Prettiest takes the eye in Navan victory

Prettiest distinguished herself as a juvenile with obvious potential as she posted an emphatic, all-the-way victory on her debut in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Maiden at Navan.

Aidan O’Brien’s daughter of Dubawi, out of the yard’s dual Group One winner Alice Springs, lived up to her exemplary pedigree to win by three-quarters of a length at 5-2 under Seamie Heffernan from favourite Lopes Gold.

The two market principals were to the fore throughout, with Prettiest establishing an early advantage from the outset and maintaining it with relative comfort.

Heffernan said: “Her homework suggested that she was ready to start,” said Heffernan.

“I was keen to canter down to the start in front as that’s the way I wanted to ride her, forward.

“I’d say she’s a nice filly and she has a beautiful pedigree.

“They won’t all improve and progress as you’d like but she’s built like a two-year-old so she should progress into being a nice two-year-old.”

Albion Square justified 9-4 favouritism, a second successive juvenile to lead throughout, as he took the Lynn Lodge Stud Irish EBF Maiden on his third career start for jockey Shane Foley and trainer Jessica Harrington.

The Acclamation colt – for whom connections may have Royal Ascot ambitions – was second to another winning Ballydoyle debutant, The Entertainer, over half a furlong further than this minimum trip at the same course two weeks ago.

After Albion Square’s breakthrough victory, Foley said: “He was good. I think he was beaten by a very smart horse the last day, although I know the winner was disappointing afterwards.

“We like this horse  – we think he’s a very good horse. He was a bit lit up today, after having a couple of races, and I didn’t even hit him.

“He’s a nice horse going forward and could be a horse for the Windsor Castle.

“I walked the track beforehand and thought the best ground was middle to stands side. It’s yielding, dead ground, but that’s the best of it out there.”

Lord McZie surged late to spring a 66-1 shock in the GAIN The Advantage Series Handicap, providing 17-year-old jockey Conor Clarke with his first winner, from only his second ride on the Flat.

Ray Hackett’s four-year-old did not appear to be especially outrunning his odds until gathering late momentum to cut through the field and win by a head from Art Of Unity.

Tipperary teenager Clarke said: “That’s unbelievable – I can’t put it into words.

“I became apprentice to Ray about two months ago.  This is only my second ride, and I’m delighted to get off the mark.

“My first ride was in Mallow on that lad as well, over a mile. He was probably a bit out of his depth then – but he ran well all the same, and we had high hopes coming here today.

“I thought I was gone with a few hundred yards to race but saw a bit of a gap again, and he pricked his ears and rallied well for me again.

“I wasn’t sure if I’d won it, because I saw a horse on my outside, but one of the lads said well done to me – and I was delighted.”

The John Joseph Murphy-trained Charterhouse (100-30) was not winning out of turn in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Race, having faced three Group-race assignments since winning his maiden at the Curragh in August, including the National Stakes and Middle Park.

George Murphy, assistant to his father, said: “I was pleased with that, he seemed to stay at it very well.

“Robbie (Colgan) just said the ground felt slow and very sticky on him. He definitely didn’t enjoy it, but he got through it.

“We’ll have a talk with the owners and make a plan. I think he’s more than entitled to go back into stakes company.

“I’d say a mile and we’ll definitely stick to proper good ground now.”

Star Harbour broke his duck, at a seventh career attempt, in the feature Royal County Handicap.

Ado McGuinness’ son of Sea The Stars, in a first-time visor after being tried in blinkers on his most recent start, had never previously got closer than when edged out in a photo finish as an odds-on favourite at Dundalk in February.

Chris Hayes, riding Star Harbour for the first time, employed the front-running tactics which had worked for the winners of the first two races – and his partner showed great determination to fend off all challengers and prevail by three and a quarter lengths at 22-1, joint longest price in the nine-runner field.

McGuinness said: “We put blinkers on him last time, but he missed the break and got caught in behind.

“He put it to bed fairly quickly (this time). He’ll be nice for a mile-and-a-half handicap at Galway – or as regards closer plans, I was talking about the Ulster Derby.

“I think he will stay a mile-and-a-half, and I’d say that’s where he’ll go next.”

Venice Biennale completed a double for the Murphy yard, winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Median Auction Fillies Maiden under Oisin Orr.

The daughter of Farhh made a promising debut when fourth at the Curragh just last weekend, and appears progressive after this four-and-quarter-length win from White Pepper.

She challenged in the final two furlongs, and then scooted clear.

Murphy said: “She was a little bit green in the Curragh the last day. She’s a filly we’ve always really liked.

“She’s a big lady and took a little bit of time to come to hand. We’ll probably look for a black-type race for her now – she’s a nice one to go forward with.”

Sir Lucan outdoes Wordsworth in Yeats Stakes

Aidan O’Brien’s Sir Lucan just edged out his better-fancied stablemate Wordsworth in a tough tussle for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Yeats Stakes at Navan.

Sir Lucan is on the fringes of the Derby reckoning for his powerhouse stable, but was only eighth in a trial on his return at Sandown last month.

He was sent off at 11-2 this time – with Wordsworth the 8-15 favourite – but he just got the better of the argument in a driving finish.

Wordsworth, having just his third start as opposed to Sir Lucan’s fifth, took up the running before halfway in the one-mile-five-furlong Listed contest and then tried to run the finish out of the chasing pack.

He saw off all but one – with Sir Lucan challenging alongside eventual third Party House two furlongs out and then battling on just the best to win by a neck under Wayne Lordan.

The winning jockey said: “He had a very good run to finish fourth in a Group Two as a two-year-old, and he was always going to come forward a lot when stepping up in trip.

“He stayed very well. We went a good even gallop, he travelled, quickened and dug deep. I hit the line well.”

Wordsworth’s jockey Seamie Heffernan had less to smile about.

He said: “One word – disappointing.

“I thought we might as well go a gallop and see what does and doesn’t stay.

“The winner was fourth in a Group Two on slow ground, and when there is an ease in the ground it’s going to suit him. My horse was disappointing – there is no other comment I can give.”

O’Brien earlier struck with yet another smart Caravaggio youngster as The Entertainer took the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden.

Heffernan had to wait for a suitable gap, but when it came the 9-4 joint-favourite really picked up to gather in Albion Square to win by a cosy length and a half.

His rider said: “It was tight at the business end, but when he got the gap his class kicked in, with his speed.

“Hopefully he’ll progress and be on the plane to Ascot. He’s got plenty of pace and hopefully he’ll stay.

“Caravaggio is a top-class stallion, I’m liking his progeny.”

Baron Samedi surprises Vintage Crop rivals

Baron Samedi continued his winning ways when springing a 20-1 surprise in a dramatic renewal of the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan.

The Joseph O’Brien-trained four-year-old came from last to first to record a sixth consecutive victory in this Group Three heat over a mile and three-quarters.

There was no fluke as Baron Samedi lifted this prize off a mark of 112, having started last term on a rating of 65, to give jockey Dylan Browne McMonagle a first Group-race winner at his first attempt.

Baron Samedi led home a one-two for O’Brien, whose Master Of Reality was second after landing this race in 2019.

There was early drama with Sunchart jinking and unshipping Andy Slattery on leaving the stalls. The jockey was able to walk away while Sunchart continued riderless.

Emperor Of The Sun and Master Of Reality took the remaining five runners along with the latter going on two furlongs out.

However, Baron Samedi was delivered from the rear to hit the front and defeat his stablemate by half a length. Emperor Of The Sun was third with Santiago, the 8-13 favourite, only fourth.

O’Brien’s assistant Brendan Powell said: “He’s one of those unbelievable horses that has kept improving.

“Even turning in, a few lads said ‘you’re beat here’, but he never knows when he’s beat. He seems to love a fight and he keeps quickening up.

“It was Dylan’s first ride in a Group race, and a winner. He’s a smashing rider for a young lad.

“That’s the quickest (ground) the horse would have run on, but he said he seemed to float away on it.

“He just kept pulling out that bit more and you just don’t know when he’s going to stop improving.

“He’s filled out this year and he’s a bigger horse. He just keeps improving all the time.

“You never know, he could end up going to Australia with the others.”

Baron Samedi was given a quote of 25-1 for the Ascot Gold Cup with Betfair and Paddy Power.

Rocky runs rivals ragged to take Salsabil success

Rocky Sky ran her rivals into the ground to register a convincing success in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Salsabil Stakes at Navan.

Having her first run on turf after three races on Dundalk’s the all-weather surface, the Ross O’Sullivan-trained filly was given an enterprising ride by Gary Halpin to win this Listed contest in tremendous style.

Rocky Sky (33-1) was soon driven up by Halpin to grab the lead and set a strong pace. The Rock Of Gibraltar filly, owned by retired jockey Mick Kinane’s wife, Catherine, then slipped the field on the home turn.

She kept up the gallop to cross the line four and a quarter lengths to the good over another 33-1 shot in French Fusion. Sacred Rhyme (12-1) was a length and a quarter back in third place.

Willow, the Aidan O’Brien-trained 5-4 favourite, appeared to have every chance but was well-beaten in seventh.

“She’s a grand filly. I thought the handicapper was very lenient on her when he gave her 83 after she was second to a very nice filly of Joseph’s (O’Brien’s My Generation) the last day in Dundalk, albeit in a messy race,” said Halpin.

“I knew coming here today that stepping up in trip and getting on to the grass, she’d be very competitive.

“She’ll come forward again from today. She’s an exciting filly and it’s very nice to ride a winner for Mr and Mrs Kinane and all the team at Castlefarm Stud.

“She’s a very nice filly going forward. She has plenty of pace and I’d say a mile-and-a-quarter is OK for now, I wouldn’t be in any rush to go a mile and a half with her as she has loads of pace.

“She hasn’t done anything wrong so far and the world is her oyster at the minute. She’s a good filly.”

Magic finishes with flourish to claim Committed prize

Measure Of Magic got up close home to claim Listed honours in the Committed Stakes at Navan.

The Johnny Murtagh-trained filly was produced with a determined challenge by Ben Coen to collar Logo Hunter.

Coen kept Measure Of Magic off the early pace set by Erosandpsyche, with Sister Rosetta close up, before making his move.

Logo Hunter and the 6-5 favourite Lipizzaner looked like fighting out the finish, but Measure Of Magic (11-2) responded to Coen’s urgings to go and land the spoils by three-quarters of a length.

Runner-up Logo Hunter was a length and a half ahead of Lipizzaner.

Coen said: “She only got five last year, but she’s strengthened up from two to three well.

“I rode her to get the trip, she quickened up well for me, but she didn’t do much when she got there.

“She’s a nice filly, a proper sprinter with loads of speed. Five or six, it doesn’t matter to her as she’s strong enough now to stay six.

“She loves the ground, she’s a good-moving filly. Hopefully she’ll improve again off the back of that.”

Masseto put up a gutsy performance when making a wining debut in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden.

Gavin Ryan brought Masseto (4-1) with a sweeping run in the centre of the course and Donnacha O’Brien’s youngster knuckled down in the closing stages to get the better of Celtic Times by half a length.

The pair pulled four and three-quarter lengths clear of Butterfly Island in third.

Amalfi Coast, the 13-8 favourite, could not get a run at a crucial stage of the race but stayed on well to take fifth place.

Masseto could head for the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.

O’Brien said: “I thought he was very good because he was very green. He broke slow and travelled in snatches.

“When he quickened up, it looked like he passed half the field in half a furlong and then he looked like he idled when he got there. He’s obviously got plenty of talent.

“Looking at that, you’d have to hope he’s an Ascot two-year-old. On paper it looked like a good race, I know dad (Aidan) liked his and (brother) Joseph liked his. There were plenty of other nice pedigrees in there.

“I suppose you’d have to look towards the Coventry. He was very green, we’ll see how he comes out of it, then have a look and see what suits him. I don’t think it would be any harm if there was another race beforehand.

“The first two-year-olds I ran were the ones I actually liked most, nearly, but maybe I ran them a bit early and they’ll be better as they come along.

“The last two I’ve run have been impressive, so maybe they are just coming.”

Independent Missy (5-1) got on top in the last 100 yards to take the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies & Mares Handicap.

Ronan Whelan brought Tracey Collins’ five-year-old with a well-timed challenge to go on and win by half a length from Miss Molly T.

Collins said: “I’m delighted. She’s probably been a little bit disappointing for us because we expected more of her early on.

“She’s come well in her coat and was pleasing us, so we decided to come here as it was a fillies’ handicap.

“Ronan’s given her a lovely ride and she came off the pace well, so she probably just needs a very strong run race.

“She was only beaten a few lengths in some good races. She’s probably a filly that lacked confidence and hopefully she can go forward from here.”

Gordon Bennett (13-2) ran out a ready winner of the Kilberry Apprentice Handicap.

Hitting the front a furlong out, Richard Brabazon’s three-year-old galloped on strongly for Nathan Crosse to score by a length and a half from The Peckhampouncer.

“That was a bit of excitement at the start of the season for us,” said Brabazon.

“We always thought he was a lovely horse, but he’s a horse that gets himself a bit upset and he was running too free in his maidens last year.

“He was just doing it the wrong way around, showing tons of speed and then not getting home.

“I said to Nathan today ‘just do one thing, try to get cover and then take it from there’. He did it beautifully and the horse settled for him. I was nearly more thrilled about that than winning because looking to the future, we can manage him a bit now.
“I think he’s a nice horse for the future. Physically and mentally we are only starting.”

Santiago returns to action at Navan

Irish Derby hero Santiago bids to get his campaign off to a winning start in the Group Three Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan on Sunday.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt was last seen finishing fourth to Galileo Chrome when sent off favourite for the St Leger at Doncaster in September.

He had an abortive trip to Australia after that, but connections expect him to make his mark in the staying division.

Santiago will be ridden by Ryan Moore, who believes this is a good race for him to start in 2021.

“It’s a good renewal of the Vintage Crop. My colt was obviously very good when winning the Queen’s Vase and Irish Derby and he ran up to that level in defeat in the Goodwood Cup and the St Leger afterwards,” the jockey told Betfair.

“He didn’t end up running when he travelled down to Australia in the autumn, but he is clearly a top staying prospect this year and this looks an ideal starting point for him. It’s a very good race though and he does have a 5lb penalty.”

Sunchart was eight and a half lengths behind Santiago when eighth in the St Leger.

He has since been gelded and made a promising reappearance when staying on well to take second place behind Santiago’s stable companion Broome over a mile and quarter at Naas last month.

Trainer Andy Slattery is expecting a good run from the son of Teofilo over this longer distance.

“He’s in great form. He will have needed the run the last day. It was his first gallop on grass the last day and he seems to have come on for it, so we’re looking forward to it,” said the Thurles trainer.

“The step up in trip will suit him. He was staying on well the last day.

“He does go on soft ground, but he seems better on good to firm ground. He seems a much-improved horse this year.”

Stratum made a pleasing start to the season with a cosy four-length success at Gowran earlier this month.

Connections of the Willie Mullins-trained gelding are looking for a bold display from the eight-year-old.

“He won his first run back on the Flat at Gowran recently. He should have improved for that,” said Mullins’ assistant, David Casey.

“The ground and track will suit. Hopefully he’ll run well.”

Joseph O’Brien is double-handed in the six-runner heat with Longchamp Group Two scorer Baron Samedi and Master Of Reality, winner of this race in 2019.

The County Kilkenny handler saddles Group Three-placed Thinking Of You in the Listed Irish Stallion Farms EBF Salsabil Stakes.

The daughter of American Pharoah took minor honours in the Weld Park Stakes at the Curragh in September.

Her rivals include Willow, trained by his father, Aidan, Dermot Weld’s promising Gowran winner Port Sunlight and Sacred Rhyme from Jessica Harrington’s stable.

The other Listed contest on the card is the Committed Stakes, which sees Aidan O’Brien’s Lipizzaner have his first race since finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland in November.

Johnny Murtagh’s Measure Of Magic, who was third in the Flying Childers Stakes at Doncaster in September, is among the nine declared runners.

Any Second Now books Aintree ticket

Any Second Now underlined his Randox Grand National claims with an effortless victory in the Grade Two Webster Cup at Navan.

Ted Walsh’s charge is now a general 12-1 second-favourite behind Cloth Cap for the Aintree showpiece on April 10 following an impressive round of jumping in the hands of Mark Walsh.

Sent off a 3-1 chance for this two-mile heat, Any Second Now was clearly in control with three to jump before moving clear after the penultimate obstacle and coasting home by 10 lengths from favourite Castlegrace Paddy.

The winning handler famously sent out Papillon to win the National back in 2000 while Seabass finished third in 2012, and Walsh thinks the JP McManus-owned Any Second Now compares favourably with those runners.

“He did it well,” said Walsh.

“He won a similar race last year at Naas the same way, he’s a smart horse. He won his maiden hurdle around here, won a Grade Two at Punchestown over hurdles and won the Kim Muir. He’s a fair horse.

“I’d say that was a career best and he’s going to the National in a good frame of mind. Five runners here and 40 in the National is chalk and cheese, but he’s going there in good shape and whatever happens, happens.

“He has a grand weight off 10st 9lb. I’ve no problem with the weight, anywhere this side of 11st is grand.

“He reminds me of Papillon or Seabass as he’s going there with a good chance. If he takes to the place, travels, jumps and gets a bit of luck, he won’t be far away.

“I’d say the favourite will be hard to beat, but if he runs a good race and he’s in good shape you can’t do more than that.”

Denise Foster claimed both divisions of the Navan Members Maiden Hurdle with Coqolino (8-11 favourite) and Robinstown (11-1).

The McManus-owned Coqolino took the first leg, triumphing by three and three-quarter lengths in the hands of Walsh despite a couple of lacklustre jumps – most notably at the final flight.

“He had a bit of a scare at the last but he did that well,” said Foster.

“He’s a gorgeous horse and he’s a chaser in the making. He probably wouldn’t like fast ground, so whether he has another run this season will depend on Frank (Berry, McManus’ racing manager) and JP.

“I’m delighted to give JP (who was 70 on Wednesday) a birthday present.”

Robinstown stayed on strongly in the second division for Jack Kennedy, while the Walsh-ridden and McManus-owned Gars De Sceaux (9-4 favourite) gave Foster her fourth winner since taking control of Gordon Elliott’s string on Tuesday in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Hurdle.

Foster sent out her first victor from Cullentra at Wexford on Wednesday and said: “It’s been good. It’s a well-oiled machine and the whole team have been so helpful.

“The staff are amazing, I know a lot of them. It will take me a while to get a handle on all the horses as there are so many.

“Everybody has been brilliant, I’ve felt really at home and that’s put the icing on the cake. I’m delighted for all the team because they’ve had a very hard time and worked so hard.”

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)

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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

“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.