Tag Archive for: Mares’ Hurdle

Hennessy planning Irish Champion Hurdle spin for Heaven Help Us

Connections of Coral Cup heroine Heaven Help Us have confirmed the eight-year-old will take in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle on the way to her ultimate target, the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Paul Hennessy-trained homebred daughter of Yeats caused a 33-1 shock when scoring at the Festival last March under Richard Condon.

Though beaten on her return to Prestbury Park in the International Hurdle in November, she was only a neck behind Royal Kahala in a Grade Three at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Hennessy admits he still cannot quite believe he has trained a Cheltenham Festival winner.

“What she has done for us has been absolutely amazing,” he said.

“This is all new to us. We grew up watching Cheltenham and the excitement that goes with it, but to actually go there and win is absolutely unbelievable.

“I know plenty of people who have invested a lot of money and Cheltenham is a hard place to get into. You need a good horse – but we are just blessed that this has happened for us.

“You hear people saying that Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all, but if it is not, I’d like to know what is!

“If there is a better place for racing horses than Cheltenham, I don’t know where it is.”

The dam, Spare The Air, was the only horse in Hennessy’s yard when Heaven Help Us was foaled – and she has proved by far the best of her four offspring, taking Hennessy and owner John Turner to places they could only imagine.

“Everything about her, since the day we started – when she was fifth in a really good mares’ bumper in Ballinrobe to Gypsy Island, who is a fantastic mare – has been an unbelievable roller-coaster. It has just been amazing. It has been more than a dream. It has been just wonderful,” said Hennessy.

“Right up until the last day at Leopardstown. That was a very, very good race and we are thrilled with her.

“So, I am certain she will go for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham now, as she would have to carry nearly top-weight in the Coral Cup.

“She ran very well in that graded race at Leopardstown and while the weights suited her slightly in that, I don’t think a couple of pounds either way would have made much odds.”

Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle (Niall Carson/PA)

Before that, Heaven Help Us is likely to return to the Dublin track to take on multiple Grade One winner Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle on February 6, rather than run in the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle on the same card, a race she won last year.

“We probably will go for the Irish Champion Hurdle,” confirmed Hennessy.

“She will carry top-weight in the Paddy Mullins race if she was to run in that and, giving away lumps of weight to well-handicapped mares like she was last year, would not be easy.

“She would have to battle very hard – and I’m not saying she wouldn’t have to battle in the Champion Hurdle – but while it is a proper race over two miles, it would give her a workout.

“She won the Paddy Mullins last year off 10st 5lb and she would be carrying 11st 12lb or something like that this year. So that is a different ballgame.

“We will put her in the Irish Champion Hurdle, even though Honeysuckle and all those Grade One winners are in there. It might be less taxing to run her in the better race.”

All being well, connections will continue to live the dream thereafter, with their sights firmly fixed on the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, for which she is as short as 7-1 third-favourite with Paddy Power.

“Even the thought of going to Cheltenham again is crazy,” laughed Hennessy. “We are still dreaming. It is amazing. It is like a long, good dream – I just hope someone won’t go waking us up too soon!”

Black Tears foils Concertista in Mares’ Hurdle thriller

Black Tears got up in the final strides to give trainer Denise Foster a first Cheltenham Festival winner in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Foster is currently in charge of Gordon Elliott’s string at Cullentra House Stables in County Meath while he is serving a suspension.

Jack Kennedy produced Black Tears (11-1) with a perfectly-timed challenge to deny the Willie Mullins-trained 10-11 favourite Concertista in a thrilling finish to the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

Great White Shark and Floressa made the early running, with Roksana and Indefatigable tracking them and Concertista held up at the rear.

The complexion of the race changed coming down the hill when Roksana made her bid – but Concertista was hot on her heels.

The latter looked the likely winner when she jumped the last in front, but she had no answer to Black Tears, who got up to win by a head with Roksana two and three-quarter lengths away in third and Indefatigable fourth.

Elliott was banned for 12 months, with the last six months suspended, after an image of him sitting on a dead horse appeared on social media. Foster took over the licence at the yard last week.

Black Tears (left) and Concertista battle it out
Black Tears (left) and Concertista battle it out (Tim Goode/PA)

Kennedy said: “She jumped and travelled brilliant the whole way. The line was coming and we were just starting to get up so I was praying it wouldn’t come to soon, it didn’t, thank God.

“To be honest we’d have been delighted if she’d finished in the first three and I knew turning in I had a fair chance, as she was going to stay going. It was just a case of if the line came too soon.”

He added: “It’s massive that she’s won (given the recent headlines). The amount of effort that everyone puts in at home it’s days like these that make it all worthwhile.

“We’ve gone through a bit of a tough time, but we’ve kept going and showed that today.”

Black Tears and Jack Kennedy on the way to victory
Black Tears and Jack Kennedy on the way to victory (Michael Steele/PA)

Lisa O’Neill, yard representative, speaking from Cullentra House Stables, said: “Denise was the first one on the phone and she was absolutely over the moon as it was her first Cheltenham winner and hopefully it won’t be her last.

“Black Tears is a very genuine and consistent mare and this result is great for her owners Aidan and Caren Walsh and John Lightfoot, as they have been brilliant supporters of Cullentra House. It is fantastic for them and the whole team here.

“I think Jack Kennedy gave her a great ride. He took the paint off the rail and rode her for a bit of luck. She was beaten just over two lengths in the Coral Cup last year so to get her head in front this is great.

“She had that course form so there was no question about that and she was always going to be staying on having run over slightly further at the meeting last year.

“She showed a great bit of stamina and dug deep and battled hard when she needed to the most. We will get her back and just enjoy today. We will speak to the owners and then decide what to do next.”