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Colreevy caps racing career with Punchestown glory

Colreevy ended her racing career in a blaze of glory after upsetting big guns Monkfish and Envoi Allen with a superb front-running victory in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.

A clash between the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish and Henry de Bromhead’s Envoi Allen was billed as one of the races of the season, with Monkfish protecting an unbeaten record over fences and Envoi Allen bidding to bounce back from his early fall at Cheltenham.

However, Monkfish’s stablemate Colreevy – winner of the inaugural Mares’ Chase in the Cotswolds last month – had other ideas under a well-judged ride from the trainer’s nephew, Danny Mullins.

The 7-1 shot raced enthusiastically and jumped with exuberance on the front end, with eventual runner-up Monkfish sat second under Paul Townend and Envoi Allen third in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

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However, Envoi Allen appeared to be in trouble some way from home before eventually being pulled up approaching the second-last fence, by which time Monkfish was also struggling to peg back the leader.

Colreevy was a little untidy at the final obstacle, but soon regathered her momentum and passed the post eight lengths clear.

The winner, who was recently covered by leading sire Walk In The Park, is now set for a well-earned retirement at the age of eight.

Willie Mullins said: “On ratings she was the best-rated (with the mares’ allowance). Obviously Envoi Allen is not right, and Monkfish probably didn’t run his true race, but she did and probably ran an even better race than she did in Cheltenham.

“It’s a nice send-off for Colreevy. It’s fabulous for the Flynns (owners) and for Danny as well.”

While Townend steered Colreevy to Cheltenham success, Danny Mullins did land a Grade One with her at Limerick earlier in the campaign.

He said: “She’s been a good mare to me this season. I’m delighted to repay the Flynns’ faith in me.

Colreevy and Danny Mullins after winning at Punchestown
Colreevy and Danny Mullins after winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

“It was a good performance. She was a little bit sticky early on, but once she warmed into it she proved that she’s a top-class mare.

“When I got away from a third-last and was able to turn to the second-last with a little bit of petrol, I thought I’d be hard to beat – but having said that, Monkfish and Envoi Allen were on my tail, so it was always going to be tough.

“She took a chance at the last, but she’s a lot of power underneath her and kept galloping strongly away from it.”

Envoi Allen seeking Punchestown redemption

Envoi Allen bids to put Cheltenham disappointment behind him when meeting Monkfish in a much-anticipated clash at Punchestown on Tuesday.

Already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner having won the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Envoi Allen was widely expected to complete the hat-trick on his return to the Cotswolds for the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month.

However, having barely put a foot wrong in three previous outings over fences, Envoi Allen fell at the fourth obstacle at Cheltenham on what his first start for trainer Henry de Bromhead after being moved from Gordon Elliott’s yard.

De Bromhead reports the seven-year-old in rude health ahead of his latest assignment in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, but is wary of the threat posed by the Willie Mullins-trained Monkfish – winner of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

He said: “I think we know him a bit better now. He seems much more settled, even schooling him the other morning. He seems really good and we’re happy with him.

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“Of course you have to respect Monkfish – he’s been impressive all year. Perhaps Cheltenham was his least impressive (performance), but prior to that he’s been unreal.

“It looks a brilliant race, you want these top horses taking each other on.

“We haven’t done anything different, he had some physio and he’s schooled well since, I think we’ve done all we can.”

Monkfish after winning at Cheltenham
Monkfish after winning at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Monkfish was more solid than spectacular in extending his unbeaten record over fences to four at Prestbury Park, but is nevertheless the marginal favourite over Envoi Allen.

Mullins also runs Colreevy – who on the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham – and Franco De Port.

“Monkfish didn’t jump with the same flair that he jumped (with previously) and he didn’t gallop with the same flair (at Cheltenham),” said the champion trainer.

“Colreevy has been covered by Walk In The Park and this will probably be her last run. The Flynns (owners) are out-and-out breeders and she is a fantastic looking mare and hopefully she’ll be lucky.

“From winning the Arkle at Christmas over two miles, I’m putting Franco De Port in over three miles and that will tell us where we are going next year.”

Mullins also possesses a strong hand in the first of three Grade Ones on the card, the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

With Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Appreciate It a notable absentee, the Closutton handler relies upon Blue Lord – who fell at the last when seemingly booked for second in the Supreme – and dual Grade Two-winning mare Echoes In Rain.

Mullins said: “Blue Lord was going to run a fantastic race at Cheltenham before he fell at the last. I think he will improve for the flatter track and the nicer ground we will have at Punchestown.

“Echoes In Rain is interesting. Her performance in Fairyhouse was very good and she is getting a nice fillies allowance, so we’ll see.”

Uhtred (Joseph O’Brien), Colonel Mustard (Lorna Fowler) and Dewcup (Ted Walsh) are the other hopefuls.

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.

Comeback kid Tiger rolls back years at age of 11

The Wednesday of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival was the scene of an emphatic comeback as Tiger Roll stormed to victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

The 11-year-old dual Grand National hero has been out of sorts since finishing second in the race last term, but announced himself right back to his best with an 18-length dismissal of his old foe Easysland.

The complexion of the feature Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase had altered minutes before it began when title-holder Politologue was a late withdrawal – and Henry de Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On went on to reverse this season’s form with Chacun Pour Soi and prevail by half a length.

Monkfish was regarded as unbeatable in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, but perhaps showed himself a little more fallible than previously thought as he put in a slightly patchy round of jumping before triumphing nonetheless by six and a half lengths – a more modest margin than many expected for the 1-4 favourite.

Heaven Help Us, based at the stable of greyhound trainer Paul Hennessy, was a 33-1 winner of the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle, while the concluding Weatherbys Champion Bumper was taken by the undefeated Sir Gerhard – making it a Grade One double for Rachael Blackmore after the earlier success of Bob Olinger.

Picture of the day

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Rachael Blackmore celebrates victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper aboard Sir Gerhard
Rachael Blackmore celebrates victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper aboard Sir Gerhard (Michael Steele/PA)

Quote of the day

“If I could bottle what she has I wouldn’t have to ride again, I’d sell it and be a rich man” – Aidan Coleman on Put The Kettle On after their victory in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Performance of the day

Tiger Roll and jockey Keith Donoghue clear a fence on the way to winning the Glenfarclas Chase
Tiger Roll and jockey Keith Donoghue clear a fence on the way to winning the Glenfarclas Chase (David Davies/PA)

Tiger Roll looked totally revitalised as he revisited some of his best form with an easy victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, becoming the only horse to take the race three times in the process. Sent to the front of the field from the beginning, he handled the loops of the cross-country track like the seasoned veteran he is and was left completely unchallenged as he turned the final bend and cruised up the hill. Unbelievably, that is now five Festival wins for the great horse.

Ride of the day

Nick Scholfield riding Sky Pirate (yellow) clears the last to win The Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase
Nick Scholfield and Sky Pirate (yellow) clear the last to win the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nick Scholfield, recently recovered from a complex leg break, picked a perfect path aboard Sky Pirate through a packed field in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Travelling sweetly before meeting the final bend, the eight-year-old was sent to lead after the last fence and had enough in reserve to battle up the hill and hold off the challenging Entoucas.

What’s next?

Paisley Park ahead of the 2020 Stayers' Hurdle
Paisley Park will be back to try to reclaim his Stayers’ Hurdle title (David Davies/PA)

The Thursday of the Festival is when the stamina stars come to the fore in the three-mile Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle. Paisley Park would be a fairytale winner if he were to recreate the performance that won him the race in 2019, but Denise Foster’s Sire Du Berlais poses a threat alongside 2020 champion Lisnagar Oscar. Elsewhere, the unbeaten Envoi Allen is the headline act of the Marsh Novices’ Chase – with the Ryanair Chase also promising a real contest as the Willie Mullins trio of Min, Melon and Allaho do battle.

Monkfish stays unbeaten over fences in Brown Advisory

Monkfish maintained his unbeaten record over fences with a comprehensive success in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

A narrow winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival, the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut was the 1-4 favourite to strike gold in the Cotswolds for a second time, having been faultless in three previous chase starts.

It was not entirely plain sailing for odds-on backers, with The Big Breakaway more than matching Monkfish in the jumping department for much of the three-mile contest, before Paul Townend’s mount displayed his superior class to move clear before the home turn.

The presence of the riderless Eklat De Rire, who unseated Rachael Blackmore earlier in the race, will have had Monkfish’s supporters sweating in the home straight, as would a mistake at the final fence.

But it ultimately made no difference to the result, with the giant seven-year-old galloping up the hill to score by six and a half lengths from Fiddlerontheroof.

Mullins said: “I think that is the most nerve-wracking race I’ve ever watched – 1-4 in a three-mile novice chase around Cheltenham is not good for the ticker, especially with the way he jumped the last.

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“Chatting to Paul he said he was idling on the first circuit, watching the jeep on the inside, the men at the fences – anything bar concentrating on his jumping. When he started racing alongside the other one (The Big Breakaway) things started getting better.

“Then he had to put up with the loose horse, but at least it stayed straight. It was very nerve-wracking for me.

“It’s testament to him that having jumped the last the way he did he was still able to quicken away from the others, I thought that was impressive once I’d got over my fright.”

There was nearly drama at the last
There was nearly drama at the last (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He added: “The first time he ran for me I thought he was a slow, staying hurdler so I’m amazed at the improvement he’s shown. He’s learning, he was very green coming from the point-to-point field. His performance here last year was fantastic and he’s franked it today.

“I imagine the Gold Cup will be his aim. I think he just lacked concentration today due to lack of runners – Paul said he must have thought he was only schooling today, not racing.

“In a race like the Gold Cup there should be no worries about that.”

Colin Tizzard was understandably proud of the effort of his pair.

He said: “It was a lovely race to watch and they’ve just run into a very good horse, haven’t they?

“Fiddlerontheroof ran the race of his life and The Big Breakaway is only six, so he’s a year younger than the first two, which is quite a difference I think.

“We don’t tend to turn them out yet, so if they are in form and fit and well we’ll be doing Aintree then taking a team to Punchestown as well. We’ve had enough lean days this season haven’t we?”

he’s given a Gold Cup horse a run for ithe’s given a Gold Cup horse a run for it

Robbie Power was aboard Fiddlerontheroof and said: “That was a fabulous run. He’s been running really well all season and not getting any credit for it. He’s bumped into some good horses and probably got beaten on days when he wasn’t 100 per cent right, but he was right today and he’s given a Gold Cup horse a run for it.

“He strikes me as though Aintree for the Grade One race will suit and then maybe something like the Ladbrokes Trophy would be ideal for him next season. Monkfish could be a Gold Cup horse and I didn’t think he was at his best today as he didn’t jump as he can.”

Cheltenham Festival day two – All eyes on Chacun and Monkfish

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival is headlined by the Queen Mother Champion Chase – the pinnacle of the season for the sport’s most highly-regarded two-mile chasers.

Sadly, Altior is absent for the second year running, meaning this year’s renewal of the Betway-sponsored feature really does centre around the seemingly unstoppable Chacun Pour Soi. It is not a one-horse race, though, and last year’s winner Politologue will have his say – as will Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, one of the few horses to have beaten Altior when impressing at Kempton over Christmas.

Willie Mullins and Chacun Pour Soi’s owner Rich Ricci team up again with the mighty Monkfish, who has defeated all-comers since winning the Albert Bartlett last season and is all the rage for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Wednesday is also the home of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, where Tiger Roll will line up for what could be his final race and the French raider Easysland will bid for a second successive triumph over the unique course.

The afternoon’s action is rounded off by the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a race that provides a glimpse into the future as the next generation of National Hunt performers compete on the level for Grade One honours.

Bob Olinger another for dream team?

Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours
Bob Olinger is a strong contender for Ballymore honours (PA)
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Bob Olinger tops the line-up for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with the six-year-old bringing Grade One form to the table after winning the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle on his last appearance. Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore, he will have an army of supporters. His chief rival is the Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was also a Grade One winner last time out when triumphing at Leopardstown. Bravemansgame flies the flag for Paul Nicholls and heads to Prestbury Park off the back of an impressive 10-length Challow Novices’ Hurdle victory.

Monkfish riding the crest of a wave

Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far
Monkfish has been imperious over fences so far (PA)

Monkish takes centre stage in the the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase after a hugely impressive performance when winning the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The victory was the chestnut’s sixth consecutive win and his suitability for the Cheltenham track was proven when he triumphed in the Albert Bartlett last year. He has scared off most of the opposition and the race looks his to lose.

Champion Pour Soi?

Paul Townend and Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown

The Ricci silks will be worn by the favourite again when the runners face the starter in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. This time it will be Chacun Pour Soi who carries his owner’s hopes as he bids to follow up his success in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown – his fourth Grade One win over fences. Politilogue is defending his crown, while First Flow – who beat him at Ascot – would be a hugely popular winner for trainer Kim Bailey and jockey David Bass.

Will the Tiger stop rolling?

Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year
Easysland on his way to an impressive victory in the Glenfarclas Chase last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Easysland travels from David Cottin’s French stable to attempt to retain his cross-country crown, a trophy he took from two-time winner Tiger Roll when prevailing by 17 lengths last year. Tiger Roll is also back, and his performance is likely to determine whether this is his last race. Hopefully that will not be the case, as this titan of the jumping scene deserves to bow in front of packed grandstands, not empty ones.

Mullins’ mighty bumper duo

Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory
Kilcruit is favourite to give Willie Mullins another Champion Bumper victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins is synonymous with the Champion Bumper and has two major chances in Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, the latter being a new addition to the yard after leaving the stable of Gordon Elliott. He is unbeaten and represents Cheveley Park Stud, who have won the last two runnings, most recently with the Mullins-trained Ferny Hollow. For his part, Kilcruit was completely dominant when winning the Grade Two bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival by 12 lengths.

Monkfish chasing second Festival gold for Mullins team

When Willie Mullins said last year that Monkfish could be a Gold Cup horse one day, it definitely got people’s attention.

He was speaking after his chestnut had won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and 12 months on Monkfish is back at Cheltenham, this time over fences and with his reputation further heightened after three faultless efforts over the bigger obstacles.

Next year it could be for the Gold Cup itself, but for now it is the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, where anything other than victory will be a huge disappointment against five rivals.

“It’s been so far so good with Monkfish, and I’m just hoping he can come back and do the same at Cheltenham,” Mullins said of Rich Ricci’s seven-year-old.

“He had a gruelling race there last year and I just hope he doesn’t remember that. Sometimes horses can, but he’s done everything right this season and done it well within his scope. He’s one that I’m really looking forward to at Cheltenham.

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“I didn’t see him the first few mornings (schooling) like I did some of the other others over the years like Footpad and what have you, but anyone who rides him always says it (he’s a natural).

“You have so much ‘bonnet’ out in front of you, as Ruby (Walsh) describes it – he must be beautiful for a jockey to ride.”

Sporting John looked a smart prospect for chasing, and while beaten at odds-on first time out, he came good in very testing ground to claim Grade One honours in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.

That performance suggested stamina is his strong suit, a view shared by big-race jockey Richard Johnson.

Sporting John got the better of Shan Blue at Sandown
Sporting John got the better of Shan Blue at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He said of the Philip Hobbs-trained six-year-old: “He’s obviously a very good horse and I was impressed with him at Sandown. I schooled him at Exeter 10 days or so ago and again at Philip’s, he’s in very good form.

“He showed at Sandown he’s very good and hopefully there’s more to come after just two runs over fences. He’s lightly raced and hopefully still improving. The way he finished his race off at Sandown, you’d be surprised if he didn’t stay three miles well.”

Sporting John’s conqueror first time out was Fiddleronetheroof, who is one of two representatives for the Colin Tizzard team along with The Big Breakaway.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said of the latter: “He hasn’t done an awful lot wrong and has won a chase around Cheltenham, finished second in a Grade One over fences and is a horse that is maturing over time. I am sure his time will come and he is going to win or be competitive in these big races.”

He added of Fiddlerontheroof: “He has been second four times on the bounce in great company and stepping him up to three miles last time showed us he certainly stays. He ran in three point to points, won his bumper and is a horse we think will be better the further he goes. He has some high-class form.

“I don’t think he or The Big Breakaway are particularly ground dependent.”

The Big Breakaway is a part of a two-pronged attack from Colin Tizzard
The Big Breakaway is a part of a two-pronged attack from Colin Tizzard (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore team up with Eklat De Rire, who is unbeaten in two starts over fences, most recently in a Grade Three at Naas.

De Bromhead said: “He’s two from two so far and is lovely. He’s done nothing wrong this year, and he won his Grade Three the other day very impressively.

“He jumps his fences really well, touch wood, and we’ll find out how good he is there and see if we can give Monkfish a race. (Monkfish) has obviously been super impressive, but our lad has been very good as well, so we’ll see on the day.”

The line-up is completed by Dickie Diver, from Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard.

Monkfish faces five in Brown Advisory

Monkfish faces just five rivals as he bids to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old has looked a cut above the opposition in winning all his three starts over fences.

He has won his last six races in all, including the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in 2020.

Henry de Bromhead’s Eklat De Rire, winner of a Naas Grade Three, is the only fellow Irish-trained horse in the line-up on Wednesday.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Sporting John, who bounced back to form in the Scilly Novices’ Chase at Sandown, heads the home brigade. Colin Tizzard’s pair of Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway and Nicky Henderson’s Dickie Diver make up the sextet.

Bob Olinger, from the de Bromhead stable, tops another small but select field of seven for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

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He is ante-post favourite on the back of a comfortable victory in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.

The Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil is his main market rival after his Grade One success at Leopardstown.

Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame is the leading British hope for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame is the leading British hope for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame looks the pick of the UK team, having won the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.

Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll will try to win the Glenfarclas Chase for a third time, with 14 horses declared for the cross-country test.

Successful in 2018 and 2019, Tiger Roll was brushed aside by Easysland 12 months ago.

David Cottin’s French raider takes on the Denise Foster-trained 11-year-old as both horses try to revive seasons which have got none smoothly to this point.

Easysland leaves Tiger Roll in his wake in the Glenfarclas Chase last year
Easysland leaves Tiger Roll in his wake in the Glenfarclas Chase last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

Christian Williams’ Potters Corner, winner of the Midlands and Welsh Nationals, is an intriguing contender – while Michael Scudamore’s Kingswell Theatre and John McConnell’s course-and-distance winner Some Neck add to the interest.

Mullins has the two market leaders, in Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard, after 15 were declared for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

The Closutton handler is responsible for five of the runners in all – with Cool Jet, Ramillies and Grangee also in the line-up as he seeks to win this race for an 11th time.

The Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Entoucas and Embittered are near the head of the betting in a typically competitive renewal of the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup.

Joseph O’Brien has a strong team for the Grand Annual Challenge Cup
Joseph O’Brien has a strong team for the Grand Annual Challenge Cup (PA)

Duc De Genievres heads the weights after a maximum field of 20 was declared for the two-mile handicap chase.

Olly Murphy’s Thomas Darby must give weight all-round in the Coral Cup to another maximum field – of 26, for the handicap hurdle over two miles five furlongs.

Nicky Henderson has won the race a record four times and this time has a team of four – Janika, Monte Cristo, Birchdale and Craigneiche.

Tizzards hoping Breakaway has big chance against Monkfish

Joe Tizzard is confident The Big Breakaway has the potential to beat the best at this year’s Cheltenham Festival – and many more to come.

Assistant trainer Tizzard admits he may be biased because it was he who first spotted the strapping chestnut at the Goffs Punchestown sales almost two years ago, and helped to persuade a consortium of owners to buy him.

The Big Breakaway has already repaid some of the £360,000 purchase price, with three victories in his five starts for Joe and his father Colin’s Dorset yard.

But Tizzard hopes those successes are merely early staging posts to Festival glories – whether in this month’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, against mighty Irish favourite Monkfish, or in future years.

The Big Breakaway goes through his paces
The Big Breakaway goes through his paces (David Davies/PA)

“He’s a massively talented horse who’s going to win or be competitive in these big events,” said Tizzard, who senses The Big Breakaway may have learned enough in his near four-length defeat as a Grade One runner-up at Kempton on Boxing Day to put his experience into telling practice at Cheltenham.

“When we went to the Kauto Star (Novices’ Chase), we had to drop him in and go back to basics,” he added.

“Dan’s horse (Shan Blue for the Skelton yard) jumped and galloped and got a march on him, and his jumping got found out over the last four or five fences.

“But I also think that Kempton run was what we were looking to do – and we hope that was the making of the horse. He learned more there, and this time we can ride him without making the running, third or fourth, and Cheltenham will suit him better anyway.

“The initial reaction from Kempton was Robbie (Power) came in and was delighted with the horse and said ‘that is what we needed last time’.”

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The “last time” was when The Big Breakaway, already successful on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in November, had dropped back in trip to under two and a half miles at Exeter and suffered a chastening defeat as a long odds-on favourite.

After Kempton, the hope was for more “match practice” at either Wetherby or Ascot – but first the weather intervened, and then time narrowly ran out.

“We were declared to go up to Wetherby for the Towton and we lost that (to waterlogging),” Tizzard added.

“Then we had him in the Reynoldstown and we very nearly did it – but we were just mindful that he knew he’d had a race at Kempton, so we didn’t want to run (again) three weeks before the Festival and give him too hard a race.

“It was literally down to the wire whether we ran in the Reynoldstown, and we decided just to save a bit of petrol for Cheltenham.

“Will that backfire? Who knows? We’ve done plenty of schooling with him at home – but you can’t beat match practice.

“We hope the Kempton run just taught him more than he perhaps ever learned throughout his career.

“He’s not the finished article yet, so Kempton just tucked him up a little bit and made him a bit light. So we were just wary we didn’t want to do that three weeks before the Festival.”

Tizzard has no doubts about the six-year-old’s ability, long term.

“I don’t think he’s done an awful lot wrong,” he added.

“In the back of our minds, we were quite keen to get some race experience into him. We felt like we wanted to get to Cheltenham with three or four runs under our belts.

“Then next year, we’ll have the experience – because he’s going to be in the big league next year, whatever happens.

“So we went to Exeter, and it backfired. He was left to make all his own running, and he completely dossed along and got outsprinted from the last.

“(But) he’s already won a chase round Cheltenham; he’s been second in a Grade One over fences. He’s a horse who’s maturing all the time, and I’m sure his time will come.”

Colin Tizzard with Lostintranslation (left), Native River (centre) and The Big Breakaway
Colin Tizzard with Lostintranslation (left), Native River (centre) and The Big Breakaway (David Davies/PA)

When it does, there will be extra satisfaction for the man who first picked him out to recruit.

“We arrived at Punchestown, and fell in love with the horse straight away – but didn’t think for a second we’d be in a position to buy it,” said Tizzard.

“But myself and John Romans – a big supporter of the yard and good mate of mine – had 15 pints of Guinness, and managed to pick up the courage to do the deal!

“Well, not strictly like that, but we managed to get three of them together and got the horse bought.

“There’s no pressure on me. The horse has already proven he’s got ability. (But) it’s just nice, when I help persuade owners to spend a lot of money, that they get their rewards.

“I’d be absolutely delighted for them. They’re already chuffed to bits – this horse has got a big future, he’s only young, and he will have his day at some stage.”

Monkfish will be a formidable Cheltenham opponent
Monkfish will be a formidable Cheltenham opponent (PA)

The Big Breakaway will be joined by stablemate Fiddlerontheroof, a Grade One-winning hurdler and successful chaser too, in the three-mile novice championship.

Although very respectful of the opposition, Tizzard is optimistic about his yard’s twin challenge.

He said: “Monkfish has looked amazingly impressive, hasn’t he? But we’re at Cheltenham, so it’s not expected to be easy.

“I’m a bit biased, because I bought The Big Breakaway – but I think he’s a hugely talented horse.

“I know he’s in a competitive division. But we think an awful lot of him, and I’d be wary of (anyone) writing him off too soon.”

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

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On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkfish far too good for Flogas rivals

Monkfish put up arguably the most impressive performance of his career to date in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

Last season’s Albert Barlett winner is now three out of three over fences and Paul Nolan must be cursing his luck with Latest Exhibition, who chased him home once again.

There was little between the pair over hurdles at Cheltenham and Latest Exhibition gave Monkfish plenty to think about when they met at Christmas.

However, Willie Mullins’ Monkfish extended his superiority over a clearly very good rival to 11 lengths this time.

Paul Townend was allowed to dictate his own pace at the head of affairs and as has been the case in his chasing career to date, Monkfish’s jumping, especially for a novice, was immaculate.

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Latest Exhibition briefly threatened after clearing the second last, but Townend only had to shake the reins and 1-2 favourite Monkfish shot clear.

The winner is now 11-10 from 7-4 with Betfair for the Festival Novices’ Chase, formerly known as the RSA, at Cheltenham.

“The horses are just in fantastic form. What can you say after a performance like that? Paul thought he should be in the next race (Irish Gold Cup),” said Mullins.

“Today I was more impressed than any day. It looks like he might be getting better with each run, it was the ease with which he did it.

“Everything is just so effortless. He just goes down, jumps, gallops. He seems to always be in the right position, he has huge scope – no matter where he is he gets his shoulders off the ground and bends his back.

“Paul never looked worried, he looked like he was a lead horse for the others, turning for home.

“It’s as easy watching him as any horse, he just does everything so easily.

Monkfish clears the last in fine style
Monkfish clears the last in fine style (Niall Carson/PA)

“I presume that (Festival Novices’ Chase) is next, but we’ll enjoy today.”

Townend said: “All I had to do was sit there and steer him to be honest. He locked eyes on every fence and took them on, the loose horse took me on and set him alight a little bit, but I wasn’t worried because he is just a very good horse.

“The feel he gives me, he isn’t a plodder and has a little bit of class.”

Monkfish bids for third-round knockout against Latest Exhibition

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.

Asterion Forlonge has questions to answer in the jumping department
Asterion Forlonge has questions to answer in the jumping department (Niall Carson/PA)

“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.

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“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.”

Latest Exhibition will clash again with Monkfish
Latest Exhibition will clash again with Monkfish (PA)

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.

Paul Townend and Appreciate It in full flight
Paul Townend and Appreciate It in full flight (PA)

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.

Quilixios is a smart prospect in the Cheveley Park Stud colours
Quilixios is a smart prospect in the Cheveley Park Stud colours (Niall Carson/PA)

“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.”

Big names headline novice chase entries at Cheltenham

Shishkin, Envoi Allen and Monkfish headline the entries for the novice chase events at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin was victorious in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2020 Festival and has made a seamless transition to fences this term, winning each of his two starts.

He hacked up in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton over Christmas and leads the way as 34 horses have been entered for the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase on the first day of the showpiece meeting.

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Henderson has also given Allart and Fusil Raffles the option, while leading Irish-trained contenders include Energumene, who has impressed in both his outings over fences and is one of six contenders for Willie Mullins along with Grade One scorer Franco de Port, Unexcepted and Klassical Dream, winner of the 2019 Supreme.

The unbeaten Envoi Allen is entered in the Arkle, but he is the hot favourite for the Marsh Novices’ Chase as he seeks a third Festival win.

Envoi Allen leads the way in the Marsh Novices' Chase
Envoi Allen leads the way in the Marsh Novices’ Chase (PA)

Gordon Elliott’s charge landed the 2019 Champion Bumper before adding last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and has his three chases in style.

Energumene and Allart are also doubly entered while the race is one of five Cheltenham options for Chatham Street Lad, who already has a big Cheltenham success on his CV this season having swept aside seasoned opposition to take the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup for Mick Winters in December.

Dan Skelton’s Grade One winner Shan Blue and French entry Saint Turgeon, who is trained by Davide Satalia, also feature among 47 contenders.

Monkfish has so far cut an imposing figure over fences
Monkfish has so far cut an imposing figure over fences (PA)

Monkfish won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last term and tops 53 entries for the Festival Novices’ Chase, the extended three-mile event previously known as the RSA.

Mullins’ runner was a Grade One winner at Leopardstown last month and is one of four for his trainer, with fellow top-level winner Colreevy also in the mix.

The Paul Nolan-trained Latest Exhibition was beaten by Monkfish at last year’s Festival and at Leopardstown, but he could have another pop at his old adversary, with Paul Nicholls’ Next Destination and The Big Breakaway from Colin Tizzard’s yard the leading home-trained hopes at this stage.

Monkfish just too strong for Latest Exhibition again

Monkfish again outdid his old rival Latest Exhibition in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

There was very little between the pair when Monkfish just prevailed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and they dominated the finish in this Grade One too.

Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition arrived on the back of a slightly disappointing defeat in Grade Two company last time out, having won on his chasing debut, but he did have the benefit of one extra run over fences.

Monkfish took over the running just after halfway for Paul Townend – and just as he had on his chasing bow, jumped with aplomb.

However, while at one stage it looked like he may just pull further clear, Bryan Cooper moved Latest Exhibition up alongside him on the run to the second last.

There was nothing between them as they raced at full pelt around the final bend and approached the last fence – and both met it on a decent stride.

After the last Monkfish (1-2 favourite) just had a bit more speed, though, and Willie Mullins’ giant pulled three lengths clear as the champion trainer registered yet another notable Christmas success.

The winner was trimmed to 15-8 from 11-4 for the three-mile Grade One at Cheltenham in March.

“It was a very good performance from a horse having his second run over fences, to take on more experienced rivals at a Grade One track. I was very pleased with that,” said Mullins.

“It didn’t seem to be a problem – even when he was meeting one wrong, he shortened himself. He seems to be a natural over fences.

“There was a lot of pressure on him going to the last, with Latest Exhibition -who has a bit more experience than him. He pulled himself together, fought his way over it, and he just had a little bit in reserve.

“I’d imagine we’ll look at the Flogas Chase. We’ll focus on that first – and if all goes well we can look at Cheltenham after that.”