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Russell mulling Punchestown option for Aintree hero Ahoy Senor

Ahoy Senor may be heading to the Punchestown Festival this month as Lucinda Russell ponders one more outing over hurdles for her impressive Aintree winner.

Russell has made no secret of the intention that British point-to-point graduate Ahoy Senor’s future will lie over fences as of the start of next season.

But after the six-year-old’s shock yet decisive success from a field of top staying novices in Grade One company at Aintree last week, his Scottish trainer will consider heading to Punchestown for the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle on April 28.

Ahoy Senor was among a clutch of British entries published on Monday for the five-day meeting, which will feature many of the stars of this spring’s major Festivals in a finale to the National Hunt season.

“It won’t do him any harm to get a bit more experience,” said Russell.

“But he really is a (future) chaser, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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A decision over whether to travel has therefore yet to be made.

Russell added: “It’s 50-50 really. We’ve just got him back into work and we’ll find out how he is.

“I’d prefer it to be ground on the soft side. So no firm decision has been made (yet) – we’ll see how we get on over the next week.

“Maybe it’s being a bit greedy – but then again, if he is in good form, he is a racehorse and that’s what he’s been bought to do.”

So far, three days after the lightly-raced Ahoy Senor’s seven-length win from Bravemansgame, he appears to have recovered well from what was his third run of the campaign – and just the second hurdles start of his career.

Russell said: “He’s fine. He’s a remarkable horse really – very inexperienced race-wise, but just a very straightforward horse to deal with.

“We knew he was a very good horse. We only bought him in the autumn, and he missed out on the early-season novices.

“He’s been very well-prepared, and had a full season in training before he ran in his point-to-point – so we always knew physically he was going to cope with it.

“It was just whether he would mentally – but he is just very straightforward.”

Elsewhere among the Punchestown entries, Henry de Bromhead’s champions Minella Indo, Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle are all in the reckoning – and Monkfish and Envoi Allen are on course to clash too in a test of their superstar potential.

Gold Cup hero Minella Indo is one of 11 currently in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup – along with Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, dual winner of Cheltenham’s signature event, and his stablemate Kemboy, successful in the most recent edition of this race in 2019.

Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown
Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The opposition for Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On, in the William Hill Champion Chase, includes Dan and Harry Skelton’s Nube Negra – who got closest to the mare in second at Cheltenham – and Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi. The latter’s stablemate and Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Joseph O’Brien’s Aintree Grade One star Fakir D’oudairies also hold alternative Gold Cup entries.

On the same card, which opens the meeting, dual Cheltenham Festival winners Monkfish – unbeaten over fences for Mullins – and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen, who lost his perfect record when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month, are among 12 in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice over an extended three miles.

Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, winner of Cheltenham’s Stayers’ Hurdle, tops 25 possibles in Punchestown’s Grade One equivalent – and Envoi Allen has the option of dropping back to two miles, with both Mullins’ Energumene and Nicky Henderson’s Arkle and Aintree hero Shishkin among the potential opposition in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The Paddy Power Champion Hurdle could feature a rematch between Honeysuckle and Henderson’s 2020 Cheltenham winner Epatante – who was third this year – with her stablemate Buveur D’Air and Gary Moore’s Goshen also potential British challengers.

Minella Indo could bid for Gold Cup double at Punchestown

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo remains on course for the newly-sponsored Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on April 28.

The eight-year-old led home stablemate A Plus Tard to provide trainer Henry de Bromhead with a one-two in last month’s blue riband.

With A Plus Tard a possible runner at Aintree next week, Minella Indo will be a hot favourite to claim another big-race success in the 250,000 euro feature on day two of Ireland’s end-of-season meeting.

De Bromhead said: “It (Gold Cup) was a hard race, as you would expect, and A Plus Tard pushed him all the way, but he seems to be good since.

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“Like all the horses that ran in Cheltenham, we will give him as much time as he needs and just see how he is before getting going again, but we would hopefully be returning to Punchestown with him.

“He won the Grade One three-mile novice hurdle at the Festival two years ago, following up from the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, so he does like it around Punchestown.

“We will see how he is and discuss it with the Maloneys (owners), but there is a good chance (he’ll run) at this stage.”

Minella Indo’s potential rivals include dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo, who was third when bidding for the hat-trick, and his stablemate Kemboy, who got the better of Al Boum Photo in the most recent Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019 under the retiring Ruby Walsh.

As well as taking over sponsorship of the Punchestown Gold Cup, Ladbrokes will continue its sponsorship of the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle the following afternoon.

Flooring Porter is bound for Punchestown
Flooring Porter is bound for Punchestown (Michael Steele/PA)

The likely star attraction in that Grade One contest is Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, who made all the running in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“Punchestown is definitely the aim for Flooring Porter. He’s good. He came out of Cheltenham fine and is back in full work. We’re happy with him so all roads lead to Punchestown,” said Cromwell.

“It is really just about getting him back in the routine. He’s obviously very fit so it’s only a matter of ticking him over, but it doesn’t take very much to get ready.”

Flooring Porter was ridden by Danny Mullins at Cheltenham after Cromwell’s stable jockey Jonathan Moore stood himself down on the morning of the race due to injury.

Cromwell added: “It was a huge shame for Jonathan, but he is a big part of the team.

“We’re optimistic Jonathan will be back from injury to renew his partnership after Danny Mullins filled in so well at Cheltenham. He’s still quite sore at the moment, but will hopefully be fine by the time Punchestown comes around.”

Henry de Bromhead planning to keep Gold Cup one-two apart if he can

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard are likely to run at Punchestown and Aintree respectively after providing Henry de Bromhead with a one-two in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Knockeen-based handler enjoyed a memorable week in the Cotswolds – becoming the first trainer to saddle the winner of the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week.

Minella Indo completed the feat when denying better-fancied stablemate A Plus Tard in Friday’s feature – and could now bid to crown his season with victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup on April 28.

“I look back at the Gold Cup with disbelief, to be honest. I watched it back this morning and was kind of going ‘this didn’t happen’,” De Bromhead said on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme.

“Minella Indo kept staying and I’m not sure we’ve seen the half of him – he’s so tough.

“I haven’t really spoken to Barry (Maloney, owner) about plans, but Punchestown would be great if he seems good – I think we should strongly consider Punchestown.”

A Plus Tard ran an excellent race to fill the runner-up spot under the all-conquering Rachael Blackmore and could head for the Betway Bowl at Aintree, given his preference for left-handed tracks.

De Bromhead also nominated next season’s Betfair Chase at Haydock as a possible target.

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard after the Gold Cup
Minella Indo and A Plus Tard after the Gold Cup (David Davies/PA)
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He added: “The one question about A Plus Tard going into Cheltenham was he’s got so much class, would he get the last two furlongs? But he really did, in fairness to him – and wouldn’t he have been a very impressive winner if ‘Indo’ wasn’t there?

“A Plus Tard’s form is ridiculously better on left-handed tracks, so if he’s well, we’re considering Aintree for him.

“That (going left-handed) limits him, but the race at Haydock could be a lovely race for him in the autumn.

“When you have two horses like that, you’d love to try to keep them apart as best you can.”

The first of six winners on the week for De Bromhead and Blackmore was the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, who stretched her unbeaten record to 11 with a runaway success in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.

While future plans are up in the air, connections have mooted the possibility of a career over fences, with a bid to emulate the great Dawn Run – the only horse to win a Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup – in mind.

“It’s something we’ll have to give a lot of thought to and ultimately it comes down to Kenny (Alexander, owner),” said De Bromhead.

“She’s an extremely valuable mare. There’s probably a little bit more risk over fences, but without wanting to tempt fate, she goes off loose every Sunday morning in our indoor school and she takes off and goes off jumping for sport.

“Every Sunday morning she jumps a chase fence about four times and she loves it.

“I haven’t actually schooled over fences outside, but she’s a point-to-point winner and makes that shape over hurdles, so if Kenny said he’d like to go chasing – I think it’s something we all need to discuss, the pros and cons, and then ultimately it’s down to Kenny to decide what he wants to do.”

Bob Olinger was awesome in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Bob Olinger was awesome in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

De Bromhead, who also struck Festival gold with Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase, Bob Olinger in the Ballymore, Telmesomethinggirl in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle, Quilixios in the Triumph Hurdle, faces a period of isolation after returning to County Waterford.

He added: “It’s been a bit quiet for me, as I have to quarantine for five days, but it’s buzzing around the place.

“Last year we went with similar horses and a similar team. We had two winners and we were happy, (but) people were saying we’d be top trainer and things like that, but we possibly didn’t quite fulfil what we had hoped we could do.

“Coming into this year, you know it could just be the same as the year before, but we ended getting what we got and it’s just incredible.

“It’s so tough to win there (Cheltenham). Everybody has the ups and downs of the place – that’s racing to be honest, but at Cheltenham even more so as it’s so competitive.

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a memorable week
Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a memorable week (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“There’s plenty of ups and downs and you really appreciate the ups when you get them.”

De Bromhead was also keen to praise the achievements of Blackmore, who became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle and the first to be crowned leading jockey at the Festival.

He said: “She works hard and has had to work hard. She’s a 10-year overnight success.

“She’s had all the knocks. I know the feeling and you just have to work your way through it and try to step forward and not back.

“Rachael appreciates what it takes to be at the top of this game. She’s brilliant to work with and has every race planned out.

“I thought some of her rides this week were brilliant. She’s just a great rider and a great person.”

Cheltenham Festival day four – Minella magic in Gold Cup

Minella Indo capped a memorable week for Henry de Bromhead with victory in the pinnacle of the jump racing season, the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Finishing a length and a quarter ahead of stablemate A Plus Tard, Minella Indo was De Bromhead’s sixth winner of the meeting and also the final leg of a historic treble as the Waterford trainer became the first to saddle the winners of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same year.

Rachael Blackmore made history too when she was crowned the first ever female leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, her Triumph Hurdle win aboard Quilixios being her sixth of the week.

The County Hurdle returned a big-priced winner as Belfast Banter prevailed at 33-1 for Kevin Sexton and Peter Fahey, with Vanillier another for Ireland when taking the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle for Mark Walsh and Gavin Cromwell.

The British did get a rare success when Will Biddick and Lorcan Williams teamed up to take the hunter chase with Porlock Bay, but the Irish dominance was further in evidence as they claimed the closing two contests of the meeting. It meant the score finished 23-5 to the visiting side.

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Picture of the day

Gold Cup-winning jockey Jack Kennedy is congratulated by runner-up Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)
Gold Cup-winning jockey Jack Kennedy is congratulated by runner-up Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)

Quote of the day

“I think I’m still in my hotel, it’s Monday evening and I’m about wake up and nothing’s even started yet” – Trainer Henry de Bromhead in disbelief after a remarkable Cheltenham Festival.

Performance of the day

Quilixios strikes under Rachael Blackmore
Quilixios strikes under Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)

Quilixios was a convincing winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle, travelling with complete conviction throughout and jumping himself into the lead with two hurdles remaining. When asked to quicken by Rachael Blackmore, the four-year-old was deftly able to accelerate up the hill and was not stretched when crossing the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival.

Ride of the day

Porlock Bay (left) ridden by Lorcan Williams on the way to winning the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase
Porlock Bay (left) ridden by Lorcan Williams on the way to winning the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

When amateur riders were precluded from taking part at the Festival, Will Biddick recruited professional jockey Lorcan Williams to do the steering aboard Porlock Bay in the St. James’s Place Hunters’ Chase. Kept handy in the midfield for much of the race, Williams made his move with four fences remaining and took up the lead two from home, doing just enough to see off a challenge from Willie Mullins’ Billaway and prevail by a short head.

Blackmore stepped forward as Cheltenham reminded everyone how great racing can be

Rachael Blackmore must have heard on the grapevine that the 2021 Cheltenham Festival was holding out for a heroine – and she answered the call to game-changing effect.

This year’s showpiece meeting got under way, undoubtedly, at a highly vulnerable tipping point of public perception for the sport of racing.

It was against a potentially bleak backdrop that Blackmore shone a light with historic triumph after historic triumph – surpassing the achievements of hundreds of jockeys of whichever gender by winning the Champion Hurdle, four more Grade Ones and consequently the leading rider award, the first female to come close to any of the above.

Rachael Blackmore holds the Ruby Walsh Trophy as the leading rider at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival
Rachael Blackmore holds the Ruby Walsh Trophy as the leading rider at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival (Tim Goode/PA)

She finished a mere second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as A Plus Tard could not quite manage to haul back his Henry de Bromhead stablemate Minella Indo, ridden by Jack Kennedy.

Her spectacularly successful meeting will, of course, be career-defining – although plenty more glories surely lie ahead – but it is more than a personal triumph, because it has upended the landscape of possibilities, for female jockeys especially, when it comes to habitually riding winners on National Hunt’s greatest stage.

More perhaps than any of that, or certainly at least as significant, is that Blackmore’s exemplary timing has been in evidence not just in the thick of the action but in the bigger picture, at a moment when racing needed her like never before.

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Doubts are still cast by many over the probity of holding the Cheltenham Festival with a near quarter-of-a-million footfall 12 months ago when the consequences at the start of a developing pandemic were unknown.

Those rumblings may never be dispelled – and yet, potentially damaging as they have been for racing, a darker cloud hung over the sport in the weeks before this year’s meeting as the lovers and haters struggled equally to comprehend an image which first stretched universal credibility and then sensibilities.

After Gordon Elliott confirmed the authenticity of a photograph circulated on social media of him sat on a dead horse, racing was aghast and beset by headlines calling into question its very being.

As the County Meath trainer began a year-long ban, the second six months suspended, the sport therefore got under way with its reputation hanging in the balance and its future well-being perhaps dependent on a feelgood Festival.

Bob Olinger was a Grade One winner for Rachael Blackmore on Wednesda
Bob Olinger was a Grade One winner for Rachael Blackmore on Wednesday (Michael Steele/PA)

In the ongoing absence of crowds and owners, because of coronavirus restrictions, that was going to be no easy task.

But step forward Blackmore.

Her utter domination arrived in partnership for the most part with De Bromhead, who eventually had to cede the meeting’s top trainer award to the record-breaking Willie Mullins, but shared the limelight throughout as he marginally outdid even Blackmore by becoming the first ever to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at the same Festival.

Blackmore fired her first big opening salvo when Honeysuckle stormed to a near seven-length victory in Tuesday’s Unibet Champion Hurdle.

She was only just getting started, though.

Next came two Wednesday winners, De Bromhead’s Bob Olinger off the blocks in the opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and Sir Gerhard rounding out the card in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Blackmore’s three falls to earth in between merely reminded one and all of how remarkable her achievements were becoming, and how dangerous jump racing can be – whatever the talent of the participants.

Rachael Blackmore and Allaho were outstanding winners of the Ryanair Chase
Rachael Blackmore and Allaho were outstanding winners of the Ryanair Chase (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Two more winners on Thursday included a breathtaking performance from horse and jockey as the front-running Allaho dismissed his Grade One rivals in the Ryanair Chase by 12 lengths and more.

By the time the Gold Cup came round in the middle of Friday afternoon, Blackmore already had the Festival’s top rider award surely in safe keeping – although Kennedy made her wait just a little longer by pegging back the score, thanks to Minella Indo.

Blackmore’s celebratory post-race interviews had begun to have a glorious groundhog feel to them, if such a thing is possible.

She spoke eloquently and modestly throughout, though, about how much she owed those who had put her in position to keep winning Cheltenham’s greatest races.

In truth, Blackmore was the gift that kept on giving – and in 2021, racing could never have more reason to be grateful.

Gold-en boy Kennedy in disbelief at winning jumping’s biggest prize

Jack Kennedy may only be 21, but he will have to go some to top what he declared as “the best day of my life” after winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo.

Riding what was perceived as the Henry de Bromhead second-string, with Rachael Blackmore on A Plus Tard, Kennedy took chasing’s blue riband for the first time – and given the stables he rides for and his tender years, it is unlikely to be the last.

Do not for one minute, though, think Kennedy has been handed his privileged position on a plate. While he learned his trade on the competitive pony racing circuit in Ireland, since turning professional he has been beset by injury.

Having suffered no fewer than four broken legs and countless other broken bones, Kennedy has already missed many months of his career, but he will have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time.

“That tops everything, without a doubt. It’s definitely the best day of my life,” said Kennedy.

“You dream about winning these races as a child. I know I’m still young, but I’ve been in the position to win them for a couple of years so it’s brilliant.

“I thought I had as good a chance as any horse in the race to be honest. I’d gone down to Henry’s to school him and a few of the lads there were fairly keen on him, so I was fairly confident going out.

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“The fact that Rachael chose A Plus Tard took the pressure off me a bit as well, so it was great.”

Minella Indo leads A Plus Tard over the last
Minella Indo leads A Plus Tard over the last (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Blackmore has not got much wrong this week, but despite winning the Albert Bartlett a couple of years ago on Minella Indo and coming close to winning what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, she opted for Savills Chase winner A Plus Tard.

Turning into the straight it was clear the De Bromhead pair had it between them, with Al Boum Photo, winner of the previous two renewals, clear of the rest in third.

“I had to switch in and out a couple of times as I wanted a clear view of his fences, without going wide at the same time, but it went very smooth. He travelled and jumped great and there wasn’t any point in the race I wasn’t very happy,” said Kennedy.

“The whole way through the race I was happy, but I was left in front very soon and he pricked his ears after the last. When A Plus Tard came to him, he went on again.

“Turning into the straight, I knew it would take something very good to beat him. Although I was there too soon, I didn’t want to disappoint him. I was very confident the whole way.”

Paul Townend (left) congratulates Jack Kennedy as Al Boum Photo loses his crown
Paul Townend (left) congratulates Jack Kennedy as Al Boum Photo loses his crown (Michael Steele/PA)

Kennedy could be seen wiping away tears of joy after crossing the line.

“I was emotional. This is massive and I can’t believe it’s happening to be honest. It means the world to me,” he said.

“I’ve broken my leg four times, I missed the meeting last year, but thankfully I’ve had a year this year that I’ll remember for a long time.

“Injuries can take their toll, but it could always be a lot worse at the same time, broken legs and collar bones heal. It’s unfortunate, but you just have to get on with it.

“It’s been great in the Irish bubble, so many lads have had their first winner here which is brilliant, we’re all in fairly good form in there.”

Kennedy, of course, is intrinsically linked to the Gordon Elliott yard which had been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the weeks before the Festival.

He only came in for the ride on Minella Indo when his expected mount, Delta Work, was ruled out through injury.

“I’m in such a good position that I have a very good job and any time I’ve been injured, Gordon and (Michael and Eddie) the O’Learys have always stood by me and said my job is there when I get back,” said Kennedy.

“When you’ve horses of that calibre to get back for, if you can’t get back for them there’s no point doing it.”

Minella Indo denies A Plus Tard in Gold Cup thriller

Minella Indo edged out A Plus Tard to give trainer Henry de Bromhead a one-two in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Ridden by Jack Kennedy, Minella Indo (9-1) got the better of gallant stablemate A Plus Tard, who was partnered by Festival sensation Rachael Blackmore.

The victory capped an incredible week for De Bromhead, who also collected the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase and has had six winners in all.

Frodon and Bryony Frost made the extended three-and-a-quarter-mile showpiece a true test. With Kemboy and Black Op for company, the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon put in serious leaps through the early stage, but Nicky Henderson’s hopes were dashed early on with Champ and Santini pulled up.

Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo – seeking a third successive win in the race – was ridden patiently, while A Plus Tard always had the leaders in his sights.

Blackmore closed the door on 9-4 favourite Al Boum Photo as the field galloped down towards the home turn, and it became a fight between the two De Bromhead runners.

But Minella Indo held the upper hand and repelled the determined challenge of the runner-up to win by a length and a quarter.

Al Boum Photo was four and a quarter lengths away in third. Native River, the winner in 2018, was fourth and Frodon fifth.

De Bromhead said: “It was incredible. Jack was brilliant on Minella Indo, who is just such a tough horse.

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“It’s all down to the crew at home, who work so hard. And the support of all our clients, it’s just brilliant.

Jack Kennedy celebrates
Jack Kennedy celebrates (Michael Steele/PA)

“Whatever it is about here – he’s a little bit like Put The Kettle On – he just comes alive.

“He’s fast asleep at home on a daily basis, but even saddling him today, he was like he was before the Albert Bartlett (in 2019) – he was kicking the back door and so up for it.

“We obviously had the mishap at Christmas and he wasn’t as good in the Irish Gold Cup, but we wanted to get a clear round that day and Rachael rode him brilliantly.

“It’s all come together here and it’s fantastic.

“To win a Cheltenham Gold Cup is something you dream about. I think I’m still in my hotel, it’s Monday evening and I’m about wake up and nothing’s even started yet. That’s where I’m at at the moment, it’s brilliant.”

“A Plus Tard was amazing, he ran a cracker for the Thompsons of Cheveley Park. Both jockeys were amazing, it’s just brilliant.”

De Bromhead added of riding arrangements for his pair: “Rachael had the choice. I always try to stay out of that and I left it to her.

“Everyone has been asking me on the run-up to the race which had the better chance, but I couldn’t split them.

“I don’t like to interfere (with Blackmore’s choice) as I’d hate to put her the wrong way.

“She knew they were both training well.”

When told he had become the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week, he said: “It is incredible to think it. I’ve been coming here plenty of years with plenty of tough results, but also some great ones. I just feel extremely lucky.

“It will be me myself and I in the car and on the ferry, there is no celebrating. It will be quarantine for five days when I get back home. I’m looking forward to getting back home and seeing the family.”

Celebrations for the Minella Indo team
Celebrations for the Minella Indo team (Tim Goode/PA)

Kennedy told ITV Racing: “I can’t believe it, this is what I’ve dreamt of since I was a child. I’m just so grateful to Henry and (owner) Barry Maloney for giving me a chance and the opportunity to ride him. I can’t thank them enough, I’ll owe them forever.

“This is what I live for. I just can’t believe this is after happening, I’m delighted.

“I was there very soon on him, but I didn’t want to disappoint him, he carried me into it and I didn’t want to be taking him back.

“I landed over the last and he pricked his ears, he was pulling up, but it wasn’t out of tiredness and when he heard Rachael coming back at him, he took off again. It’s unbelievable stuff.”

Mullins was proud of Al Boum Photo in defeat.

The Closutton trainer said: “A great run from Al Boum Photo, he ran his heart out. The winner was very unlucky last year (in what was the RSA Chase) and A Plus Tard’s form was very good in Ireland, so we’ve no excuses.

“Our fellow ran a cracker of a race and it was a great race for the three horses over the last three fences.”

He added: “Kemboy jumped very well throughout, Danny (Mullins) just said that he just started to feel the pinch after the water fence. He gave him a little breather and he just wasn’t able to get back in the race.”

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.”

Minella Indo headlines five contenders for Irish Gold Cup glory

Minella Indo heads a small but select field of five runners declared for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge is a short-priced favourite to bounce back from an uncharacteristic fall in the Savills Chase over the course and distance in December and reaffirm his claims for the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month.

The eight-year-old is reopposed by three other horses who contested the Savills Chase in Kemboy, Melon and Delta Work.

The Willie Mullins-trained pair of Kemboy and Melon finished a close-up second and third behind De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard just under six weeks ago, while Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work – who won the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup last season – unseated his rider.

With stable jockey Paul Townend siding with Melon, Danny Mullins takes over in the saddle from his newly-retired cousin David Mullins aboard Kemboy.

He said: “He’s got a good chance in it and it’s great to renew the partnership with him.

“I actually rode him on his chasing debut in Fairyhouse a few years ago, when he ran a good race to finish second to Sutton Place. He’s won plenty of good races since then and seems in good order, so hopefully he’ll run a big race.

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“Ruth Dudfield usually rides him in all his work and seems pleased with him.”

The quintet is completed by Elliott’s second string The Storyteller, who was last seen finishing second behind Flooring Porter in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle.

Monkfish is a hot favourite for the Flogas Novice Chase
Monkfish is a hot favourite for the Flogas Novice Chase (PA)

Potential Gold Cup horses of the future contest the preceding Flogas Novice Case, which stages a third clash between the Mullins-trained Monkfish and Paul Nolan’s stable star Latest Exhibition.

Monkfish denied Latest Exhibition by a neck when landing the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, but was more authoritative when winning a Grade One over fences at this venue in December.

The Rich Ricci-owned seven-year-old is odds-on to confirm his superiority, despite dropping back from three miles to an extended two miles and five furlongs.

Mullins also saddles Asterion Forlonge, who needs to bounce back after successive falls, as well as Janidil.

Gordon Elliott’s Andy Dufresne also features in a nine-strong field.

Mullins also houses the red-hot favourite for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle in Appreciate It, who 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.

The son of Jeremy is joined by no less than five stable companions in Blue Lord, N’golo, Galopin Des Champs, Mr Coldstone and Hook Up.

Elliott’s Ballyadam, De Bromhead’s Irascible and Paddy Corkery’s Master McShee are among the opposition.

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.

Mullins is represented by Ha D’or, Saint Sam and Youmdor, but his new recruit French Aseel has not been declared.

Willie Mullins at his yard earlier this week
Willie Mullins at his yard earlier this week (Morgan Treacy/INPHO/PA)

Mullins again 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).

The big danger appears to be Hollymount, who makes her first start for Elliott having recently been snapped up for £300,000.

Owner Maloney hoping Minella Indo can deliver in Irish Gold Cup

Minella Indo’s owner Barry Maloney admits his charge “needs to deliver” in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on Sunday.

A short-priced favourite with the sponsors for the feature race on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival, the eight-year-old has to bounce back from an early fall in the Savills Chase over Christmas.

“Look, it was a very novicey mistake last time – he got too close and never rose up,” said Maloney.

“He’d not put a foot wrong before that and hopefully it was a one-off. Rachael (Blackmore) was up on him last week and jumped a few and he was jumping beautifully with no adverse effects and we’re hopeful.”

Rachael Blackmore was all smiles after winning the Albert Bartlett
Rachael Blackmore was all smiles after winning the Albert Bartlett (Paul Harding/PA)
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That was the first real blemish of Minella Indo’s career, as he had never been out of the first three prior to that.

“He’s been great – he only got half a race last time and we’re excited to get this run into him. He’s the kind of horse who needs a lot of work and we’re looking forward to him running,” said Maloney.

“Before last time he’s never been out of the three, mostly in the two, and look, he’s been unbelievable. He’s one of those horses that we’re very privileged to be involved with and we’re hoping that he will redeem himself and we’re very excited for the race.”

Minella Indo is prominent in the betting for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and having won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and been caught in the shadow of the post by Champ in the RSA last season, Prestbury Park certainly holds no fears.

“He will definitely go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup if all goes well on Sunday,” said Maloney.

“He’ll head to the Gold Cup for sure and look, in the RSA last year his jumping was faultless until the last fence and for whatever reason, he got over it but not very well.

“Had he jumped the last fence like he jumped the rest of them, Champ wouldn’t have got to him. Allaho was there after the last and fair play to Champ, but had he jumped it, he would not have been caught – no way.

“Fingers crossed he’s favourite for Sunday’s race and he’s in against the big boys. He fluffed his lines last time and he needs to deliver this time.”

Monalee setback likely to rule him out for the season

Monalee is likely to miss the rest of the season through injury, leaving A Plus Tard and Minella Indo as Henry de Bromhead’s two contenders for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Beaten less than two lengths into fourth place in last season’s blue riband, the 10-year-old was third to Presenting Percy on his reappearance at Tramore in November, setting himself up for a tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

However, travel restrictions ruled him out of the Boxing Day showpiece – and while he was given the alternative of taking on dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Tramore on New Year’s Day, a setback has put all plans on hold.

“We’re not quite sure how long he’ll be out for yet, but he’s unlikely to be back this season. We’re just waiting for more information, then we’ll see,” De Bromhead told Sky Sports Racing.

Monalee could miss the rest of the season through injury
Monalee could miss the rest of the season through injury (Niall Carson/PA)

“It’s very disappointing for that to happen, but hopefully we’ll get him back on track again.”

A Plus Tard leapt into the Gold Cup picture when producing a late burst to snatch victory in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

“That was a great day. He was really good and we were really delighted he did it so well in the end,” said De Bromhead.

“We’ve entered him for the Gold Cup and the Ryanair and I’d imagine we’d be leaning towards the Gold Cup at this stage, but obviously we’ll keep our options open and confirm nearer the time.”

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Minella Indo was favourite for the Savills Chase only to fall at the eighth fence. He will try to make amends in the Irish Gold Cup back at Leopardstown next month.

“He seems good now, so he’ll aim towards the Irish Gold Cup next and try to get him back with a clear round and get him going again,” said De Bromhead.

“He’s been good at home, not a bother on him.”

Notebook and Put The Kettle On were second and third respectively behind Chacun Pour Soi in the Grade One Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown.

Put The Kettle On is being aimed at the Queen Mother Champion Chase
Put The Kettle On is being aimed at the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Simon Cooper/PA)

De Bromhead reports the pair to be in good form and have the Queen Mother Champion Chase as their Cheltenham target, with Notebook heading first for the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown next month.

“I was delighted with them. They both ran really well. Notebook was great and Put The Kettle On was really good as well. Unfortunately, Chacun Pour Soi was better then them on the day” said the County Waterford trainer.

“I think Put The Kettle On is a lot better around Cheltenham. She loves that track so we’ll aim her for the Champion Chase.

“I’d say Notebook will go back for the Grade One two-mile chase at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival, then I imagine on to the Champion Chase after that.”

De Bromhead also has a wealth of talent in the hurdling division, headed by Aspire Tower and Honeysuckle.

Aspire Tower's next race is likely to be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Aspire Tower’s next race is likely to be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

Aspire Tower is set to go to straight to Cheltenham for the Unibet Champion Hurdle after finishing second to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.

“He’s matured physically and mentally this year,” said De Bromhead.

“It was a brilliant performance in the three-year-old hurdle last Christmas and then he fell at Leopardstown in February and he just didn’t show up in the Triumph Hurdle. We gave him a good break and he’s back.

“He’s only just five now, but he’s strengthened and matured. I was delighted with his first two runs. His jumping let him down a tiny bit at Leopardstown, the third-last and the second-last, but we’ll work on that and we are aiming towards the Champion Hurdle.

“He’s got real size and scope and is a real athlete and loves jumping hurdles. He’s just clicked.

“I’d day his next target would be the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. We might enter him for the Irish Champion Hurdle, but I think he could go straight to Cheltenham.”

De Bromhead is aiming Honeysuckle at the Irish Champion Hurdle – but would not be drawn as to whether she will run in Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle or go for the Mares’ Hurdle which she won in 2020.

“We’re aiming towards the Irish Champion Hurdle with her. That’s the plan,” he said.

“She seems in great form after the Hatton’s Grace and is really well in herself. She won it last year so we’ll give it another go.

“We’ll see how we go in February and make a decision (about which race at Cheltenham) after that. We have to make sure we get there and see who else is getting there as well. We’ll take it one race at a time.

“She was a timid filly when she first came. Now she’s a complete prima donna.”

De Bromhead hoping for speedy recovery for Monalee

Henry de Bromhead is unsure how long Monalee will spend on the sidelines following a recent setback.

Beaten less than two lengths into fourth place in last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, the nine-year-old finished third behind Presenting Percy and Kemboy on his reappearance at Tramore in November, setting him up for a tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

However, travel restrictions ruled him out of the Boxing Day showpiece – and while he was given the alternative of taking on dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Tramore, an injury has put all plans on hold.

Speaking after saddling a New Year’s Day winner at Tramore, De Bromhead said: “Monalee has unfortunately just had this setback.

“I’m not sure yet, but we’ll see how he is and hopefully we can get him back soon enough.”

Monalee is just one of three potential Gold Cup candidates for De Bromhead along with A Plus Tard and Minella Indo, who had contrasting fortunes in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on Monday.

Minella Indo was favourite for a vintage renewal of the Grade One contest, but fell at the eighth fence, while A Plus Tard proved his stamina for the three-mile distance by charging home to claim a narrow victory over Kemboy and Melon.

De Bromhead is considering the possibility of the pair renewing rivalry in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in early February.

He added: “Minella Indo is in good form and seems perfect since Leopardstown. He’ll be entered in the Irish Gold Cup now.

“A Plus Tard is great, he seems in good form. I’m delighted with him, obviously.

“I haven’t made any plans for him yet. He’ll stay in and around that trip now.

“That was a career-best performance and it was great to get it. The Irish Gold Cup is a possibility, but we’ll see – I haven’t discussed anything yet with his owners.”

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.

Minella Indo is one of 20 still in hunt for Savills glory

Minella Indo tops 20 possibles for next week’s Savills Chase, the feature event on the penultimate day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge has impressed with two comfortable victories so far this term, after having victory in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham snatched away in the shadow of the post by the flying finish of Champ.

Minella Indo heads the ante-post markets for next week’s three-mile contest, in which De Bromhead has also confirmed King George VI Chase possible Monalee – along with A Plus Tard, who could step back up in trip, and Balko Des Flos.

Gordon Elliott has a strong potential hand with his six-strong team currently including Presenting Percy, The Storyteller, Samcro and defending champion Delta Work.

Kemboy showed some of his old sparkle when second to Presenting Percy at Thurles on his return – and trainer Willie Mullins is another with multiple options, and has Allaho and Melon among his six entries.

Elliott has given The Storyteller an alternative over the smaller obstacles in the other Grade One on the card, the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, with Sire Du Berlais and Fury Road other eye-catching possibles for him.

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Mullins is well represented again, with last year’s fourth Barcardys in his trio, while Olly Murphy’s British raider Thomas Darby also features among 13 entries.

The final day of the fixture has two Grade One contests, with Mullins’ Saint Roi headlining eight contenders for the Matheson Hurdle.

Last year’s victor Sharjah and Grade One winner Saldier strengthen the Closutton trainer’s team – but Elliott’s Abacadabras is the main challenger, having edged out Saint Roi by a neck in the Morgiana last time.

A top-class field is in prospect for the Neville Hotels Novices Chase, with Mullins’ Monkfish bidding for Grade One honours after an impressive fencing bow.

He renews rivalry with Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition, whom he just beat in last term’s Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Elliott’s Pencilfulloflead is another name of note among 10 in contention.

Clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer reports the ground on the hurdles track for the final two days of the meeting to be on the softer side – but there is a possibility of watering on the chase course, with a dry forecast in prospect.

He said: “The wooden stick is only a guide, as much as a going description is only an opinion.

“What we can tell you is there is plenty of juice in the track right now.

“The chase track is good to yielding, the hurdle track for days one and two is mainly yielding, a little bit slower in places – yielding, yielding to soft in places.

“The hurdle track is on the inner lines for days three and four – and it’s more in the yielding to soft side, slower ground on the inside lines.”

That is not the case at present on parts of the chase track, however.

“There’s a bit of light rain this morning (Monday) and 10 millimetres in recent days,” Wyer added.

“The forecast in the immediate future is generally dry, a little showery, but generally dry.

“On that basis we are monitoring the situation regarding any watering on the chase track. If any watering is needed, it will be mainly from the winning post round to the three-mile start, just beyond the 10-furlong starting area.

“We’re considering options in that regard, but we’re happy where we are at this stage.”

Minella Indo takes next step on road to Cheltenham

Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Minella Indo is the star attraction in the BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase at Navan on Sunday.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge won twice at Grade One level over hurdles, including victory in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in 2019, and came close to doubling his tally at the showpiece meeting when mowed down late by Champ in last season’s RSA Chase.

Having made a foot-perfect start to the current campaign in a Grade Three contest at Wexford last month, Minella Indo is the 8-1 third-favourite for the Gold Cup in March, behind dual winner Al Boum Photo and last season’s runner-up Santini.

Those odds are likely to contract further if he can see off his three rivals in this weekend’s three-mile Grade Two.

“He’s in good form and hopefully he’ll run well,” said De Bromhead.

“It was lovely the way he did it in Wexford and hopefully this is another nice race for him. We’ll see how he gets on.”

Asked whether the Savills Chase at Leopardstown could be his next objective, the trainer added: “We’ll see how Sunday goes before we think about where we go afterwards.”

Minella Indo is sure to be a warm order, with Gordon Elliott’s Ravenhill, the Willie Mullins-trained Brahma Bull and Dream Conti from Noel Meade’s yard all looking to have their work cut out on ratings.

De Bromhead, jockey Rachael Blackmore and Minella Indo’s owner Barry Maloney are also represented in the Grade Three BetVictor Casino “Monksfield” Novice Hurdle, with Champagne Gold stepping up in class after impressing at Wexford four weeks ago.

De Bromhead said: “It’s a big step up for Champagne Gold. He won his maiden hurdle in Wexford and is a nice horse that works well.

“We’ll learn more about him.”

Champagne Gold’s six rivals include Elliott’s pair of Farouk D’alene and Fakiera. The Cullentra handler is bidding to win the race for a fourth time in the last five years following the recent victories of Death Duty (2016), Samcro (2017) and Fury Road (2019).

Lieutenant Command is another to consider for the bang-in-form Meade yard.