A return to the Cheltenham Festival is next on the agenda for Heaven Help Us following her victory at Leopardstown.
On a weekend dominated by the all-conquering Willie Mullins, Heaven Help Us struck a blow for the smaller trainer at the Dublin Racing Festival when claiming a narrow verdict in the Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle for Paul Hennessy.
The Kilkenny-based handler is no stranger to big-race success, having produced two winners of the English Greyhound Derby in Jaytee Jet (2016) and Priceless Blake (2019).
However, having been a long-time friend of the Mullins family, Hennessy admitted he is still on cloud nine as he reflected on one of the greatest days of his professional life.
He said: “I’ve just about come back down to earth. It was an unbelievable day – the stuff dreams are made of.
“We’re normally sat at home watching on TV. When you have a home-bred mare like this, you couldn’t dream of winning these races, and it was extra special to win it for John Turner (owner), who is a good friend of ours.
“Myself and Paddy (Mullins) were neighbours when I was a youngster and he’d often give me a lift to the races in the car. I remember going to the old Dundalk one day with him when it was a grass track.
“Those days fuelled my ambition for racing and I ended up doing the greyhounds after that, so it really was wonderful to win the race named after him on Sunday.
“I grew up with Willie and his brothers Tom and George. It’s a shame we couldn’t celebrate in The Lord Bagenal on Sunday night, but when the restrictions lift, we’ll have our night out – don’t worry about that!”
Heaven Help Us has already provided Hennessy with a winner at Cheltenham, having won a maiden hurdle at the track in October 2019, after which he said: “For us to win a race at Cheltenham is just ridiculous. You have a better chance of winning the EuroMillions.”
The seven-year-old subsequently returned to the Cotswolds to finish a creditable seventh in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and Hennessy is hoping she might get into one of the handicaps at the showpiece meeting next month.
He added: “We have her entered in the Martin Pipe (Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle), we have her in the Coral Cup and we have her in the County Hurdle. We’ve even put her in the Stayers’ Hurdle, just to try to make sure we get a day out in Cheltenham of some description!
“We did think about running her in a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown next week, to try to get her in the Pertemps Final, but I don’t want to run her so soon after winning the race on Sunday, so we’ll chance one of the other handicaps if we can get in.
“I think she’ll be near the base mark in them all. Personally, I’d be looking to be going up in trip for the Martin Pipe or the Coral Cup, rather than back in trip for the County Hurdle, but we mightn’t have a choice – whichever one we squeeze into is the one we’ll go for.
“She’s already been around Cheltenham. She won her maiden hurdle and ran a fantastic race in the Supreme last year when we were boxing above our weight, but we got a huge thrill out of it.
“We’re having a great time with her. You couldn’t ask for even half of it, in fairness.”
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Paul Nolan will do everything in his power to find an opportunity for Latest Exhibition to get back on the winning trail after again finding Monkfish too strong at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Just a neck separated the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish and Nolan’s stable star when the pair finished first and second respectively in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last March.
However, Monkfish was an authoritative winner when they met in a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over the Christmas period – and was even more dominant when blowing his rivals away in last weekend’s Flogas Novice Chase.
Nolan said: “In fairness, we were well and truly beaten. I don’t think it’s my fellow regressing, I just think Monkfish is a year younger and still improving.
“Maybe my fellow didn’t quite run up to total scratch, but I don’t have any excuses really.
“At the end of the day, my horse was a good second and had some good horses behind him.”
Nolan now faces the difficult choice of allowing Latest Exhibition to meet Monkfish again in next month’s Festival Novices’ Chase, or potentially drop back in distance to take on the similarly exciting and unbeaten Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.
He does have a third Festival option in the form of the three-mile-six-furlong National Hunt Chase, while Nolan is not ruling out the possibility of his charge missing Cheltenham altogether in favour of an easier option on home soil.
“Monkfish just looks to be an exceptional animal. I didn’t think we’d seen a horse to match Envoi Allen in the last number of years, but he possibly proved that he could,” Nolan continued.
“It’s unfortunate for me that it’s difficult to avoid them. If I go back in trip in Cheltenham I take on Envoi Allen, or I stay where I am and take on Monkfish again. We’ve never met Envoi Allen, whereas we’ve met Monkfish three times and he’s beaten us three times.
“We’ll have to make decisions about Cheltenham, whether we stay at home and go for the Ryanair Gold Cup or the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse instead.
“People always say you shouldn’t be afraid of one horse, but you’re dealing with horses that don’t seem to make mistakes and there don’t seem to be any flaws in them.”
He added: “I don’t mind listening to different opinions, but you have to be realistic and I don’t want to finish second again – I would prefer to win a winners-of-one race somewhere than be second in a Grade One.
“For the horse’s sake as well, he’s getting very hard races and finishing second. It’s always a relief to run respectably and run well, but seconds are no good to me – I want winners.
“We’re going to have a chat with the owners and weigh up our options.
“If you’d told me at the start of the season that after four races we’d have won one and finished second three times I’d have been disappointed, so I’m going to do my best to rectify that and run the horse in the race I think he has the best chance of winning.”
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.
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.”
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Quilixios justified strong support when running out a ready winner of the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Trained by Gordon Elliott for Cheveley Park Stud, he was the winner of a hurdle race in France last March before moving to Ireland this term.
Having been impressive at Punchestown and Down Royal on his first couple of outings for Elliott, he seemingly faced a much tougher assignment in this Grade One.
Jack Kennedy was content to sit some way off the strong gallop set by Danny Mullins and Saint Sam, but when he asked his mount to close up, he did so effortlessly.
While his jumping could not be described as super slick, it did not need to be on this occasion and he had the race in safe keeping on clearing the last, winning by five and a half lengths at odds of 4-6.
Coral cut the winner into 5-1 from 8s for next month’s Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“He made a mistake at the third last and to be fair to him, he picked them up well after that,” said Kennedy.
“Once I got to Danny (Mullins, on Saint Sam), I could feel him start to race, but once I got to the front, he idled. He is an idle horse but did it very well.”
Elliott, registering his first winner of the Dublin Racing Festival, said: “He was probably the first horse over the weekend we felt had a real chance of winning – yesterday we needed luck to have a winner. It is a relief though.
“He’s been flawless and in fairness to him, he hasn’t run since Down Royal. My plan was Chepstow over Christmas, but that was called off.
“Tom Malone bought the horse for Cheveley Park and it’s their first Grade One winner since Mr Thompson passed away and they’ve been big supporters of the yard.
“He’s more than a juvenile. Both of the good juveniles (stablemate Zanahiyr) are more than just juveniles.
“I’d imagine they’ll both have to go to the Triumph.”
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Heaven Help Us provided trainer Paul Hennessy and young jockey Richard Condon with the biggest success of their careers in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.
The seven-year-old found herself back over timber after a relatively unsuccessful spell over fences and she looked much more at home.
Condon took a lead into the straight off Razzle Dazzle Love, before kicking off the bend and seemingly putting the race to bed.
However, the 16-1 chance slowed into the final flight and lost some momentum, giving JJ Slevin a squeak on Global Equity, but Heaven Help Us held on by a neck.
“It’s a great thrill to win Paddy’s race. We were neighbours and when I was a young lad he would often bring me to the races and make sure I got home as well,” said Hennessy, who is also a successful greyhound trainer.
“I’m ecstatic. You look at the strength of that race. I just thought she wasn’t mad about the fences, but she was second in a Grade One (over hurdles last season).
“I thought we’d switch back to hurdles and it worked out.
“Danny (Mullins) wasn’t available because Willie wanted him, but Richie came in and rode her out for me. I told him he could ride her and he took 7lb off.
“It’s great for us and for her. She won at Cheltenham for us and was second in a Grade One – she’s magic.
“She might go for a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown to try to get her into Cheltenham. I’d love to have a runner at the Festival.”
Not content with mopping up most of the Grade Ones over the weekend, Willie Mullins also scooped the valuable William Fry Handicap Hurdle with unconsidered 40-1 shot Maze Runner.
He was ridden by Conor McNamara, brother of Derby winner, Emmet.
He said: “It’s lovely to get it. I rode him the last day in Navan when he was a bit gassy and a bit keen.
“I got a lovely position, he relaxed but I was conscious to get there as late as I could. He was good and tough.”
Mullins added: “I’ll look forward to all the Festivals with him for the rest of the season and he can go back and race on the Flat as well. He can mix it between the two and he might win a chase at some stage.
“There could be a big handicap in him on the Flat.”
Mullins ended the meting as he started it with another winner in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, but it was with the relatively unconsidered Grangee (18-1) who prevailed.
Mullins said: Jody (Townend, jockey) springs a surprise. She did exactly as I asked her to, which was to keep her powder dry until the end.
“I was surprised she was beaten at Market Rasen but the winner (Eileendover) looks very good.
“We’ll have a chat about Cheltenham, the ground might be too good by Aintree.”
The Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go (10-1) won at the meeting for a third time in the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase after two wins over hurdles previously.
Byrnes is currently allowed runners as he has appealed against a six-month ban handed out following the Viking Hoard case.
“That’s his third win here and Mark was brilliant on him. We thought he would run well at Limerick over Christmas, but he just can’t jump out of the heavy ground,” said Byrnes.
Of the Viking Hoard case, he added: “I can’t say much with the appeal on Tuesday evening. It’s very upsetting for my family and racing in general and we have to let the case run its course.”
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Monkfish and Latest Exhibition lock horns for a third time in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish defeated Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition by a neck when the pair filled the first two places in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
The pair renewed rivalry in a Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over Christmas – and on that occasion, Monkfish ran out a more authoritative three-length winner.
They do battle once more on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival, with Mullins not expecting that a drop in trip from three miles to an extended two miles and five furlongs will prove a problem for his charge.
“It was a good tussle with Latest Exhibition at Christmas. They have a little history together, and there’s never much between them,” said the champion trainer.
“The way Monkfish jumps, I don’t think coming back in trip will bother him, and the ground will be more testing as well.
“It’s a Grade One and it’s huge prize money, (so) we have to go there.”
Monkfish is one of three Mullins-trained runners in a nine-strong field on Sunday, with Asterion Forlonge and Janidil also declared.
Asterion Forlonge won a Grade One novice hurdle at this meeting last year, but returns with plenty to prove following successive falls over fences at Limerick and Punchestown, while Janidil failed to run up to expectations in the same Limerick race in late December.
Mullins added: “I’ve wondered about different ways of riding Asterion Forlonge that might negate him going right. There’s an argument to keep him to right-handed tracks – but sometimes if you don’t ask the question, you don’t get the answer either.
“It is a Grade One, so if you miss it you can’t pick one up the following week. I think he was just going too slow last time at Punchestown.
“I was disappointed with Janidil in Limerick. I’m not sure the real heavy ground suited him – he might want a nicer surface.”
Nolan is delighted with Latest Exhibition ahead of his latest big-race assignment, saying: “He had a tough race against Monkfish the last day, but we couldn’t be happier with him – he did a piece of work earlier in the week, and we were extremely happy.
“I don’t think the shorter trip will be an inconvenience to him. If he runs as well as he did at Christmas, please God he’ll put it up to everything again.”
Gordon Elliott fires a twin assault, with Andy Dufresne joined by his lesser-fancied stablemate Conflated.
“Andy Dufresne is taking a big step up in class here and he is going to have to be at his very best, but I could see him running a big race,” Elliott told Betfair.
“Conflated struggled behind Monkfish last time and looks to be up against it once more – but I’m not convinced he was at his best that day, and the three-mile trip might have stretched him too.”
Mullins has saddled seven of the last eight winners of the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle – and this year has strong favourite Appreciate It joined by five stable companions.
The market leader was a hugely impressive winner over the course and distance last time, and already heads ante-post lists for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Reflecting on his Christmas success, Mullins said: “I wasn’t sure whether he could be that good – but he was more than I thought he was, the performance he put in.
“I was thinking about going up in trip at the start of the season. If we’d been going for the two-mile-six race this weekend it wouldn’t have surprised me, which is why I was hugely taken with his last performance.”
Blue Lord, N’golo, Galopin Des Champs, Mr Coldstone and Hook Up complete the Mullins sextet – while Elliott is represented by Ballyadam, Wide Receiver and Magic Tricks.
Ballyadam was rated the biggest threat to Appreciate It in December, having won the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse, but was ultimately well beaten in fourth place.
“Ballyadam did not run well here at Christmas time, so he is coming here on a retrieval mission,” said Elliott.
“I’m happy enough to put a line through his run at Christmas, because he never looked happy and didn’t finish out his race at all.
“Hopefully he will do much better here, but I’m under no illusions about the task facing him because this does look like a high-quality edition of this race.”
The first of four Grade Ones on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, in which Elliott’s Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line.
“He’s a lovely horse, and I’ve been delighted with what he has shown on his two runs for us this season,” said the Cullentra handler.
“He is taking a major rise in class for this, but we are lucky enough to have some good juveniles in the yard to measure him by, and I think he is up to holding his own at this level.”
Mullins runs three against Quilixios in Ha D’or, Saint Sam and Youmdor, and appears to hold all the aces in the concluding N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race – with five of the 11 runners hailing from Closutton.
The trainer’s son Patrick has sided with Brandy Love over Brooklynn Glory (Barry O’Neill), Purple Mountain (Tom Hamilton), Take Tea (Derek O’Connor) and Grangee (Jody Townend).
Summing up their chances, Mullins senior said: “Brooklynn Glory has won twice and been very good both times; Purple Mountain is good, but I’m worried about the ground for her, and Take Tea was very impressive in Naas – and the second has come out and won since.
“Brandy Love was hugely impressive in Fairyhouse. Grangee probably won’t be suited by the ground, but where else do I go? She’s not the biggest mare – and 11st 7lb in this, rather than 12st 7lb in a mares’ bumper, is much better for her.
“I think Brooklynn, Take Tea and Brandy Love have been hugely impressive, but I’m as inquisitive as everyone to find out which one is best.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a group of mares this strong before.”
The big danger appears to be Hollymount – who makes her first start for Elliott, having recently been snapped up for £300,000.
Elliott said: “Hollymount came to us just last week after being bought from Stuart Crawford’s yard following an impressive bumper win at Carlisle a couple of months ago.
“She is taking a huge rise in class here and she’s a mare we are just getting to know, but I can say that she has settled in well and I could see her showing up well in what looks a top class mares’ bumper.”
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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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham looms large for Honeysuckle after securing back-to-back victories in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare was made to pull out all the stops to beat the boys in the Grade One contest last season, before going on to claim the notable scalp of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Having successfully defended her crown in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on her seasonal reappearance, Honeysuckle was all the rage to repeat the feat in the main event on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival – and could hardly have been more impressive under Rachael Blackmore.
After initially tracking the pacesetting pair of Petit Mouchoir and Saint Roi, the seven-year-old was allowed to stride to the front at the end of the back straight and it was obvious the chasing pack were struggling to close the gap.
Such was her advantage, Blackmore was able to allow Honeysuckle to fiddle the final flight before pushing her out to score by 10 lengths, with Abacadabras a clear second ahead of Sharjah in third.
Connections of the winner – now unbeaten in 10 starts – retain the option of bidding for a second Mares’ Hurdle success in the Cotswolds next month, but she appears almost certain to bid for Champion Hurdle glory, with Betfair slashing her odds from 6-1 to 9-4 joint-favourite with Epatante.
De Bromhead said: “That was brilliant, she was brilliant. It was what we hoped she’d do and she did it.
“Rachael was brilliant on her and she’s just class.
“It’s lovely the way she picked up, she’s not slow either, and you could see the speed of her there.
“She jumped great and she just let her fiddle the last.
“I’m very lucky to have Rachael and I’ve said it all before. She’s just brilliant to have on the team.”
Asked whether this victory confirmed the Champion Hurdle participation, the trainer added: “We’ll enjoy today. We’ve won a Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, which is amazing.
“There is a lot of relief after that and I don’t feel as sick as I did 10 minutes ago!
“I’ll have to speak to Kenny (Alexander, owner) and Peter (Molony, owner’s racing manager), but you’d have to feel that we’d be leaning that way (Champion Hurdle).
“On ratings it would have been (her best performance). The Hatton’s Grace last season was pretty good as well. She’s put in a few real good performances, but that has to be up there.”
Energumene set up a mouthwatering clash with Shishkin at Cheltenham next month with a brilliant front-running display in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
The seven-year-old had looked a natural in winning his first two starts over fences – and with trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend having already landed the first two Grade Ones of the afternoon, Energumene was the 5-6 favourite to follow suit.
Sent straight to the lead, the Tony Bloom-owned gelding fenced fluently throughout the two-mile-one-furlong contest to keep the pressure on his chasing rivals, with the fall of nearest pursuer Captain Guinness at the second-last leaving the market leader with a clear advantage.
His stable companions Franco De Port and Blackbow attempted to bridge the gap from the home turn, but Energumene was in a class of his own as he passed the post with 10 lengths in hand.
Franco De Port pipped Blackbow to the runner-up spot to make it a Mullins one-two-three.
Coral make Energumene a 5-2 chance for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin remaining at the head of the market at 8-11.
Mullins said: “I thought that was a helluva performance from a novice. He jumped and galloped, and gave no quarter to any horse.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more. He probably stood a little far back off the last, and Paul said he stood a bit far off another fence, but other than that it was as good as you’d get from a horse having his third run over fences.
“He went a good even gallop in front, and the time (quicker than Chacun Pour Soi in preceding race) tells you how good a performance it was.
“Obviously when you get that type of performance you’re delighted, because you don’t ever expect that.
“He’s every inch a chaser to look at. If you were going to draw a picture of a chaser he’s the one you’d draw.”
When asked if he is looking forward to a clash with Shishkin, Mullins added: “I don’t know, I’d rather it was without Shishkin!
“It looks like it’s going to be a race to look forward to from both sides. Shishkin is a helluva horse. It’s great that we have one from each side of the Irish sea going there, and we’re looking forward to it.”
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Chacun Pour Soi produced another imperious display to dominate his rivals in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old was the 2-5 favourite to successfully defend his crown in the two-mile-one-furlong contest, having proved too strong for stablemate Min – winner of the race in 2018 and 2019 – in last year’s renewal.
Min was once again in opposition, but two bad mistakes racing down the back straight led to him being pulled up by the trainer’s son Patrick, leaving Chacun Pour Soi travelling strongly in behind Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies.
Odds-on backers would have been happy as Paul Townend’s mount moved powerfully into the home straight, before taking command on the run to the final fence.
A huge leap sealed matters, and it was impossible to be anything but impressed by the way he pulled right away on the run-in to beat Fakir D’oudairies by eight lengths.
Coral cut Chacun Pour Soi to 4-6 from 11-10 to provide Mullins with a first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, after being forced to miss the race last year following a minor setback on the morning of the race.
“It was a very good performance. I was a little bit worried going to the third-last if Paul had anything left in the tank, as he seemed to be niggling,” said Mullins.
“After the second-last I thought he wasn’t putting the race to bed or anything. Paul felt that he was in command at all stages.
“He just wanted to get down to the last, jump it, and then go. The end result was very good.
“I was worried over the third- and second-last, but Paul said he was just asleep underneath him.
“They didn’t hang around. Min set off to make the pace and then Notebook joined him. Notebook was probably just slicker in the air and Min paid the penalty for that later on.”
He added: “Min seems to be fine, Patrick got off and thought he was fine. It didn’t work out for him today, but the other guy was awesome.”
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Gaillard Du Mesnil got favourite-backers off to a flying start at this year’s Dublin Racing Festival with a clear-cut victory in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ’50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
An impressive winner at the track over the Christmas period, the Willie Mullins-trained grey was the 13-8 market leader to successfully step up in distance and class for this two-mile-six-furlong Grade One contest.
Having travelled strongly in midfield for much of the race under Paul Townend, Gaillard Du Mesnil moved into the slipstream of his front-running stablemate Stattler early in the home straight, before taking over on the approach to the final flight.
The five-year-old never looked in danger of being caught from that point – galloping all the way to the line to score by five lengths, with Gentlemansgame pipping Stattler to the runner-up spot.
Betfair cut the winner to 7-2 from 13-2 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“That was a nice start,” said Mullins.
“He was very keen and I thought he was going to pay the penalty, but it shows how big an engine he has that he was able to still find more after it looking like Danny (Mullins, on Stattler) had stole the race.
“It was a nice victory in the end and he must be a fair sort to come from that far back in that type of contest.
“The Ballymore would look the race for him at this point. It was a tremendous staying performance in what looked a real quality field.”
Of Stattler, he added: “He was was very good and Danny gave him a well-judged ride from the front.
“That puts him in line for the Albert Bartlett and hopefully Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) can win some of his own money back!”
Gaillard Du Mesnil initiated a four-timer on the card for Mullins, with Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene also claiming Grade One honours before Kilcruit barely came off the bridle in winning the Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race.
One of three runners in the Grade Two contest for the champion trainer, Kilcruit was clear first string as the 11-10 favourite following an impressive display at Navan in December.
Ridden confidently throughout, the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins remained motionless as his mount cruised up alongside the pacesetters early in the home straight before pulling 12 lengths clear – confirming himself a major contender for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Mullins senior said: “I thought Patrick had picked the wrong one – how wrong was I? I thought Ramillies (finished fifth) put up a very good performance here at Christmas, but Patrick has huge confidence in this horse – and now I can see why.
“My mother bred him, Patrick’s granny. He was particularly pleased to be riding a winner for her.
“It was a superb performance in what was a very good race. I thought he’d be a nice horse, but I didn’t think he had that sort of capability – that was unreal what he produced there.”
Reflecting on the day as a whole, he said: “It’s been fantasy racing. Energumene, Chacun Pour Soi, Gaillard Du Mesnil – any trainer would like to have any of them in his lifetime, I think.
“It’s been a superb day’s racing, and I was hoping we might get a winner or two. Things have worked out really well.”
A Wave Of The Sea led home a one-two for trainer Joseph O’Brien and owner JP McManus in the Matheson Handicap Chase.
Winner of the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at this meeting last year, 12-1 shot A Wave Of The Sea knuckled down for 5lb claimer Simon Torrens to see off stablemate Top Moon (50-1) by a neck, with 7-2 favourite The Shunter best of the rest in third.
O’Brien said: “It’s nice to get a winner, and I’m delighted to win a big one for JP.
“He’s struggled a little bit in Graded company (over fences), and then when you go into handicaps it’s a different ball game.
“I thought he jumped very well today – probably as good as he’s jumped. That was probably the difference.
“He could easily go to Cheltenham. We’ll see how he comes out of it and see what the handicapper does.”
McManus and Torrens also combined to win the other lucrative handicap on the card, with the Pat Fahy-trained Drop The Anchor (8-1) lunging late to deny Champagne Gold in the 125,000 euro Ladbrokes Hurdle.
Fahy said: “I’m delighted. I was looking at a full parade ring beforehand thinking to myself ‘imagine being the best horse in this with all the big names’, but I won it.
“I thought early in the race he wasn’t winging them all, and he had to be tough. He needs a test at the finish of a race.
“He’s not big but he’s really tough. It took him a while to win, but he needed time to strengthen up.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2.57307259-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2021-02-06 13:23:182021-02-06 17:10:07Gaillard Du Mesnil makes no mistake
Henry de Bromhead is taking nothing for granted ahead of Honeysuckle’s defence of the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.
The seven-year-old claimed a narrow victory in the main event on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival last season, before beating Benie Des Dieux in a ding-dong battle for Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Having successfully defended her crown in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in November, Honeysuckle is a strongly fancied to stretch her unbeaten record to 10 on her return to Leopardstown in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
De Bromhead said: “It’s an Irish Champion Hurdle and any of these Grade Ones are hard to win.
“Honeysuckle has become prima donna-ish. She’s not afraid to bite or kick if you go near her, but we can all suck that up.”
The Waterford-based trainer expects his stable star to strip fitter for her half-length defeat of Ronald Pump at Fairyhouse.
He added: “They didn’t go much of a gallop in the Hatton’s Grace and it was her first run in a long time. The previous year we’d had a prep run in Fairyhouse before the Hatton’s Grace, whereas this year she was having her first run in a Grade One.
“She took a blow at the third-last, Rachael said, so she should improve plenty for it.”
Willie Mullins, who saddled the great Hurricane Fly to win five successive Irish Champion Hurdles before striking gold for a sixth time with Faugheen in 2016, this year fires a three-pronged assault.
The champion trainer’s main hope appears to be Sharjah, who disappointed when rated the biggest threat to Honeysuckle 12 months ago, but otherwise has a fine course record, having most recently claimed his third win in the Matheson Hurdle over the Christmas period.
Reflecting on that latest triumph, Mullins said: “I wasn’t surprised at the turn of foot he showed. We know he has that, but I probably was surprised how well he was travelling.
“My eye was thrown more to Saint Roi, and then to see Sharjah coming up and really travelling. I was happy to see that.”
Saint Roi was considered the yard’s main Champion Hurdle hope at the start of the season, but was a beaten odds-on favourite in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and could finish only fourth behind Sharjah in December.
“He performed below expectations at Christmas. I don’t know if it was tactics or if he wasn’t right on the day. We were hoping for a much better performance,” Mullins added.
“Nothing came to light. Some horses have their off days.
“We were all disappointed with his run the last day. I just hope he can put that behind him. His work at home seems to be fine at this point, but he needs to step up a good 7lb to 10lb to be competitive.”
The Mullins trio is completed by Saldier, who finished sixth in Matheson Hurdle on what was his first competitive appearance since winning the Morgiana in 2019.
Mullins said: “Going back to the day he fell at the last in Naas when Espoir D’Allen won, that form puts him right in the Champion Hurdle picture, but we have to get him back to that. We’re still a good bit off that.”
“We think he’s improving, but he’s going to need to improve a good bit more to win this race on Saturday.
“We’re trying to keep him sound. He’s had his issues but, touch wood, he’s been good this winter and he’ll take his chance.
“We’ve been trying to get him ready for the spring time.”
The field is completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Petit Mouchoir and Abacadabras, who placed third and fifth behind Sharjah over the Christmas period.
Elliott told Betfair: “Abacadabras didn’t run anywhere near his best here at Christmas, but he had a legitimate excuse for that run as he didn’t scope well afterwards and I’m happy to draw a line through that run.
“Previously he beat Saint Roi in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and last season he was among the best two-mile novices around.
“I do believe that he can contend in top hurdle races over two miles and he seems to be in very good form at home, so if he can put his best foot forward, I would expect him to get involved at the finish. He would prefer better ground though.
“Petit Mouchoir is a regular in these races and he has posted many fine efforts over this course and distance over the last few seasons.
“He has got to produce a career best to win this, but I do think he can run his usual solid race and challenge for a place in the frame.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2.56858816-1-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2021-02-05 16:36:282021-02-05 16:36:28Honeysuckle aiming to be Leopardstown’s leading lady again
Chacun Pour Soi puts his huge reputation on the line once again in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.
Willie Mullins has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the nine-year-old, who has been beaten just once in five starts since arriving in Ireland.
Having impressed in winning this Grade One contest 12 months ago, Chacun Pour Soi was strongly fancied to provide the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with his first Queen Mother Champion Chase, only to suffer a minor injury on the morning of the race.
He is already favourite to right that wrong in the Cotswolds next month, following wins at Cork and Leopardstown this season, but first has top-level business to take care off at the Dublin Racing Festival on Saturday.
“I’m hoping he’ll come on again after his run at Christmas and keep improving,” said Mullins.
“A lot of our horses missed the spring because there was none of the big festivals, so they are all a little bit heavier and not as fit as they would have been – because they had such a long Covid break.
“Chacun Pour Soi missed the early part of his career, but we have had no problems since then.
“We’ve always held him in huge esteem. His work at home has always been very good, and the first day that he schooled around Leopardstown with Danny (Mullins) on was awesome to watch.
“He’s a horse that commands a lot of respect around here.”
Chacun Pour Soi’s biggest threat appears to be his stablemate Min, who claimed this prize in both 2018 and 2019, but had to make do with the runner-up spot 12 months ago.
The 10-year-old was last seen bagging a third win in the John Durkan at Punchestown and is using this weekend’s race as a stepping-stone to the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, which he won last season.
Mullins added: “After the John Durkan we said we were going to miss Christmas, run him here and then go to Cheltenham, hopefully.”
The Closutton handler has a third string to his bow in Tornado Flyer, who drops almost a mile in trip after finishing fifth in the Savills Chase in December.
“I went and ran him in the three-mile race at Christmas. He jumped so badly early on. He ran well to finish fifth, considering what he did over the first mile,” said the champion trainer.
“He has plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and if he could just learn to harness that speed he’d be ideal for three miles.”
Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook won the Irish Arkle over the course and distance at this meeting last year, but has six and a half lengths to make up on Chacun Pour Soi on their meeting over Christmas.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Fakir D’oudairies and Sizing Pottsie, from Jessica Harrington’s yard, complete the line-up.
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Energumene is a hot favourite to follow in some illustrious hoofprints in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle.
Willie Mullins has saddled a record six previous winners of Saturday’s Grade One contest, with his last three – Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Footpad – going on to win the Arkle at Cheltenham the following month.
The lightly-raced Energumene has certainly made a big impression in winning his first two starts over fences – and while he is odds-on to complete his hat-trick at this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, Mullins is keeping his feet on the ground.
He said: “It would be very hard to compare him with the likes of Douvan or Un De Sceaux just yet – they were very high-class horses.
“Hopefully he can be up to that level, but he still has a fair bit to prove.
“He’ll have to show us this weekend whether he’s as good as them or not.”
The Tony Bloom-owned seven-year-old won by 18 lengths on his debut over fences at Gowran Park, before successfully dropping from two-and-a-half to two miles in a novice chase at Naas last month.
Mullins is hoping his charge can earn himself a shot at the Arkle at Cheltenham with victory this weekend, which would throw up a mouthwatering Anglo-Irish clash with Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin.
“I just felt when he jumps so well, why waste it going two and a half miles? We said we’d see what he can do over two miles against good horses,” Mullins added.
“I think he passed that test (at Naas). He’ll have to pass this test against better horses, so we’ll just wait and see.
“I’d like plenty of juice in the ground. He’s a big unit, and you don’t really need fast ground for this type of horse.”
Energumene is not Mullins’ only hope of winning a seventh Irish Arkle – with stable companions Unexcepted, Franco De Port and Blackbow also featuring in a nine-strong field.
Unexcepted has not been seen since making a flying start to his chasing career at Tipperary in October; Franco De Port won a course-and-distance Grade One over Christmas, and Blackbow was a distant third behind Energumene at Naas.
“Unexcepted had a little issue, but is going fine at the moment, and you’ve got to run in these races,” said the Closutton handler.
“If he’s not up to that standard we can always drop down and find another opportunity for him somewhere else.
“Franco De Port is a good, solid jumper. He doesn’t do anything fast early on, but if they go a mad pace in this race he’ll be coming up to mop up the spoils later on, so we know we’ll have something coming along at the end!”
Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star and Gordon Elliott’s Felix Desjy were second and third respectively behind Franco De Port in December and are once again in opposition.
Elliott told Betfair: “I was left scratching my head after his run over this course and distance in December. He started off over fences with an easy win at Killarney and he beat Sizing Pottsie to win a Grade Two at Punchestown in November.
“Last time out everything seemed to be going well up until around halfway where he lost the lead and never looked happy at any stage thereafter. He is much better than that, but I’m baffled by that last run and I’m just not sure what to expect this time.
“He’s in good shape and if the real Felix Desjy turns up he will run well, but I’ll be the first to admit he has questions to answer.”
Mullins is also well represented in the first of four Grade Ones on the card – the Nathaniel Lacy And Partners Solicitors ’50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle.
Stable jockey Paul Townend has sided with course winner Gaillard Du Mesnil over Stattler (Danny Mullins) and Ganapathi (Bryan Cooper), while Mark Walsh takes the ride aboard Shadow Rider for his retaining owner JP McManus.
Mullins said: “Gaillard Du Mesnil got beat at Punchestown on his first run of the season, when a lot of our horses were needing the run big time, and then went and won at Leopardstown.
“I’d rather the race on Saturday was two and a half miles, than two-mile-six – but he was a bit keen last time, and I think he’ll settle a lot better after getting that run out of his system.
“We were planning to run Stattler at Thurles, but he just wasn’t right. He’s back right again now, (but) he’s probably going to be better over three miles.
“Ganapathi was very novicey when he ran in the Moscow Flyer in Punchestown (finished second) and was up against a very professional horse in the winner (Dreal Deal).
“That was only the third race of our horse’s life, and I’m hoping there is going to be a great deal of improvement to come.
“Shadow Rider won very nicely last time and looks like a horse that could improve a fair bit.”
The Emmet Mullins-trained Cape Gentleman and Mouse Morris’ Gentlemansgame are two of the biggest threats to the Mullins brigade, while Elliott is hopeful of a bold showing from Fakiera.
He said: “Even though he is stepping up in class to Grade One level, I could see him running a big race.
“He will love the longer trip and if this turns into a proper stamina test, I could see him playing a big part in the finish.”
Mullins is responsible for three runners in the concluding Goffs Future Stars I.N.H. Flat Race, with son Patrick choosing Kilcruit over course-and-distance scorer Ramillies (Barry O’Neill) and Whatdeawant (Tom Hamilton).
Mullins senior said: “Kilcruit was very impressive the last day at Navan, and Ramillies was huge at Christmas.
“I was surprised Ramillies could do what he did, and he’s interesting coming back to the same track again.
“I know Patrick loves Kilcruit, and always has. He was the last horse my mother bred.”
After deciding against saddling Champion Bumper favourite Sir Gerhard, Elliott relies on Chemical Energy – while Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit, runner-up to Sir Gerhard in a Listed contest at Navan in December, adds further strength in depth.
Elliott said: “This looks an especially hot bumper and is probably one of the most interesting races of the weekend.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing this horse (Chemical Energy) in action. I think he’s a quality sort – and I’d expect him to represent us well here.”
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Paddy Corkery bids for Grade One honours at the Dublin Racing Festival just a couple of months after securing his first winner under rules with Master McShee.
The trainer – a mechanic by trade who runs a farm in Cappoquin, Co Waterford – had a successful association as an owner with Mrs Mac Veale, who won seven races culminating in the Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle in 2015.
That day remains fresh in the Corkman’s memory as he said: “To go up there to Naas and take on the best, and to beat them, is a fantastic feeling when you do it.
“Mrs Mac Veale was an exceptionally good mare with a bad temperament! Every horse has their own quirks.”
Watching didn’t prove to be enough for Corkery, though, who took out a restricted licence and has had a couple of point-to-point victories.
“Any sport, I preferred to be hands on rather than a spectator. This sport is no different and I enjoy getting the horse out in the field in the morning and seeing how he progresses,” he explained.
“I’ve had the licence four or five years – one or two horses at a time. The horse racing is my golf, my enjoyment. I’m under no pressure to win races and it is a great enjoyment when I do.”
This brings in current stable star Master McShee.
The Malinas gelding showed he had plenty of engine to work with when runner-up to Appreciate It in a maiden hurdle at Cork in November.
The tune became sweeter when he impressively shed his maiden tag by eight and a half lengths at the same track the following month.
He then ventured into handicap company at Leopardstown over Christmas and scooted away by five lengths from a big field to reach a mark of 143, and a shot at the Grade One Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
Another clash with the top-class Appreciate It, who has since cruised home in a Grade One, looms at Leopardstown, but Corkery is embracing the challenge.
“Whatever he meets, he will have to go and take his chance. Appreciate It is a very good horse and will be very hard to beat, but we won’t be going to the Dublin Racing Festival as spectators for the scenery,” he said.
“We are depending on the horse telling us how good he is. He’s going for a big step up and he’ll answer a few questions. He has been going nicely.”
But how does a trainer with one horse prepare for battle at the highest level with the biggest juggernauts of National Hunt racing?
“I get the horse as ready as possible and, when he is ready, (ex-jockey) Jimmy Moloney sits on him and tells me how the horse is,” he said.
“I go up to Michael Griffin’s (stable) and I work him off the clock there. I would have a good idea myself and Jimmy is very good on pace.
“I call Jimmy my work rider! It is very few fellas have a work rider for one horse. He’s retired a good few years, but has a lot of experience.
“It is no kind of fluke to get a horse to run in Mallow and come second and run twice more and win. I need to be ticking the boxes at home and I need to be ticking the boxes when Jimmy rides him. It is part of a box-ticking exercise and if you miss a box, you won’t get there.”
With success comes attention and, as Master McShee runs in the colours of Corkery’s wife Deirdre, talk inevitably turned to offers.
“I do have a tendency not to keep them too long if they are not showing something. I didn’t encourage any offers, but I had one. I’d probably never get one as nice as him again, though,” Corkery said.
Thankfully, Master McShee is showing more than enough to remain in Cappoquin among the tractors and cows.
Jockey Ian Power has been entrusted with the steering again and Corkery emphasised his loyalty to the partnership.
“Ian will be riding at the weekend. He knows the horse now and, to be honest, it wouldn’t be fair to change jockeys when he hasn’t made a mistake,” he said.
“It’s nice see a Waterford horse and a Waterford jockey doing well and keeping that combination together.”
Come what may this weekend, the plan is to keep the home fires burning as Cheltenham is not on the agenda.
“I have no ambitions this year to go to Cheltenham, I’ve made up my mind. I’m in this for the fun of it. For me, to head to Cheltenham with a horse would be taking me out of my comfort zone and bringing the horse out of his comfort zone,” the trainer added.
“I think there are plenty of races at home – I’d be hoping to maybe go to Fairyhouse and Punchestown.”
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