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Beacon edges Boyne Hurdle as Tiger Roll trails home

Dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll remains on course for the Cheltenham Festival despite finishing a tailed-off last of six runners behind Beacon Edge in the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

A surprise winner of this Grade Two contest two years ago before going on to seal his second success at Aintree a couple of months later, Tiger Roll returned to Navan on a recovery mission following a disappointing start to his season around Cheltenham’s cross-country course.

However, while the 11-year-old travelled strongly for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey under Keith Donoghue, he weakened out of contention early in the home straight and finished some 48 lengths behind the fifth placed Decor Irlandais.

Tiger Roll in action at Navan on Sunday
Tiger Roll in action at Navan on Sunday (Niall Carson/PA)

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Trainer Gordon Elliott was not too disappointed as he felt conditions were against his runner, who is now set to head for the Glenfarclas Chase at the Festival next month.

Elliott said: “Keith said he travelled well to the third last, in horrible ground, and just got tired.

“It’s still all systems go for Cheltenham. Keith said he was happy with him, but he just got tired in the ground. He’ll be OK.

“Of course you want him to run better, but he hated that ground.”

At the business end of proceedings, it was the other two Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners who fought out the finish.

Tiger Roll’s stablemate Fury Road was the 11-8 favourite in the hands of Jack Kennedy and cut out much of the running before being joined by the Noel Meade-trained Beacon Edge (15-8) and Sean Flanagan after the final obstacle.

No quarter was given by either horse or jockey after the final flight, but it was Beacon Edge who pushed ahead where it mattered to prevail by a neck.

Meade said of the winner: “He had a colic at Christmas and he spent nearly a week in Kildare. Even though we thought he was at the time, he just wasn’t himself on his last run at Naas.

“He’s a fair horse. I wondered about him getting the trip, but he stays.

“Michael (O’Leary, owner) had it in his head that he’d go to Liverpool (Aintree) for the two-and-a-half-mile race (Aintree Hurdle), but he is in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. We have Diol Ker for that as well and we’ll see what turns up in it.”

Coko Beach delivers again in Ten Up contest

Thyestes Chase hero Coko Beach followed up in the Ladbrokes Watch Racing Online For Free Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan.

Three and a half weeks on from his lucrative handicap success at Gowran Park, Gordon Elliott’s grey was the 5-4 favourite at Grade Two level in the hands of Jack Kennedy.

It was not entirely straightforward for the market leader though, with Espanito Bello looking a major threat halfway up the home straight.

However, just when he appeared to be getting the better of the argument, Espanito Bello stumbled on landing after jumping the final fence – handing the initiative back to Coko Beach, who went on to score by four lengths.

“Jack said he’s better in a big field, with horses around him, where something can keep him travelling,” said Elliott.

“I was standing out on the track and I wasn’t sure whether he would have won or not. Jack said he thought he would have.

“He said he needed the jump to win it and he got it.”

Coko Beach holds several entries at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, but Elliott added: “I’d imagine we’ll keep him at home and he might go for the Irish Grand National.”

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Hugh Morgan and Young Dev on the way to an amazing victory
Hugh Morgan and Young Dev on the way to an amazing victory (Niall Carson/PA)

Hugh Morgan produced one of the most sensational riding performances of the season to steer the Denis Hogan-trained Young Dev to victory in the Racing Again March 6th Handicap Chase.

The 17-2 chance appeared to have lost all chance after jumping the very first fence, with a tack problem leaving the conditional jockey to ride the remainder of the three-mile journey without irons.

Just to successfully complete the course would have been a tremendous feat, but miraculously, Morgan managed to get his mount into contention and drove him out on the run-in to secure the most remarkable of wins by three-quarters of a length from Se Mo Laoch.

Explaining what had happened, Morgan said: “My right stirrup broke after the first and I kicked it out. I’m grand at the minute, but I’d say I’ll be sore in the morning!

“The horse had run plenty of times, so I said I might as well keep going. It took a bit of getting used to going down to the fences without them (irons) and I just left him to sort himself out and gave him a squeeze.

“It was great – it was something new anyway! It’s my first ride for Denis, so it’s very important to get a win.”

Elliott and Kennedy doubled up for the day with Frontal Assault (4-1) in the Grade Three Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle – a late addition to the meeting after being saved and rescheduled following the abandonment of racing at Clonmel on Thursday.

Frontal Assault (left) jumps the final flight at Navan
Frontal Assault (left) jumps the final flight at Navan (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott said: “He was way too keen with the blinkers in Leopardstown.

“He’ll be a grand, big staying chaser. He really stayed well there.

“He’ll get an entry in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham and we’ll see what happens. The likes of Punchestown might not be ideal for him if the ground gets too quick.”

The Cullentra handler went on to complete a four-timer, with Fierami springing a 25-1 surprise in the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Handicap Hurdle under Jordan Gainford, and 470,000 euros purchase Ginto and Jamie Codd justifying 5-6 favouritism in the bumper.

Atlantic Fairy secured Listed honours for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore in the Apple’s Jade Mares Novice Hurdle – getting the better of fellow 11-4 joint-favourite Global Equity by a length and three-quarters.

“I’m delighted with that and she’s a lovely mare,” said de Bromhead.

“She got hurt last year and we had to leave her off, but she’s come back really well and is doing it all well.

“I think she’ll improve for the run as she hasn’t run since Christmas.

“She’s entered at Cheltenham, but we’ll see as there is also the mares’ novice hurdle at Fairyhouse, which is only a couple of weeks after. That might be the more sensible route for her.”

Tiger Roll faces seven rivals in Boyne Hurdle

Dual Grand National victor Tiger Roll will tread a familiar path as he faces seven rivals in the Ladbrokes Ireland Boyne Hurdle at Navan.

The 11-year-old won Sunday’s two-mile-five-furlong contest in 2019 before going on to Cheltenham Festival glory and then a second Aintree title.

Gordon Elliott also let his staying star tackle the Grade Two heat on his belated return last term, but he could finish only fifth to stablemate Cracking Smart – and was then soundly beaten in the Glenfarclas Chase at Cheltenham.

Tiger Roll has failed to shine in two starts this term, initially in a maiden on the Flat at this course, but he takes in this event on the way to another Festival challenge and possibly a third Aintree outing.

Tiger Roll with Gordon Elliott (left), and owner Michael O’Leary after his 2019 National win
Tiger Roll with Gordon Elliott (left), and owner Michael O’Leary after his 2019 National win (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott told his Betfair blog: “There’s nothing more that can be said about Tiger Roll. He’s an absolute legend, and it’s just very exciting to be back here again at this time of year with him as we look towards Cheltenham and Aintree.

“I know he was disappointing when he was last seen in action at Cheltenham in November, but I’m hoping we will see a different Tiger Roll here.

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“He’s been in very good form at home and looks to retain all his interest and enthusiasm, and he’s giving me all the right signs, so hopefully we will see it from him on the track for the first time this season.

“Obviously the focus for most people is not today but rather the future, and I understand completely, but we’ll just get this race out of the way first. He won’t be mad about the soft ground, but he’s run well on it before – and I’m just hoping that he produces a performance which shows me that the old spark is still there.”

Fury Road failed to sparkle at Christmas
Fury Road failed to sparkle at Christmas (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott also saddles fellow Gigginstown House Stud-owned runner Fury Road, who is on a retrieval mission after suffering defeat when favourite for the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last time.

Elliott added: “I don’t think we saw the best of Fury Road at Christmas when he was fourth to Flooring Porter, and I’m still to be convinced he is an out-and-out three-miler, and this sort of trip might turn out to be his optimum.

“Leopardstown aside, he has done very little wrong since he went hurdling last season, and his Albert Bartlett third last March is an especially strong piece of form.

“His Grade Two penalty won’t make life easy here, but he’s in great shape and comes here off a light season, and I’d like to think that he could take beating.”

Decor Irlandais is in opposition to Tiger Roll
Decor Irlandais is in opposition to Tiger Roll (Steven Paston/PA)

Gigginstown also has Noel Meade’s pair of Sixshooter and Beacon Edge in the line-up.

Decor Irlandais, Darasso, French Dynamite and Scarpeta complete the field.

Elliott’s Thyestes Chase hero Coko Beach is the star name in the opening Ladbrokes Watch Racing Online For Free Ten Up Novice Chase.

The Grade Two heat has drawn five contenders – including Espanito Bello, who was beaten 18 lengths by Coko Beach on his latest start – and Elliott thinks his runner will take some beating.

He added: “He gave us a great day in Gowran last month when he won the Thyestes. He looked to really enjoy himself on both the testing ground and on his first try over that trip as a chaser.

“He is now switching from a handicap into a Graded race, but the performance he produced at Gowran and the way he won one of the big staying handicaps of the season would suggest a race like this could also fall his way. I think he will take beating.”

Last-time-out winners Minella Escape and Brazos feature among six declared for the Grade Three Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle, which has been rescheduled from Thursday’s abandoned meeting at Clonmel.

Damalisque enters Leopardstown reckoning with Navan victory

Damalisque could make a swift reappearance at next weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival after leading home a one-two-three for leading owner JP McManus in the featured Navan Handicap Hurdle on Friday.

A field of 20 runners went to post for the 40,000 euros contest, the main event on a card which was saved and rescheduled after being abandoned due to frost last Saturday.

Having been narrowly beaten when favourite for the similarly competitive Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle at Naas on his latest appearance, the Eddie Harty-trained Damalisque was well fancied to go one better in the hands of Mark Walsh.

Supporters of the 5-1 chance would have been thrilled to see him travelling strongly all the way up the home straight and he never looked in serious danger of being caught after hitting the front – passing the post with seven and a half lengths in hand over Mon Lino.

Harty, who saddled the McManus-owned Kilfenora to win the race last season, said of his latest victor: “He was possibly a bit unlucky in the Brown Lad, where he ran a huge race, and it’s nice to repay the faith by winning the race again for JP.

“He’s entered next week at Leopardstown (William Fry Handicap Hurdle) and he might sneak in now with a penalty for this.

“He’s won well there over two and a half miles and I don’t see why he wouldn’t get three miles at Leopardstown. We’ll see how he comes out of this before making a final decision.

“He’s a nice horse and has had his problems through the years, but he’s come good now.”

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Damalisque’s triumph was the highlight of a four-timer for McManus and Walsh, with the pair also striking gold with Thedevilscoachman, Gars De Sceaux and Sir Bob.

Dual winner Thedevilscoachman (3-1) was dropping in class for the Dunmoe Rated Novice Hurdle, having finished fifth behind star novice Appreciate It in a Grade One at Leopardstown last month, and made the most of the opportunity to with a decisive three-length verdict.

“I was a bit disappointed with him at Leopardstown, but Mark said he was very green,” said Meade.

“I don’t know where we will go next or what we will do, but he’s a nice horse.

“He’s very laidback. He’s only just lobbing along until you want him and then he picks up.”

Odds-on backers were made to sweat before collecting their winnings after division two of the Graigs Lane Maiden Hurdle, with Fair Frontieres making Gordon Elliott’s 8-15 favourite Gars De Sceaux pull out all the stops.

“Mark said he’s a grand horse. He missed the last two hurdles and landed on all fours,” said Elliott.

“He’s a big, raw horse and one for next year. I’d say he won’t be a horse until he jumps a fence.”

An excellent day for the McManus-Walsh combination was completed by Robert Tyner’s Sir Bob (14-1) in the Ardmulchan Handicap Hurdle.

Elliott was less happy after division one of the maiden hurdle, with his 10-11 shot Folcano controversially beaten a nose by John Joseph Murphy’s Brazos (11-2).

The stewards called an inquiry shortly after the pair had passed the line after it became clear the winner had drifted right after the final flight – but to the surprise of many, the placings remained unaltered.

Elliott added: “I thought he (Folcano) should have got it. It’s disappointing for the owners. I’ll have to discuss it (an appeal) with them, but we’ll probably take it on the chin.

“The consistency of these stewards inquiries is barbaric. I don’t know what you have to do to get a race.”

The Cullentra handler went on to land the bumper with the impressive newcomer Three Stripe Life (4-5 favourite), ridden by Jamie Codd.

Elliott said: “We think a good bit of him and he’s done everything right at home.

“He could be a Cheltenham bumper horse – I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

Mr Hendricks (10-1) could be targeted at the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter after landing the Wilkinstown Beginners Chase for Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power.

Harrington said: “He was very good. He’s been crying out for three miles and he has to go left-handed.

“He’s an enormous horse – over 17 hands. He jumped well and Robert is delighted with him.

“A long time ago I said the Midlands National could be a race for him, so he could easily end up there.

“I have a good record in the race with novices. Miss Orchestra (1998) and Intelligent (2003) won it and Badgerlaw was second.”

Haydock goes ahead

Haydock’s Peter Marsh meeting will go ahead after the course passed an early-morning inspection.

Saturday’s seven-race card was subject to a scheduled 8am check because of the threat of frost, having already survived the ravages of the midweek Storm Christoph.

However, the inspection was brought forward to 7am, and a Tweet from Haydock’s official account confirmed shortly after 7.15am that the course was fit for racing.

Taunton’s eight-race card was given the go-ahead before a scheduled 8am inspection there too, as overnight conditions relented sufficiently.

Haydock will stage four Grade Two events, including the feature Peter Marsh Handicap Chase – while dual champion hurdler Buveur D’Air makes his long-awaited return from injury against just two rivals in the The New One Unibet Hurdle.

An update from the track read: “Today’s precautionary inspection has passed! The Going is Heavy.”

Temperatures had been forecast to fall below freezing overnight, but they did not do so.

There remains a “slight chance of sleety snow flurries” at the Merseyside venue – but Haydock’s card, which had already passed a Thursday inspection after being waterlogged in places earlier in the week, will get under way at 12.55.

The ground at Taunton is soft, heavy in places – as it is at Ascot, where the Grade One Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House is the highlight of a seven-race card.

Navan, the sole Saturday card scheduled in Ireland, will not however take place – after the course failed an 8am inspection, with the track “frozen and unfit for racing”.

Exciting times for Keri Brion as Winston C’s trans-Atlantic adventure starts at Navan

Coronavirus has brought worldwide restrictions for millions – but for fledgling trainer Keri Brion, a new international opportunity has arisen amid the pandemic.

American jump racing had to forego several of its highest-profile autumn fixtures last year as limitations were imposed on US sporting events because of Covid-19.

It is as a consequence that Brion finds herself based in Ireland at the start of the new year, with half-a-dozen horses she had been looking after for Jonathan Sheppard and now has under her own name following the recent retirement of the Hall of Fame trainer.

On Saturday, her stable flagbearer Winston C – twice a Grade One winner at Saratoga – runs in the Grade B Navan Handicap Hurdle in preparation for next month’s Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

This weekend therefore marks the next big step in Brion’s inter-continental tale of the unexpected.

“It’s been a hectic and stressful few weeks, because I didn’t realise Jonathan was retiring so soon,” said the 29-year-old – who went close when her first runner, French Light, found only one too good at Clonmel on Tuesday.

“It was sprung up on me a bit, and I had to get my stable set up in America from Ireland.

“When he announced he retired he had to relinquish his licence in America – which the horses were under over here – so I had to get it all switched to my name.

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“This whole Ireland experiment came on the radar when it was announced the Grade One races in America were going to be cancelled at the beginning of September, so part of this is down to Covid and not having the races on back home.

“Winston C had been off with a small injury, and his owner asked ‘why don’t we travel him overseas?’. It put the idea into our heads – and I explored it a little, and a couple of other owners were keen – so here we are.”

Winston C, formerly trained in Britain by Harry Fry, is a dual Grade One winner in America – but with a shot at the Unibet Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on the horizon in March, Brion is under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead.

She added: “I’ve entered Winston C in both the Irish Champion Hurdle and Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, so it puts the pressure on a bit.

“Navan is not necessarily his track, but he needs to start off somewhere. After this, he will run at Leopardstown, and that will be more his track.

“We picked out a race at Punchestown on December 31, but he just wasn’t where we wanted him. The last couple of weeks, he has finally turned a corner, and I’m happy with him going into Navan

“As for Cheltenham, we will have to see what the owners want to do. If he runs well in the Irish Champion Hurdle, though, I don’t think we will do anything else other than go to Cheltenham!”

Had it not been for a meeting with Sheppard during a summer break while on a scholarship in a rather different sport, the career in racing Brion has gone on to enjoy might never have materialised.

She said: “When I was 10 I started to ride a few horses at a farm nearby, and I worked there until I went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania on a pole-vaulting scholarship.

“It was at that time I came home on a summer break, and a friend introduced me to Johnathan, and he brought me in as a freelance.

“I thought I had wanted a break from working with horses, but then working back with Jonathan made me want to get back to working with them.

“I then transferred closer to home to West Chester University, where I completed a business degree while riding at Jonathan’s before then becoming a jockey for four years.”

In recent years, the sight of American-trained runners at Royal Ascot has become a common theme thanks to Wesley Ward – and Brion, who was crowned US champion apprentice jump jockey in 2017, believes her adventure could set a trend in the future.

She said: “Don’t get me wrong, it is not cheap doing this, but luckily we have got great owners. I’d like to do it again, though – and if we have some success it is definitely something we will look into in the future.

“Jump racing is way behind Flat racing in America, but talking to people about coming over here there were some that seemed really intrigued by it.

“I’d say there would be a few other good horses back home capable of doing this. So I hope it might open up a few doors, because we don’t race between November and March – and there aren’t many Grade One options for the top horses back home.”

Emulating the achievements of Sheppard is something Brion acknowledges is not going to be easy, but she hopes her time spent in Ireland can provide the one winner her mentor failed to register during his glittering career.

She said: “The whole thing has had a massive following. It has been bigger than I ever realised it would be, and I’ve so many people reaching out to me – which is great.

“Jonathan never trained a winner in Europe, and it would be cool to have helped him do that before he retired. At the same time I’ve worked very hard the last 11 years, so maybe it’s the way things are supposed to happen, and it would be great for it to work out.”

Sir Gerhard enhances Cheltenham claims

Sir Gerhard strengthened his position as ante-post favourite for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival with an impressive display in the BetVictor Flash Cashback “Future Champions” Flat Race at Navan.

A £400,000 purchase for Cheveley Park Stud after winning his only start in the point-to-point field, the five-year-old made the perfect start for his new connections when scoring by 14 lengths on his bumper debut at Down Royal in late October.

Stepping up to Listed class for a race his trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jamie Codd had previously combined to win with the top-class pair of Samcro (2016) and Envoi Allen (2018), Sir Gerhard was the 4-9 favourite and got the job done with relative ease.

His task appeared far from straightforward beforehand, with Letsbeclearaboutit having looked a top-class bumper horse in his own right in winning at Tipperary and Punchestown.

Gavin Cromwell’s charge cut out much of the running under champion amateur Patrick Mullins, but was ultimately no match for Sir Gerhard, who took over inside the final two furlongs and passed the post with four and a half lengths in hand.

Codd said: “His work has been really good at home. You are always slightly concerned when you get to Navan in December with the ground, but he handled it. Good horses tend to handle it and he was very good.

“We’re delighted with him and we’ll roll on into the spring now.

Jamie Codd aboard Envoi Allen after winning the Champion Bumper
Jamie Codd aboard Envoi Allen after winning the Champion Bumper (Paul Harding/PA)

“His pedigree suggests he’ll be better on a bit of nicer ground, being by Jeremy.

“He’s a very nice horse.”

Betfair cut the winner to 11-4 from 4-1 for the Champion Bumper in March.

Ashdale Bob takes Navan feature as leading fancies disappoint

Ashdale Bob claimed a surprise victory in the BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Novice Hurdle at Navan.

A field of seven runners went to post for a Grade Two contest better known as the Navan Novice Hurdle, with much of the pre-race attention focussing on the previously unbeaten 7-4 favourite Holymacapony, and the brilliant Envoi Allen’s half-brother, Fighter Allen.

The latter cut out much of the running under Paul Townend, with Holymacapony close up for much of the way, before dropping out quickly before the home turn.

With Fighter Allen’s challenge petering out early in the home straight, Gabynako was left in front jumping the third flight from the finish, before Jessica Harrington’s course-and-distance winner Ashdale Bob nipped up his inside and soon opened up a commanding advantage.

A slick leap at the final-flight sealed the 14-1 shot’s six-length win, providing jockey Paddy Kennedy with the biggest success of his riding career to date.

“He was very good. He switched off lovely today, which is important with him,” said Kennedy.

“He’s a nice horse, he improved a good bit from the last day and I think he’ll improve again on a bit of nicer ground.

“He’s a nice prospect going forward. I’d say chasing is his real game.”

Fakiera, partnered by the winning rider’s younger brother Jack Kennedy, was best of the rest in second.

Both Holymacapony and Fighter Allen were pulled up before the final obstacle.

Bob Olinger could take Grade One test on the back of Navan success

Henry de Bromhead will consider testing the water at the highest level with Bob Olinger on his next start after the exciting prospect outclassed his rivals at Navan.

Impressive in winning his point-to-point and in a Gowran Park bumper last season, the five-year-old made a most encouraging start to his hurdling career when giving Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow a run for his money at Gowran last month.

On the strength of that form, the five-year-old was the 1-8 favourite to go one better in the Mervyn Gray Construction Maiden Hurdle and the result was never in doubt.

Sent straight to the lead by Rachael Blackmore, Bob Olinger passed the post with 14 lengths in hand – teeing him up for a potential tilt at the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle on January 10.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. Obviously it’s nerve-racking when there is that kind of expectation.

“He jumped well. Rachael said ideally she would have loved a lead or a bit of company, but it’s job done.

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“I’ve entered him in Naas in the two-and-a-half-mile race. We’ll see how he is, there are a few options there.

“He has a lot of pace and could drop back to two miles at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, or there is also the two-mile-six-furlong race there. I’d say he is very adaptable.”

Joseph O’Brien’s Fils D’oudairies (7-1) ran out an authoritative winner of the NavanRacecourse.ie Rated Novice Chase, with Donagh Meyler the winning rider.

O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “It was a nice performance and a beautiful ride.

“He travelled like a dream the whole way around and loved the ground.

“I think he’s a horse with a big future if everything goes right for him.”

Stoughan Cross was a 40-1 winner of the Happy Christmas And New Year To All Our Members Handicap Chase for trainer Tom Gibney and jockey Darragh O’Keeffe, while Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy landed the Irish Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle with 15-8 shot Percy Warner.

“He did it very well. He probably wants a bit further, but he’s not slow either,” said Kennedy.

“It wasn’t a bad race and he’s a lovely horse.”

Jukebox Jive denied King Alex a four-timer in the 40,000 euro BetVictor Gamble Responsibly Tara Handicap Hurdle.

Owned and trained by Barry Connell, King Alex was the 100-30 favourite to add to his previous wins this season at Ballinrobe, Navan and Fairyhouse, but Gavin Cromwell’s 11-1 shot Jukebox Jive powered 13 lengths clear on the run-in under 5lb claimer Conor McNamara.

Cromwell’s assistant, Feidhlim Cunningham, said: “That was a great win. He loves that ground – he won a November Handicap on bottomless ground.

“He’s just not straightforward. We targeted this race and the ground came up ideal.

“We’ve no immediate plan for him. He wants bottomless ground and we’ll find something again on similar going.”

Reputations at stake as Holymacapony takes on elders at Navan

Holymacapony puts his unbeaten record and tall reputation on the line in the BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Novice Hurdle at Navan on Friday.

The winning point-to-pointer could hardly have been more impressive on his hurdling debut for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore at Punchestown last month.

The four-year-old, who carries the Monalee and Minella Indo colours of owner Barry Maloney, faces his elders for the first time at Grade Two level.

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore are a formidable combination
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore are a formidable combination (PA)

De Bromhead said: “He’s in great form. He won his maiden hurdle nicely at Punchestown, so this seemed like the right step forward for him.

“We’ll see where we are after Friday.”

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Champion trainer Willie Mullins has won a race formerly known as the Navan Novice Hurdle on a record seven occasions – and this year relies upon the brilliant Envoi Allen’s half-brother Fighter Allen, who also won at Punchestown last month.

Gordon Elliott has a couple of contenders in Fakiera and Eskylane – while Gavin Cromwell’s Gabynako, Jessica Harrington’s Ashdale Bob and the Noel Meade-trained Lieutenant Command complete the field.

The most valuable race on the card is the 40,000 euro BetVictor Gamble Responsibly Tara Handicap Hurdle, in which King Alex bids to make it four from four this season for owner-trainer Barry Connell.

Connell said: “He’s in good form and has already won around Navan this season. I think he’ll handle the track and the ground, and hopefully he’s the one to beat in the race.

“He has a nice racing weight of 11 stone, so we’ll hope for the best.”

Thereisnodoubt (Shane Crawley), Lord Erskine (Harry Rogers) and It Could Be You (Tom Mullins) are among King Alex’s rivals.

Letsbeclearaboutit winning at Punchestown
Letsbeclearaboutit winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

It could be argued that the most intriguing contest of the afternoon is the concluding BetVictor Flash Cashback “Future Champions” Flat Race, which stages a fascinating clash between the hugely exciting pair Letsbeclearaboutit and Sir Gerhard.

Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit has looked every inch a top-class prospect in winning each of his two starts under champion amateur Patrick Mullins, who is again on board.

Elliott’s £400,000 purchase Sir Gerhard is already a best-priced 4-1 favourite for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham following a 14-length romp on his rules debut at Down Royal under Jamie Codd, who has previously claimed this Listed prize aboard Samcro and Envoi Allen.

Codd said: “Letsbeclearaboutit and Sir Gerhard look like the two leading bumper horses in Ireland this year, so it will be interesting.

“I’m really looking forward to taking him (Letsbeclearaboutit) on. Sir Gerhard is in great form, and I wouldn’t be swapping him at this stage anyway – he’s a lovely horse.

“We’ll know a bit more on Friday.”

Andy Dufresne keeps unbeaten record over fences intact

Andy Dufresne maintained his unbeaten record over fences when making most of the running in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Klairon Davis Novice Chase at Navan.

The six-year-old built on his winning debut over fences at Wexford to get the better of his two rivals in the Grade Three contest.

Cavalry Master tried to keep company with Andy Dufresne but was dropped from the third-last fence, meaning the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old only had Gigginstown House Stud’s other runner, Embittered, to deal with.

The 8-15 favourite duly showed a good attitude in keeping on stoutly to keep that rival at bay by three lengths. Cavalry Master was 56 lengths away last of the three.

Andy Dufresne was cut to 16-1 from 25-1 by Betfair for the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.

Elliott said: “He knew he had a race from the last home and I’d say he wants two and a half miles.

“Christmas may come a bit soon for him and he could be one for something like (the Grade One at) Fairyhouse over two and a half miles.”

Minella Indo obliges with minimum of fuss at Navan

Minella Indo further enhanced his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials with a near-faultless display at Navan.

Reeled in late on by Nicky Henderson’s Champ in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham, Henry de Bromhead’s charge made a foot-perfect start to the current campaign in a Grade Three contest at Wexford last month.

Faced with just three rivals in the Grade Two BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase, Minella Indo was a prohibitively-priced 2-11 favourite in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, and his supporters will have had few concerns.

Brahma Bull made much of the running under David Mullins and was still travelling strongly as he rounded the home turn and moved to the stands rail.

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Blackmore positioned her mount on the far side of the track and he picked up well between the final two fences to grab the lead before pulling seven and a half lengths clear on the run-in.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. He did everything good, it was a lovely race for him and I’m glad we’ve got it behind us now.

“You couldn’t have asked him to do it any better. He jumped really well and did everything he had to do.

“I would imagine we’ll aim towards the Savills Chase at Christmas, I think that will be our next one.

“He’s had two nice races for second-season novices and now we have to go against the big lads and see how we fare there.”

Asked if he had the potential to be even better than stablemate Monalee, who was fourth in the Gold Cup last season in the same colours, De Bromhead said: “It would be great if he is because Monalee is rated 171, so if he is I’ll be very happy!

Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham
Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s probably achieved a little bit more in each division because he won his Albert Bartlett and Monalee was second, I don’t know if it might have been a lesser race.

“He was only just chinned in an RSA and Monalee was well beaten – I don’t know, it’s unfair on Monalee, but we can’t fault what he’s doing at the moment.

“It’s nice to have a possible Gold Cup contender like him, but all along last year we thought Monalee had a great chance and thankfully he ran like he did.

“It’s great and the more of these types you can have the better. We’ll see how it all unfolds between now and then.

“At the moment we’re thinking Monalee for the King George, but if they end up having to run against each other they have to run against each other.

“Ideally you’d prefer not to, with the same owners.”

Coral cut Minella Indo to 7-1 from 8-1 for the Gold Cup, making him their joint-second favourite with last season’s runner-up Santini and just behind dual winner Al Boum Photo, who is the 6-1 favourite. Betfair stayed unchanged at 8-1.

Fakiera flashes home late for Monksfield gains

Fakiera finished with a flourish to claim a last-gasp victory in the BetVictor Casino “Monksfield” Novice Hurdle at Navan.

Gordon Elliott had saddled three of the last four winners of the Grade Three contest in Death Duty (2016), Samcro (2017) and Fury Road (2019), and this year fired a twin assault, with 4-1 shot Fakiera the apparent second string behind the previously unbeaten Farouk D’alene.

The latter, who was the even-money favourite, made much of the running under Jack Kennedy, but displayed a tendency to jump and hang to his right and ultimately weakened to finish fourth.

Fakiera had opened his hurdling account at the fourth attempt with a narrow success at Fairyhouse at the start of the month following three successive runner-up finishes.

He looked booked for a place at best between the final two flights, but powered home in the hands of Keith Donoghue to get up and beat Fire Attack by half a length.

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Donoghue said: “He did it well. He travelled easy during the race and was probably doing a little bit too much.

“He relaxed coming out of the back straight and I wasn’t in a rush with him as I knew he’d come home well.

“Stamina is his thing and he did well to win over two miles last time. We always knew with a step up in trip that he would improve.”

The Willie Mullins-trained Blackbow made an impressive start to his career over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners’ Chase.

A high-class bumper performer, the seven-year-old failed to get his head in front in four hurdling starts last season, but jumped slickly on his chasing bow under David Mullins and passed the post just over four lengths clear of hot favourite Entoucas.

“He jumped very well. He got his own way in front and that helps a free horse,” said the winning jockey.

“He’s well able to jump and when he relaxes he just shows what he can do. He’s a classy horse when he puts it all together.”

Castra Vetera gave weight and a sound beating to her rivals in the Listed Coolmore N.H. Sires Irish EBF Mares INH Flat Race.

Carrying a double penalty for previous bumper wins at Fairyhouse and Naas, Joseph O’Brien’s charge received a positive ride from Tom Hamilton and dug deep at the business end to repel the challenge of Party Central by almost four lengths.

O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “Tom said there was going to be no pace and she stays well – she galloped them into the ground.

“She’s done a lot of schooling at home and jumps very well. I’d presume that will be the route she’ll take now and she could be good.”

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.

Castlegrace Paddy inflicts Fortria defeat on favourite A Plus Tard

Castlegrace Paddy proved too strong for hot favourite A Plus Tard in the Tote Fortria Chase at Navan.

Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard filled the runner-up spot behind Ballyoisin in last year’s renewal of the Grade Two contest – and having since won a Grade One at Leopardstown and finished a close-up third in the Ryanair at Cheltenham, he was well fancied to go one better.

However, it was clear some way from home it was not going to be entirely straightforward for the 1-2 favourite, as he jumped stickily on occasions under Rachael Blackmore behind his pacesetting stablemate Ornua.

After the latter dropped away early in the home straight, Pat Fahy’s stable star Castlegrace Paddy (9-1) took over the lead, with both A Plus Tard and Eclair De Beaufeu in hot pursuit.

In the end it turned into a straight shootout and try as he might, A Plus Tard could never quite get on terms with Castlegrace Paddy, who passed the post half a length to the good in the hands of Bryan Cooper.

“He jumped brilliant and himself and Bryan seem to get on very well,” said Fahy.

“Hopefully we can keep going in this direction. We won the Hilly Way Chase in Cork a couple of years ago, but didn’t have a great year after that, so we won’t get too carried away.

“More than likely we’ll look at Leopardstown over Christmas. He’s beaten a horse there that will probably improve a lot, but so will ours – I’d rate him him a serious horse.

“Maybe if the ground was good you’d be looking to go up in trip, but on that sort of ground I think that (two miles) is his trip.”