this race to him,” said Walsh.

“I thought I was going to win going to the second last, but he got underneath it and the horse in front got two lengths on him, but he put himself down very well and battled all the way to the line.

“The second horse didn’t stop and gave me a good battle all the way to the line, but luckily we came out on top.

“Joseph does a brilliant job with him at home, but he loves his racing and he is a little warrior and always battles like that. He is a great little horse to be associated with.”

The brilliance of these top-flight jockeys is an inane ability to pre-empt and change the plan mid-race. Walsh had to do exactly that.

Fakir D’Oudairies (right) edged out Two For Gold
Fakir D’Oudairies (right) edged out Two For Gold (Simon Marper/PA)

He explained: “I didn’t travel great coming up Swinley Bottom, the first two fences and coming up by the stands, I pulled him out to give him a bit of room and going down the hill, he started jumping a lot better and he got into position then.

“I was a lot happier going into Swinley Bottom the second time and just pulling him out and giving him a bit of room seemed to work.

“Once he starts putting in a few leaps like that, he starts enjoying it again.”

It was a big day in every respect for Walsh, a fact he acknowledged.

“Every winner is important – especially these Grade Ones – so I am delighted, “ he added.

This may have been a ho-hum race for McCoy among a glittering career but there is no question Fakir D’Oudairies is as good, if not better, than some of the winners of the race he had ridden.

“No question, he is tough and consistent,” said McCoy. “In fairness to him, his form figures are pretty good. He is more of a relentless galloper. He is a grand horse – you wouldn’t mind a few more like him. Or a lot like him!”

Slip Of The Tongue stars in Punchestown treble for Walsh and McManus

Slip Of The Tongue played a starring role in a Punchestown treble for jockey Mark Walsh and owner JP McManus with a dramatic victory in the INH Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.

A winner on his hurdling debut at Tipperary last spring, the five-year-old had since had to make do with minor honours at Gowran Park and Limerick respectively.

But having finished third behind two potential Champion Hurdle contenders in Teahupoo and Quilixios over Christmas, Padraig Roche’s inmate was a 5-2 joint-favourite to claim Listed honours in Kildare.

Deploy The Getaway looked the most likely winner when scooting into a clear advantage leaving the back straight, but Slip Of The Tongue reeled him in on the run to the final flight.

Just when it looked like he was getting on top, the Flemensfirth gelding blundered badly, with Walsh doing well to keep the partnership intact.

Slip Of The Tongue regathered his momentum to get back on top by three-quarters of a length – and while the stewards held an inquiry due to the interference suffered by the runner-up, the placings remained unaltered.

Roche said: “That was great, he’s a lovely horse and it’ll keep the father (former rider and trainer Christy Roche) happy as he’s a home-bred. He’s a horse that we’ve liked all the time and he’s learning all the time.

“At Limerick the last day we didn’t learn much. I’d say he stays well and loves that bit of soft ground. Knowing the family, they get better with time and hopefully he will. He’s a fine, big horse.

“I haven’t discussed plans yet but I’d say we’ll keep him at home.”

Midnight Maestro (right) and Shady Operator fight out the finish
Midnight Maestro (right) and Shady Operator fight out the finish (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Walsh-McManus treble was initiated by Midnight Maestro (9-2), who edged out stablemate Shady Operator in the Hollywoodbets Bet 10 Get 30 PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.

Enda Bolger’s pair drew clear of the chasing pack from the home turn and it was Walsh’s mount who got the better of a thrilling duel by a neck.

“We’ll give them both an entry for the Cheltenham race now. Whether they’ll be good enough, we’ll see what else is going to turn up,” said Bolger.

“They just swapped it around from the last meeting here. Shady got a cut here the last day and was laid up for a while. He had a run at Navan but the other horse finished better that day.

“Maybe the little bit of fitness at the end probably caught Shady out. I thought for a minute he was coming back at him again.

“They were fine and professional about it and their jumping was good.”

Ciel De Neige clears the final fence
Ciel De Neige clears the final fence (Brian Lawless/PA)

Walsh and McManus doubled up with the Willie Mullins-trained Ciel De Niege (5-4 favourite), who comfortably made it three from three over fences in the Hollywoodbets Cheltenham Festival Preview March 3rd Rated Novice Chase.

Mullins said: “He did that nicely, coming back to two miles. It was just a pity about the two mistakes he made.

“I’m very happy he did that, he enjoys things more over fences.

“He’ll be entered in a couple of races (at Cheltenham) and maybe in a handicap as well. We’ll have a look at options after this and chat to connections to see where he fits in.”

James’s Gate impressed the closing contest
James’s Gate impressed the closing contest (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins made it a double on the day with James’s Gate (2-5 favourite) in the Hollywoodbets Money Back 2nd To SP Favourite (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race.

The five-year-old was making his racecourse bow in the hands of the trainer’s son Patrick, but he made short work of his rivals to run out an eight-length winner and set up a possible date in the Champion Bumper at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

“He’s a tremendous addition to (owner) Sean and Bernardine Mulryan’s group of horses,” said Mullins.

“He was bought from Pat Doyle, on his recommendation, and I’m very pleased for him as well. He looks as good as Pat thinks he is.

“I’d imagine he’ll go for the Cheltenham bumper and we’ll look forward to coming back here as well for the Festival bumper.”

Grandero Bello was a Punchestown winner
Grandero Bello was a Punchestown winner (Brian Lawless/PA)

Young Dev (12-1) landed the David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle while Grandero Bello was a surprise 16-1 victor in the Hollywoodbets Now Streaming UK & Irish Racing Maiden Hurdle.

Saddle Her Up, who finished ninth at odds of 66-1 in the latter event, was the subject of a post-race inquiry, with the stewards finding she had not obtained the best possible placing.

The horse was banned from running for 42 days, with jockey Kieran Callaghan suspended for 10 days and trainer Barry Fitzgerald fined €2,000.

Gypsy Island nearing a return after lengthy absence

Talented mare Gypsy Island is being readied to make her return to action after a nine-month hiatus.

The Peter Fahey-trained eight-year-old was one of the most exciting bumper horses of her generation, winning three times in the spring of 2019, including a Grade Three at the Punchestown Festival.

However, she has had just one outing since.

That came two years later when taking a mares’ maiden hurdle at Tipperary last May.

The JP McManus-owned daughter of Jeremy, who is out of a Presenting mare, is bred to be smart, yet she had reportedly suffered an injury in behind which kept her off the track for the best part of two years.

While she is now on the way back and as short as 14-1 with Paddy Power for the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, connections feel she is unlikely to take up that engagement.

McManus’ racing manager, Frank Berry, said: “Hopefully we will see her out in a few weeks’ time.

“She had a few hold-ups, but I would say she will be out at the end of the month or early in March.

“She had a few problems that set her back and Peter is just getting going with her again now.

“Cheltenham will come too soon, so we will probably stay home.”

One of the best I’ve ridden – Richard Johnson salutes Defi Du Seuil

Former champion jockey Richard Johnson hailed seven-times Grade One winner Defi Du Seuil as “one of the best” he has ridden, after the nine-year-old was retired by owner JP McManus.

The Philip Hobbs-trained nine-year-old has struggled since winning the last of his top-level races in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January 2020.

He had failed to shine in two races since a wind operation in the summer and McManus took the decision to retire him.

Johnson, who partnered Defi Du Seuil to two of his Grade One successes, including the Triumph Hurdle in 2017, said: “He has been an amazing racehorse and even though he is not an old horse, he has achieved so much.

“He has given Philip, Mr McManus and his family, myself and the likes of Barry Geraghty some great times.

“It is obviously sad to see him not be able to produce his best over the last 18 months, but to me it is nice that he can retire fit and well.

“It is obviously frustrating they can’t pinpoint why he is not performing, but at the same time he doesn’t owe anybody anything and at the same time the nice thing is that JP and his team will guarantee him a very happy retirement and we still have a lot of fond memories on him.”

The son of Voix Du Nord was a smart juvenile hurdler, winning a trio of Grade One races and Chepstow, Cheltenham and Aintree.

Despite a lacklustre second season over hurdles, he proved a revelation over fences thereafter and twice defeated Lostintranslation, taking the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown before returning to Cheltenham to secure a second Festival success, this time in the JLT Novices’ Chase in 2019.

He also landed the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown, beating Un De Sceaux in an epic renewal, and was second to Chacun Pour Soi at the Punchestown Festival.

Johnson added: “No question he will be missed in the yard. Those horses are always very hard to replace. He deserves a good retirement and he has given us all a great time.

Defi Du Seuil (far side) locked in battle with Un De Sceaux at Sandown
Defi Du Seuil (far side) locked in battle with Un De Sceaux at Sandown (Mark Kerton/PA)

“He was fantastic – one of the best I’ve ridden. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled so well as he did in the Triumph Hurdle.

“He travelled like an old pro and jumped brilliantly. He was just a great horse to have anything to do with. He took to fences so well, it is a shame that perhaps his career wasn’t able to carry on for a little bit longer, but he has achieved more than most horse will ever achieve.”

Defi Du Seuil bows out having won 14 of his 24 starts under rules, earning over £620,000 in prize money.

Barry Geraghty and Charlie Swan hail JP McManus after landmark victory

The “absolute love for the game”, the “attention to detail”, the “kindness” – those glowing words used by two former jockeys to describe the JP McManus are heartfelt.

McManus notched his 4,000th winner as an owner at Cheltenham on Saturday when Chantry House scored in the Cotswold Chase for trainer Nicky Henderson.

It was fitting that the green and gold hoop colours had passed the post in a big race at the home of jumps racing carried by a horse cared for by the Seven Barrows handler.

Henderson has played a significant role in McManus’s epic tally, with the likes of Binocular, Buveur D’Air and Epatante among the stars he has trained.

Barry Geraghty has shared some momentous days with the pair and was fulsome in his praise in reaching the remarkable tally.

Geraghty, who rode at least one winner at the Cheltenham Festival every year between 2002 and 2020 before retiring, said that McManus gets involved at every level, but it is his kindness that stands out.

“I didn’t realise the figure was coming, but it is massive for an owner to have done it,” said Geraghty. “Not one horse goes past without him knowing about it.

“And the detail! He lives for the game. He just loves it – but at all levels, be it down the country during the week or at Cheltenham yesterday, it’s both things.

“He loves getting involved in the planning and he gets so much joy out of racing. He pays close attention at all levels and that’s how much he loves the game.”

Geraghty was leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 2003 and 2012, with five winners on both occasions.

Indeed, he went agonisingly close to becoming leading jockey again in 2020, when he rode five winners for McManus only to lose out on countback to Paul Townend.

“JP is a great man, a brilliant man,” added Geraghty.

“I was probably about 19 or 20 when I first rode for him and first met him. It was brilliant. I was fortunate to meet him early in my career and my second Festival winner was for JP on Youlneverwalkalone (National Hunt Handicap Chase in 2003).

Youlneverwalkalone was a Festival scorer for McManus and Geraghty
Youlneverwalkalone was a Festival scorer for McManus and Geraghty (Haydn West/PA)

“I rode winners for JP when I was with Edward O’Grady as conditional. So, he has been very supportive all the way through my career.”

While McManus has made millions out of the money markets, which enables him to buy some of the best equines, it is his common touch and benevolence that strikes Geraghty most.

“He sent helicopters over to pick me up at Aintree when I had broken bits of my leg when I couldn’t fly back,” he added.

“It was the same when I punctured my lung at Kempton. People don’t get the see the kindness he shows.

“I mentioned in my book how I was in hospital at Kempton when I broke eight ribs and punctured my lung, JP arrived the following day with bags of pyjamas and all kinds of essentials, which no-one had thought of – but which he and Noreen had thought of – and chocolates for the nurses to keep me in favour.

“There is no fanfare. He shows such kindness. He is just a very kind man.”

The highlights have been many for the 42-year-old, who is now a regular broadcaster and responsible for spotting talent such as Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill.

Buveur D’Air gave Nicky Henderson (left), JP McManus and Barry Geraghty victory in 2018 Champion Hurdle
Buveur D’Air gave Nicky Henderson (left), JP McManus and Barry Geraghty victory in 2018 Champion Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Geraghty remembered: “We have had some great times. Buveur D’Air and Epatante both won Champion Hurdles and even going back to the early days I won good novice chases on Le Coudray and Youlneverwalkalone at Cheltenham.

“There was Mini Sensation for Jonjo O’Neill (who won a Welsh National) and horses in recent years like Champ and Defi Du Seuil were just brilliant horses.”

Geraghty replaced Sir Anthony McCoy as McManus’s retained jockey in 2015 and enjoyed plenty of halcyon days thereafter.

“He offered me a wonderful opportunity. I had done much of my racing in England and I’d longed to ride good horses in Ireland as well.

“I had brilliant days with Nicky in Ireland, with Sprinter Sacre at Punchestown and Bobs Worth at Leopardstown, but I wanted to get back to Ireland on Sundays and have good horses to ride here.

“I was leading rider at Punchestown for the first time when I was riding in my first season for JP, which was brilliant.

McManus and Geraghty enjoyed Punchestown success with Carlingford Lough
McManus and Geraghty enjoyed Punchestown success with Carlingford Lough (Niall Carson/PA)

“Carlingford Lough won the Gold Cup and came from the next parish – they were just brilliant days. We won good handicaps and Minella View won the Paddy Power, and it offered me something I was after and the timing was great. Not being away from the family so much was great for all of us.

“We have shared some wonderful days and it is brilliant to see JP reach such a massive total and landmark like this. I shall always be grateful to him.”

Charlie Swan, twice top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, and champion jockey in Ireland for nine consecutive years, will forever be remembered for his partnership with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Istabraq, who landed three of McManus’s tally of nine Champion Hurdles.

Having retired from riding and training, Swan now buys horses in France for McManus.

Charlie Swan and Istabraq were a match made in heaven
Charlie Swan and Istabraq were a match made in heaven (Chris Bacon/PA)

He said: “I do a bit for him in France and I really enjoy it. It’s great to have that association and I’ve known him for a long time now. He is a great man.

“It is amazing to have 100 winners, let alone 4,000. JP’s love for the game is incredible. The whole family – his wife Noreen, his children – they are all involved and that’s what makes it so brilliant.”

Istabraq will always hold a place in his heart. Swan rode him in all 29 races over hurdles.

“Istabraq was so quick, he was just such a natural jumper. You don’t usually get that when they start out. He was like a motorbike going over a ramp and landing on the back wheel. Istabraq’s hindlegs would often touch down first, before his forelegs.

“He was just different. He just loved it, he would quicken up when he saw a hurdle.”

He was the fifth horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times, yet none had completed the four-timer and he was denied the chance of a fourth when foot and mouth disease prevented the Festival meeting from taking place in 2001.

JP McManus (left), Charlie Swan and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right) celebrate Istabraq's 2000 Champion Hurdle success (David Jones/PA)
JP McManus (left), Charlie Swan and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right) celebrate Istabraq’s 2000 Champion Hurdle success (David Jones/PA)

A year later, he jumped two flights and pulled up with a tendon injury.

“He was a special horse,” said Swan. “I rode some other good horses for JP, like Time For a Run in the Coral Cup and Mucklemeg who won the Festival bumper (1994) – she was very, very good.

“It was just unfortunate that she got injured and broke her pelvis as a novice hurdler. She could have been one of the best I rode.

“JP really started to get going after that and got bigger and bigger. But most of all, while it is a great achievement, he is a very kind, down to earth man.”

Jonbon gets the job done at Haydock

Jonbon maintained his unbeaten record with a workmanlike victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.

A £570,000 purchase by owner JP McManus after winning an Irish point-to-point, the full-brother to the mighty Douvan had since won a bumper and a maiden hurdle at Newbury and a Grade Two event at Ascot.

Nicky Henderson’s charge was the 2-5 favourite to double his Grade Two tally on Merseyside – and while it was not entirely straightforward, he ultimately got the job done in good style.

After travelling freely behind the pacesetting pair of Richmond Lake and Donny Boy for much of the two-mile contest, Aidan Coleman asked Jonbon to move closer at the third flight from the finish, when he ran into the back of Donny Boy and had to switch inside.

Richmond Lake was still in with every chance at the final obstacle, as was Might I, who was last seen chasing home Jonbon’s stablemate Constitution Hill at Sandown.

Just for a moment it looked like Richmond Lake might make a real race of it, but Jonbon found another gear after Coleman drew the whip and was three lengths clear at the line.

Coleman said: “It was hard work in that ground, it’s a sharp two miles around here, a bit of a speed track.

“We were all going flat out turning in but he’s picked up well and then, like every horse that hits the front here, he pulled up inside the last half-furlong. But I was very happy with the performance.

“He’s a pleasure to ride, the only moment of alarm was three out when Conor (O’Farrell on Donny Boy) jumped right and I winged it and landed on top of him. It wasn’t ideal, but everything went well other than that

“He’s so straightforward, people need to stop talking about him being precocious because he’s not, he’s a lovely ride. He’s beat a good field and I was very happy with him.

“In his last two races he tipped away in front and had it easy, today we went an end-to-end gallop, it was a very good race.

“I felt I was always going to go away after the last, he did but then pulled up a bit. But how many times do you see that here? He just got lonely. You won’t see many horses win on the bridle on that ground.

“He has another win under his belt and that rode a very good race.”

Sky Bet left Jonbon unchanged at 3-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Coral left him alone at 7-2 behind 2-1 favourite and stablemate Constitution Hill.

Speaking from Ascot, Henderson told ITV Racing: “I thought that was good. It was a different test today, a speed track, very soft ground.

“They quickened once in the straight and you thought he’s got something to do here, but he got there nicely. Then he quickened again and I like horses that can quicken twice. He’s gone right away at the end. I’d say job done.”

Jonbon team seeking suitable next step for Supreme favourite

Nicky Henderson is keen to give exciting hurdler Jonbon more experience before the Cheltenham Festival, but is struggling to find a suitable race for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite.

JP McManus’s fledgling star romped to an emphatic Grade Two success at Ascot under Aidan Coleman last month to make it two from two over hurdles.

Having previously shown a tendency to get warm and over-race, Jonbon had shown more maturity and plenty of athletic ability on his second hurdling start, with Coleman making nearly all the running and powering home up the straight.

Frank Berry, McManus’ racing manager, said: “All is very good with Jonbon. It is amazing with all the racing, but Nicky is struggling to find a novice hurdle over two miles to run him in. That is a bit of a problem at the minute.

“I’d say the first two-mile novice coming up, he’ll have a run in it.

“We hope that, by the end of the month or whatever, Nicky will find a race for him, but there is a bit of difficulty finding one.”

Berry revealed that a decision has yet to be taken on which race the Henderson-trained Champ will contest at the Cheltenham Festival.

Champ overcame a 274-day break to land the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last month – his first run since being pulled up in the Gold Cup, and looked better than ever.

Berry said: “Champ has an entry in the Gold Cup and will have an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle and I’d say we’ll leave it up to Nicky Henderson nearer the time and see what he wants to do.

“We’ll see how he is in the meantime – he is in good form and he has come out of his race very well and Nicky is happy with him.

“He’s a grand horse and it was nice to see him living up to his name!”

The French-trained Easysland is still on course for the Glenfarclas Chase, despite not being seen since finishing runner-up to Tiger Roll in last season’s renewal.

Easysland is still in course for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
Easysland is still in course for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase (Simon Cooper/PA)

Trained by David Cottin, Easysland had previously slammed Tiger Roll by 17 lengths in the 2020 edition and remains 4-1 joint-favourite with that rival for the three-and-three-quarter-mile event on March 16.

“Easysland has had a few setbacks but hopefully he is getting there,” said Berry.

“There was nothing substantial, just minor issues, but it just slowed the whole job down with him. Hopefully he will get back on song now.

“You’d like to think he will get back to Cheltenham for the cross country chase and hopefully he will get there. We’ll have to see what happens after that.

“We’ll see if he has a run beforehand, but nothing has been decided yet.”

What to do with a ‘high-class problem’ like Champ?

JP McManus has put so much into National Hunt racing that one can be forgiven that most races and most horses mean as much as any other to him. Nothing could be further from the truth.

He rarely gives much away. Yet the softly-spoken Irishman still gets an almighty craic from the big days and there is no question he is one of the most compassionate when it comes to any of his horses.

But at Ascot on Saturday he admitted that there is one horse who holds a special place in his heart, one that he insists now gives him “a high-class problem”.

Champ has undoubtedly had his problems. A Grade One winner over hurdles (Sefton Novices’ Hurdle) and over fences (RSA Novices’ Chase, beating Minella Indo), he was pulled up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and had a subsequent back operation.

His reappearance at Ascot after nine months off in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle was supposed to be something of a fact-finding mission for Nicky Henderson’s charge, a prep run for bigger things to come.

Yet he showed real determination, finding a second wind and coming back on the bridle to win with ease. The official verdict was a length and three-quarters, but in truth he simply broke runner-up Thyme Hill’s heart.

In this calendar year, Champ has had three runs – the Game Spirit Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Long Walk Hurdle. An unlikely trio if ever there was one.

So now connections have a problem. The nine-year-old – named after 20-time champion Sir Anthony McCoy – is such a talent that he has McManus and Henderson in a quandary.

“Which race to go for – the Gold Cup or Stayers’ Hurdle? We’ll leave it to Nicky,” said McManus.

“I’ve no problem staying over hurdles and equally, if he goes over fences, I have no problem with that.”

Unusually, he candidly added: “There are few horses in training that give me as much pleasure as this horse.

“He is named after the man he’s named after (McCoy) and he is a slow or late-maturing horse who has had niggly problems all his life, but Nicky has shown tremendous patience in dealing with them and giving him the time.

“No horse gives me as much pleasure. We deliberated a long time before we put it (McCoy’s nickname) on a horse, so we thought a lot of him from the start.”

Champ in full flight
Champ in full flight (Nigel French/PA)

Champ has won six of his eight races over hurdles now and the Stayers’ Hurdle is certainly on the radar, especially since Henderson has lost – for the time being at least – his top hope Buzz. The ante-post favourite was ruled out with a pelvic injury on the eve of the Long Walk.

Though immediately cut to 4-1 favourite for the Stayers’ by Coral afterwards, another crack at the Gold Cup remains a possibility, should his jumping not hold him back.

For Henderson, it was merely a relief to get him back on course after his back operation and McManus was keen to pay tribute to the veteran trainer.

“It was a great training performance by Nicky,” said McManus.

“After Cheltenham last year, it was challenging. I wouldn’t know much about the injury, but he had a back injury and Nicky did a tremendous job to get him back and I have to give him full marks.

“Champ summered well and he came back in good form, and we hoped that this is what he would do, but you never know, especially after that run in the Gold Cup, which was a disappointing run for everybody.

“It is back to the drawing board, but he looked to enjoy himself.”

Champ sees off Thyme Hill
Champ sees off Thyme Hill (Nigel French/PA)

While Henderson felt his class may be an asset ahead of the Long Walk, he insisted he would need the run.

McManus added: “Nicky had him fairly ready in fairness. He doesn’t leave too much to chance.

“I would say he will be better for the run and it was exciting when he ran a little bit free about 10 furlongs out – I said, ‘God, not so early – there is plenty of time for that’.

“But he did well to see it out and get his second wind and see off Thyme Hill.”

Of course, the billion dollar question remains.

“I would like to do the right thing, whatever that is,” said McManus.

“I’d like to do the right thing for the horse, whether it is the Gold Cup or the Stayers’.

“Let’s see how he comes out of this. It is a high-class problem!”

And in Henderson, McManus and McCoy, there is no better team to solve it.

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.”