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Cheltenham Festival day three – Paisley bidding to reclaim Stayers’ crown

The Thursday of Cheltenham offers three Grade One contests, with the card headlined by Paisley Park’s Festival comeback in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Paddy Power-sponsored event may be the joint-feature, but the opening race of the third day is equally fascinating as the unbeaten Envoi Allen bids for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

The Ryanair Chase shares top billing, with Willie Mullins seemingly holding all of the aces with his highly-fancied trio of runners.

There are then large-field handicaps for punters to solve, with the running of the Pertemps Network Final and the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase, after which the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be dominated by Irish runners and riders.

Infallible Envoi?

Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Andrew Matthews/PA)
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Envoi Allen heads to the Marsh Novices’ Chase with a flawless record of 11 runs and 11 victories, the most recent of which was a comfortable success in the Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown. He has since switched to the yard of Henry de Bromhead after departing Gordon Elliott’s stable and the eyes of the racing world will be on the seven-year-old as he bids to confirm his superstar status.

Mullins the man to beat, again

Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard
Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard (Tim Goode/PA)

The market can barely split the three Mullins runners that head the field for the Ryanair, with Allaho, Melon and Min all expected to shine. Out of the trio only Allaho was a winner last time out, but Min has the superior Cheltenham form, having been successful 12 months ago, and Melon was only a nose off taking the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year.

People’s horse Paisley on the comeback trail

Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner
Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park would be hugely popular winner if he were to triumph for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He won the race in 2019 but was well beaten last season when suffering with an irregular heartbeat. After treatment he has bounced back to his best this term and is highly-fancied after the main threat to his success, Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill, was ruled out with a minor injury. Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50-1 winner last season and is back for more.

Novice mares meet again

Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland
Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Royal Kahala and Roseys Hollow will meet again in the the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, with the latter having prevailed by two lengths when the two crossed paths in the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out. Willie Mullins also has a live chance in the race as Hook Up reverts to her own sex after finishing fourth behind Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Defending champion Min heads Mullins’ team in Ryanair reckoning

Willie Mullins appears to hold the key to the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham on Thursday with at least three leading candidates in Allaho, Min and Melon following the confirmation stage.

That trio was among six left in by the Closutton trainer after there were 16 acceptors.

Min took the Grade One honours 12 months ago, but he has to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Dublin Chase after making a winning seasonal debut in the John Durkan.

Melon could try to end a run of four second places at the last four Festivals, having played second fiddle in the Supreme, the Champion Hurdle twice and the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Allaho staked his claim when winning a Grade Two contest at Thurles in January. He was third in the RSA Novices’ Chase last year and third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2019.

Chacun Pour Soir remains in the Ryanair but is set to go for the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, for which he is a short-priced favourite. Cilaos Emery and Tornado Flyer are Mullins’ other possibles.

Dual Festival winner Samcro, who is with Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves his suspension, is also in the line up, while Henry de Bromhead’s Chris’s Dream and Fakir D’Oudairies from Joseph O’Brien’s yard complete the Irish interest.

Leading the home defence is Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura, a winner at the Festival last year. However, he blotted his copybook at Kempton last time when unseating his rider at the second fence.

Jeremy Scott has left in Betfair Ascot Chase victor Dashel Drasher while Nicky Henderson’s Peterborough Chase scorer Mister Fisher and Saint Calvados, runner-up in this race last year, are among others in the mix.

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.”