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Kemboy set to go for Gold at Cheltenham

Willie Mullins has confirmed Kemboy is likely to join stablemate Al Boum Photo in next month’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

While Al Boum Photo will be bidding for a third successive victory in the blue riband, Kemboy is out to make it third time lucky, having unseated his rider at the first fence in 2019 and finished only seventh in last year’s renewal.

Kemboy – who was the last horse to beat Al Boum Photo, in the 2019 Punchestown Gold Cup – holds alternative engagements in the Ryanair Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle at this year’s Festival.

Willie Mullins watches Kemboy on the gallops earlier this week
Willie Mullins watches Kemboy on the gallops earlier this week (Niall Carson/PA)

But having bounced back to something like his best this season – finishing a close second to A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase before going one better in the Irish Gold Cup – Mullins feels he deserves another crack at Gold Cup glory in three weeks’ time.

“Kemboy hasn’t a great record in Cheltenham and I think that could be down to me and a bit of bad luck,” Mullins told www.sportinglife.com.

“We’ll see about who is going to ride him in the Gold Cup, but I think the idea would be to be more forward this year.”

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of the best jump racing in Ireland and perfectly placed five weeks before Cheltenham to offer definitive clues about the likely destination of many of its major prizes, did its job this weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

It also made the more than considerable likelihood that Willie Mullins will see off Gordon Elliott as champion trainer once again in their homeland into a formality. Fifteen races, mostly Graded and bolstered by some very valuable and fiercely contested handicaps, were framed. Mullins won nine of them, four of seven on Saturday and five from eight yesterday.

Elliott won one, in his juvenile hurdle niche where he still has the stranglehold on Triumph Hurdle calculations after Mullins decided that he needed to give French Aseel a little more time to settle into the stable routine. Ruby Walsh, the most brilliant race reader (Flat and jumps to be fair) I’ve yet to encounter on television let us in on that secret when discussing the Elliott winner Quilixios, who has supplanted French Aseel as second favourite at 6-1 behind his unbeaten stable-companion Zanahiyr, a 5-2 chance.

But elsewhere at least three Mullins Cheltenham candidates cemented their claims on major prizes next month. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, maintained his unblemished record over fences in the 2m 5.5f novice and is now an 11/10 shot for the Festival (RSA as was) Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. If you think he’ll go instead in the shorter Marsh Chase you can have 7/1. Don’t take it because he won’t!

Saturday’s bumper winner, Kilcruit, bred by Willie Mullins’ mother, is now the 6-4 favourite for the Festival Bumper after a 12-length romp under the breeder’s grandson Patrick in Saturday’s Grade 2 event. The only problem with taking that 6-4 is that there are sure to be other Mullins runners in the race; but they will need to be good to beat this one.

Incidentally, when he made his debut at Clonmel last season, Kilcruit was actually beaten, and at the time was trained by Willie’s brother and the rider’s uncle Tony, who had such a spectacular summer with the staying German-bred mare Princess Zoe, winner of the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp last autumn.

Kilcruit turned up in Willie’s string for his seasonal debut at Navan in December where he won by almost ten lengths and, up in grade, had even more real estate and a good deal of extra goodwill to spare over Saturday’s rivals.

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A third certain Festival favourite will be yesterday’s easy novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It, now only 7/4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. All three of these will have been heavily linked in multiple bets but the bookmakers are far less likely to be wrong-footed by these as they clearly were over the weekend by a very well-planned and almost as well-executed three-horse bet that could easily have repercussions for the far-sighted originators, or unscrupulous conspirators, according to where you stand.

Late on Saturday night, bookmakers, among whom Bet Victor have come forward to declare their hand, were assailed online by punters all wanting to back three horses, I would imagine in singles and linked multiples.

In Saturday night’s early betting they were all outsiders with only one – the middle leg, Blowing Dixie, at Southwell – having any realistic credentials according to yesterday’s Racing Post analyses.

Anyway, the three horses were firstly Fire Away, a 20/1 chance in the newspaper’s betting but double that the night before. In his last runs in Ireland he had been 7th of 15, beaten 38 lengths at 20/1; 14th of 25, beaten 25 lengths at 66/1; 8th of 11, beaten 26 lengths at 16/1; 6th of 8, beaten 39 lengths at 8/1; and PU of 16 at 8/1.

Those runs in Ireland took place between November 19th 2019 and March 2nd 2020. Transferred to Daragh Bourke’s Scottish stable he had three runs in late summer. They were 10th of 15, beaten 51 lengths at 50/1; 7th of 10, beaten 61 lengths at 20/1; and, last time out on September 16th, he started 50/1 and pulled up in a field of 11. Over the period his rating had fallen from an initial mark of 116 to 98.

Yesterday he was making his debut for a new stable, having joined Laura Morgan’s team near Melton Mowbray from Bourke only 11 days before the race. “He had two horses for sale and I originally had a different one in mind but chose him. I’m delighted I did,” she told Racing TV, understandably as he won the race unchallenged by 18 lengths at even money!

Leg two, Blowing Dixie, had won four races at Southwell, all of them over a mile and a half when trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam but, even so, for an 80-rated four-year-old Fibresand specialist to realise as much as £50k at last year’s July Sales at Newmarket might seem rather surprising.

Fetch it he did and, switched to the ultra-shrewd Iain Jardine, Blowing Dixie began a busy autumn schedule running six times between early September and late November. His card reads 7th of 7, beaten 25 lengths at 80/1; 8th of 9, beaten 22 lengths at 66/1; 7th of 8, beaten 28 lengths at 10/1; 10th of 13, beaten 21 lengths at 66/1; 5th of 6, beaten 16 lengths at 66/1; and finally 8th of 9, beaten 25 lengths at 17/2.

Starting for Jardine on a mark of 80, by yesterday he was down 15lb to 65. A 12/1 shot in the Racing Post, he started 4/6 and won by an easy two and a half lengths. His most obvious market rival, Drew Breeze, winner of two of his previous three races, started slowly and was never nearer than fifth of the eight runners, beaten 16 lengths at 13/8.

Daragh Bourke also figured in the third member of the overnight triumvirate. A former £260,000 buy from Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in 2017 after winning an Irish point and Galway bumper, Gallahers Cross didn’t win for Nicky Henderson and was sold on for £40k.

Between June 2019 and January last year he ran five times for Bourke beginning with an 8th of 9, beaten 48 lengths at 7/1, when the gloss of the decent placed Henderson form had not properly worn off. Next came an 8th of 10, beaten 62 lengths at 20/1; 11th of 12, beaten 54 lengths at 28/1; 7th of 7, beaten 39 lengths at 16/1; and, finally, last month, 7th of 8, beaten 50 lengths at 9/1. This time the official reaction to the string of poor performances was a reduction from 115 to 90.

So it is possible, even on the scantiest of scrutiny, to discern a pattern. Each of the three horses had a series of very poor runs from their respective (two, close together) bases in Scotland in the latter half of last year, and all three dropped just over a stone in the ratings and suddenly found form enough on the home gallops to persuade certain people to want to back them, and all on the same day.

The only thing that went wrong – possibly denying winning trebles into the thousands of odds against – was that Gallahers Cross, a 4-5 shot at the off, could finish only fourth of the seven runners, behind an all-the-way Paul Nicholls top-weight winner, Get The Appeal. Like Gallahers Cross, Get The Appeal is a son of Getaway.

As someone who set up a multiple bet many years ago which foundered at the final leg of four (when a future – two runs later! – Group 1 winner ridden by a multiple champion jockey finished unplaced), I can sympathise with those who thought their big pay day had come. On the other hand, any one of them whom I happen to know who didn’t bother to let me in on it – serves you right! But then, as with our try all those years ago that involved physically covering 300 betting shops, rather than pushing a few buttons on computers, two out of three isn’t bad.

Finally, it just remains to question how can any horse beat Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle after Saturday’s romp in the Irish Champion, a victory far more emphatic than last year’s? Tough, with plenty of stamina and unbeaten in one point-to-point and ten runs under Rules, surely the Henry De Bromhead mare can give Rachael Blackmore the distinction of being the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. Sorry Epatante, unless Nico can contrive to make this a speed rather than a stamina test, her crown definitely looks to rest precariously on her head.

As Liverpool FC are finding, it’s one thing to win a championship, quite another successfully to defend it.

Kemboy gallops to Irish Gold Cup glory

Kemboy made every yard of the running to win the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

Agonisingly caught close home by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, this time he was allowed to dominate throughout.

Ridden by Danny Mullins, with Paul Townend preferring the claims of the unplaced Melon, Kemboy only briefly looked in danger on the run to the second last.

Rachael Blackmore moved the favourite Minella Indo to within a length of Kemboy but hit the fence hard, handing back the initiative to Kemboy and he never looked likely to relinquish it.

Willie Mullins, who has mopped up the Grade One contests over the weekend, had feared the ground would be too soft for the nine-year-old, but he did not look inconvenienced in the slightest.

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Kemboy jumped the last in fine style and kept up the gallop to win by two lengths from The Storyteller, with Delta Work third.

Paddy Power cut the winner to 10-1 from 14s for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: “That’s fantastic for Danny and his owners.

“He’s really surprised me on that ground. The chase track is a lot better than the hurdle track and they went up the middle, which is better again.

“I thought all the rain we had might have affected that fella, but he seems to be getting stronger with age.

“I had Paul (Townend) down on this guy and Patrick (Mullins) down to ride the other guy (Melon), but Paul said he’d like to ride Melon.

“Different tactics didn’t work on Melon, I’d say he just likes to enjoy himself and get on with it. Melon keeps his best for Cheltenham, but hasn’t managed to get to the lollipop in front yet (four times second at the Festival).

“We’ll have a think with (owner) Mr Donnelly about Melon, maybe something like the Ryanair might suit, and let him enjoy himself from the beginning – that might suit him better.

“Danny got some great leaps out of the winner, I only spotted one mistake on the first circuit. Rachael came after him down the back, but his jumping got him out of it.

“I’m very pleased to win another Paddy Power Gold Cup.”

Mullins admitted a switch back to smaller obstacles at Cheltenham remains a possibility, despite his victory.

He added: “He’s entered in the Stayers’ Hurdle as well as the Gold Cup, as I’m just not sure if fences are his thing around Cheltenham. We were all wondering if we should try something different as Cheltenham hasn’t been his luckiest spot.”

Danny Mullins said: “Myself and David (Mullins, recently retired jockey) were chatting after the race at Christmas and he said he’s not fast, but is a great galloper and this is a ride he would probably have had, so it’s thanks to him that I am on board today.

“It’s great to be winning these high-level races at the big meetings, it’s what it’s all about and riding a good horse like this is fantastic.”

Kemboy and Melon seek Mullins’ 11th Irish Gold Cup

Kemboy and Melon give Willie Mullins a strong hand in his bid for an 11th victory in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.

It is 22 years since Florida Pearl bagged the first of his four victories in the Leopardstown showpiece for Mullins – who has since enjoyed further success with the likes of Rule Supreme (2005), Sir Des Champs (2013) and Bellshill (2019).

Kemboy, aboard whom Ruby Walsh memorably bowed out of the saddle after defeating stablemate Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Punchestown Gold Cup, was favourite for this Grade One contest last season but had to make do with the runner-up spot behind Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work.

The nine-year-old has also finished second on each of his two starts so far this term, most recently getting mowed down in the shadow of the post by A Plus Tard when bidding to win Leopardstown’s Savills Chase for a second time.

Kemboy on the gallops at Willie Mullins' yard earlier this week
Kemboy on the gallops at Willie Mullins’ yard earlier this week (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA)

Mullins said: “Kemboy seemed back to himself at Christmas. David (Mullins) has retired since, so I wonder will anyone else get on well with him? We’ll see.

“He seems to like Leopardstown. The only worry is all the rain – I think real nice ground suits him more than any other horse.”

One place behind Kemboy in the Savills Chase was his stable companion Melon, who has finished second at the Cheltenham Festival on no fewer than four occasions.

His latest effort at Leopardstown was his first attempt over three miles, and Mullins hopes more patient tactics may bring about improvement on Sunday.

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Reflecting on Melon’s Savills Chase performance, Mullins added: “Unfortunately for Patrick (Mullins), the horse took off with him down the back and he ended up taking on Kemboy. He maybe didn’t want to disappoint him either.

“I think he’ll settle back off the pace and use his ability over the last two furlongs.”

With the aforementioned A Plus Tard heading straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, his trainer Henry de Bromhead instead relies on Minella Indo in the feature event on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival.

The eight-year-old was the clear favourite for the Savills Chase following runaway victories at Wexford and Navan, but he made a bad mistake and fell at the eighth fence.

Rachael Blackmore aboard Minella Indo at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore aboard Minella Indo at Cheltenham (Paul Harding/PA)

“He’s been fine since Christmas. It was his first time up against the big boys, and they were going a good gallop, and hopefully it was just lack of experience that caught him out,” said De Bromhead.

“He schooled really well the other day – Rachael (Blackmore) was very happy with him. Hopefully we’ll put his last run behind us, and he’ll learn from it.

“He’s achieved a lot in quite a short space of time. He only ran four times as a novice hurdler, and two of those were Grade Ones, and he only ran three times as a novice chaser.

“He lacks experience, and the whole idea this season was to ramp it up before Christmas. We gave him those two runs, which was great, and unfortunately it went wrong at Christmas.

“I’m not sure if we’d have been going straight to the Gold Cup in Cheltenham if he’d had a clear round. But he didn’t, so we need to get back on track, and this looked the obvious race to go and do that.”

Delta Work (right) winning last year's Irish Gold Cup
Delta Work (right) winning last year’s Irish Gold Cup (PA)

Connections of Delta Work hope he too can get his season back on track, after unseating Sean Flanagan when defending his crown in the Savills Chase.

His regular partner Jack Kennedy missed that ride through injury that day, but is back in the saddle this weekend.

Eddie O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud said: “We’re hopeful he can bounce back – I hope he’s the forgotten horse of the race.

“He’s won plenty of Grade Ones, yet there’s five runners and he’s fourth-favourite, so he looks the forgotten one.

“Jack gets a great tune out of him and rides him how the horse likes to be ridden. Hopefully it all goes well and the horse puts a smile on Jack’s face.”

Trainer Gordon Elliott, who also saddles The Storyteller, told Betfair: “Unfortunately Delta Work came down relatively early on in the Savills Chase last time, so we never got a chance to see what he could do that day.

“He has been in great form since then, though, and I’m really happy with him coming into this race.

“He won both of the big Grade One chases over this course and distance last season, and Leopardstown does seem to bring out the very best in him, so I could see him running a big race.

“I know that at his best at this track he is a match for any of the top staying chasers, so don’t be at all surprised to see him bounce back. I’ll be disappointed if he’s not closely involved at the finish.

“This race wasn’t part of the plan for The Storyteller, who is on course for the Stayers Hurdle’ at Cheltenham.

“However, it’s a small field and he’s been in great form over fences this season, so we felt it was worth letting him take his chance – it wouldn’t shock me to see him run well.”

Change of tactics on the cards for Irish Gold Cup hope Melon

Willie Mullins may implement a change of tactics for Melon in Sunday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, the headline event on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival.

The nine-year-old has the unwanted record of finishing second at the last four Cheltenham Festivals, hitting the bar in the Supreme and twice in the Champion Hurdle before being edged out by a nose in last year’s Marsh Novices’ Chase.

He gained another near-miss in the Savills Chase at Christmas when A Plus Tard finished with a real flourish to scupper both third-placed Melon and stablemate Kemboy, who took second.

Willie Mullins overseeing his string on the gallops
Willie Mullins overseeing his string on the gallops (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA Wire)

“I was thinking one of them – please. If either of them had fallen at the last you’d have been thinking how far, but they didn’t. They probably didn’t help each other and I think we’ll probably change tactics with Melon,” said Mullins.

“Up to now we’ve been putting cheekpieces on Melon, putting go faster stripes on him so he could be more competitive over two miles and two and a half.

“You’d have to think if we change tactics a bit, it might suit us better.”

The recent weather has not been in Kemboy’s favour, but he will need a new jockey following the retirement of David Mullins.

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The trainer said: “He seems to like Leopardstown, but the only worry is the rain – they got a huge amount over the weekend.”

Mullins would have liked a third runner in the race but Castlebawn West, winner of a big handicap with top weight over Christmas, is out for the remainder of the season.

“Castlebawn West is unfortunately out, he split a pastern during the week. He’s up in hospital now with five new screws in. So he’s out for the season, but hopefully he’s back next season,” said Mullins.

Arguably Mullins’ banker of the meeting is due to run in the Flogas Novice Chase – the impressive Monkfish – although who will join him has still to be decided.

Monkfish with Holly Conte on board at Willie Mullins' Closutton yard
Monkfish with Holly Conte on board at Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA Wire)

“I suppose Monkfish is the obvious one, Colreevy won’t go she had a hard race the other day. Janadil I’d be keen to have a crack there, Franco De Port and Energumene will run over two miles,” said Mullins.

“I didn’t run Asterion (Forlonge) over three miles yesterday so he could go here, he’s won a Grade One there over two miles. I know he jumps a little bit right, but we might try different tactics on him. It’s a bigger concern he fell at the first the last day than jumping right!

“Monkfish looks a real natural. All this rain will suit him and two-five won’t be an issue.”

A new recruit to the yard heads Mullins’ team in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle in French Aseel, a winner for Ellmarie Holden first time out.

“French Aseel looked very good at Christmas and the form got franked again yesterday. He’s a lovely type and has settled in well. I’m pleased with him so we’ll see how he goes during the week,” said Mullins.

“Youmdor got a hard fall. On the day I thought he was quite knocked about, but he came home that night and ate up and he’s been fine since. I’ll have to think about whether I’m going to run him or not, I’ll see how he works this week.

“He was going well and would have been the shortest price in running, he just changed his mind when Paul (Townend) asked him.”

Ha D’or and Saint Sam could also run.

“Ha D’or was having his first run over hurdles at Christmas, he’s sure to improve a huge bit. We just wanted to see how he could jump and he jumped well. He’ll be a nice horse some day, but this might be too early in his career,” reasoned Mullins.

“I think Saint Sam ran better than his finishing position, he got the worst run of the race and he’s improving all the time. He’s got ground to make up on Zanahiyr, but I do think he’s improving.”

The Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle is the next stop for Appreciate It, current favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He could be joined by Mr Coldstone.

“Appreciate It is in great shape. I was hugely taken with the performance he put in at Christmas,” said Mullins.

“Gauloise will run in the Solerina Hurdle next Monday, but Mr Coldstone impressed me with what he did down in Tramore, so maybe he’ll take his chance and we’ll see what he is.”

Leopardstown set to serve up Savills cracker

What looks set to be one of the races of the season so far is in prospect at Leopardstown on Monday, with a field of 14 declared for the Savills Chase.

The three-mile feature sees any number of Gold Cup contenders in action, with the Henry de Bromhead-trained Minella Indo favourite to stretch his unbeaten record over fences to three in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

But dangers abound, including the Gordon Elliott-trained trio of Samcro, Presenting Percy and Delta Work – who bids to defend his crown under Jack Kennedy.

Willie Mullins has a team of five – featuring 2018 winner Kemboy, Allaho, Easy Game, Melon and Tornado Flyer.

De Bromhead also runs A Plus Tard and Balko Des Flos, with Joseph O’Brien saddling Fakir D’oudairies and Jessica Harrington sending out Jett.

Noel Meade’s Tout Est Permis completes the high-class line-up.

Presenting Percy primed for Kemboy and Monalee clash

Owner Philip Reynolds is keeping his fingers crossed Presenting Percy can make race fitness count in a fascinating renewal of the boomerang.ie Chase at Thurles.

Just five runners are set to go to post for the two-mile-six-furlong Listed contest, but the quintet includes three of top 10 highest-rated chasers in Ireland in Presenting Percy, Kemboy and Monalee – the winners of five Grade One races between them.

Presenting Percy was brilliant in beating Monalee in the 2018 RSA Chase, but has never quite rediscovered that form since – last season finishing behind Monalee and Kemboy when fifth in the Savills Chase and a place behind Kemboy again when third in the Irish Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old fell two fences from home when staying on for pressure in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, a race in which Monalee ran a career-best to finish fourth with Kemboy in seventh.

Phillip Reynolds celebrates Presenting Percy winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham
Phillip Reynolds celebrates Presenting Percy winning the RSA Chase at Cheltenham (Steven Paston/PA)

While Monalee and Kemboy have both been off the track since the blue riband in the Cotswolds eight months ago, Presenting Percy made a promising debut for Gordon Elliott when fourth in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal almost three weeks ago.

Reynolds said: “It will be a tidy little race, all right – it’s not often you get a Grade One at a small track in the middle of the week!

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“He’s had a run, which won’t hold him back anyway. He gave his fences a bit of air in Down Royal, so another bit of practice probably won’t be any harm to him.

“I’d just like to see him finish off his race a bit better. I know Gordon and Denis (O’Regan) felt he blew up in Down Royal, but I still have those two races in Leopardstown last season (Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup) in the back of my mind.

“We don’t know what would have happened at Cheltenham, but is there any reason to suspect he would have finished out better than he did twice in Leopardstown and the other day in Down Royal?

“I think it will be plenty testing in Thurles, so I don’t think the trip will be an excuse. The handicapper reckons he’ll come third and maybe that’s as good as he’ll finish.

“Personally, I would just like to see him finish his race out a little better.”

Kemboy bids to provide Willie Mullins with a fifth victory in the last six renewals following the previous triumphs of Sir Des Champs (2015), Champagne Fever (2016), Bachasson (2017) and Footpad (2019).

The the eight-year-old won three Grade Ones two seasons ago, including a defeat of his dual Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning stablemate Al Boum Photo in an epic Punchestown Gold Cup that will forever be remembered as Ruby Walsh’s swansong.

However, he returns with something to prove after failing to add to his tally in three starts last term.

Henry de Bromhead has already identified the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day as a likely target for Monalee ahead of his seasonal reappearance.

Monalee represents Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore
Monalee represents Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)

Speaking about plans for his string last week, De Bromhead said: “He will go to Thurles and start in the Listed chase there, then we were thinking we might go to the King George with him and see how we get on there.

“Then obviously we will aim him towards the Gold Cup.”

Joseph O’Brien saddles Grade Two-winning chaser Darasso, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Champion Hurdle, while the small but select field is completed by the Mouse Morris-trained Beyond The Law.