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Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Presenting Percy dies

Owner Philip Reynolds paid an emotional tribute to Presenting Percy as he confirmed his ‘horse of a lifetime’ has died after suffering from a blood infection.

The 10-year-old looked a superstar in the making when producing a scintillating display in the 2018 RSA Chase – his second Cheltenham Festival success, having won the Pertemps Final 12 months earlier.

He went on to win a second Galmoy Hurdle the following season, but could finish only eighth when favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and never quite managed to rediscover his former brilliance.

Presenting Percy's RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase win was his second in succession at the Cheltenham Festival
Presenting Percy’s RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase win was his second in succession at the Cheltenham Festival (David Davies/PA)

After moving from Pat Kelly’s yard to Gordon Elliott last summer, however, Presenting Percy got back on the winning trail when beating multiple Grade One winners Kemboy and Monalee in a Listed event at Thurles – his 11th career victory.

An eighth-placed finish in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas proved to be his final start – as he was ruled out of Cheltenham and later the Grand National at Aintree because of a leg infection, which ultimately cost him his life.

Reynolds said: “It’s with great sadness I have to confirm that we lost a three-month battle against infection and have had no option but to put Presenting Percy to sleep this afternoon.

“I want to thank Ger Kelly and his staff at Fethard Equine Hospital for all their efforts in trying to save him and allow him the retirement he deserved.

“I know it’s a cliche to say racing is a game of highs and lows, and we’ve had our share of both, but on days like this it makes you wonder if the highs are high enough.

“Percy was a special athlete with a personality all of his own. He took us places we dreamt of, and we always looked forward to having him with us during his downtime.

“We are deeply hurting at his loss and feel so sorry for so many connected with him – Tom Costello, from whom I bought Percy, Pat Kelly, Kim and the team who made him, Gerry and all in Athenry who loved him, Gordon Elliott, Mary and the crew at Cullentra, and of course (jockey) Davy Russell – who gave our family three memorable Cheltenham days, two with our star Percy.

“The sudden sadness of his passing is hard to contemplate, and the wonders of ‘what if’ will remain. To everyone who shared our love for Percy, we are so sorry.

“The horse of my lifetime – and my honour to have been called his owner.”

Rachael Blackmore on the crest of a wave after National heroics

Rachael Blackmore is still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of her achievement after claiming Randox Grand National glory at Aintree.

The 31-year-old is used to breaking boundaries, having risen from relative obscurity to becoming one of the leading National Hunt jockeys on either side of the Irish Sea in the space of six years as a professional.

Just last month Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, aboard the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, and her six winners at the Festival saw her crowned leading jockey.

While those significant triumphs transcended sport to a certain degree, Saturday’s historic victory in the world’s greatest steeplechase has seen reluctant superstar Blackmore receive global acclaim.

“It’s still hard to process it all, to be honest. It’s been unbelievable,” she said.

“I was meant to fly home on Saturday night, but I missed my flight so I came home on the boat on Sunday and got home on Sunday evening.

“I genuinely lay awake in bed all night on Saturday. I was completely exhausted and got into bed thinking I was going to have a great night’s sleep, but I just could not shut down. I’ve been catching up on sleep ever since!

“I just couldn’t believe what had happened, I suppose. Your adrenaline would still be up and you’d be thinking about what was one of the biggest days of my life, so sleep just wouldn’t allow!”

Blackmore is well used to big-race success, but admits the feeling of winning the National on the Henry de Bromhead-trained Minella Times was different to anything she has experienced before.

Rachael Blackmore receives the Randox Grand National trophy
Rachael Blackmore receives the Randox Grand National trophy (David Davies/PA)

“It’s a very exciting race to be part of,” she told the PA news agency.

“I’d ridden Minella Times before, and he’s a beautiful horse to ride who jumps really well, so I was looking forward to going over the National fences with him.

“There’s a lot of anticipation in the build-up to the National. It’s so unique – 40 horses and 30 jumps. I suppose excitement was the overriding emotion on Saturday morning.

“You know very quickly if a horse is taking to the fences or not, and Minella Times absolutely took to them. After we jumped two or three fences, I knew he was really enjoying himself, and we got a fantastic passage around.

“Once you’ve got over The Chair and the water jump, you can kind of take a breath then as you’ve got over everything and you just have to go and do it once more!”

While Minella Times appeared to have victory in safe-keeping up the run-in, it was not until he passed the post that Blackmore let herself believe she had secured the most momentous of wins.

She added: “I could hear the commentator saying we were four lengths ahead, and I knew my horse wasn’t fading under me – he was going to stay galloping to the line. That is when I had the realisation that it might happen – and a few strides later it did happen.

“The feeling was just complete elation. It’s slightly different to Cheltenham – where you’re riding Honeysuckle in a Champion Hurdle, she’s favourite, and there’s a good bit of pressure attached to it.

“Going out in the Grand National, I didn’t feel any pressure. There’s not the same expectation, because everyone involved knows the amount of luck that’s involved.

“After Honeysuckle, my initial feeling was more relief, and then joy, whereas after the National it was complete joy straightaway.”

Rachael Blackmore could not believe she had claimed National glory
Rachael Blackmore could not believe she had claimed National glory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Usually so composed in a race and afterwards, Blackmore did not find it so easy to keep her emotions in check on Merseyside.

“I probably was (emotional) afterwards, but it’s the Aintree Grand National – it’s such a big race,” she said.

“That’s not to say they’re not big races at Cheltenham. But Cheltenham is four days, with extremely important horses running every day – you can’t really allow yourself to kick back on Tuesday evening and enjoy the day, because you’ve a very important day the next day.

“After the National, Aintree was done. I had a ride in the bumper, but it’s just different.”

Among those who have congratulated Blackmore on her National triumph are tennis great Billie Jean King and Ringo Starr, drummer with The Beatles.

“It’s phenomenal,” she said.

“We used to go on camping holidays to France when we were younger, and The Beatles would be on the CD player in the car.

“I grew up listening to them, so it’s hard to believe when you’ve got people like that sending you well wishes.

“I’ve received well-wishes from everywhere, and people are just so kind. I feel extremely lucky to be in the position I’m in.”

Unlike many of her weighing-room colleagues, Blackmore was not bred to be a jockey.

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

However, from an early age, the daughter of a dairy farmer and a secondary schoolteacher loved horses –  and the Grand National in particular.

She added: “I remember when the sileage was cut trying to get my pony to jump the channels of grass in the field – and imagined I was jumping fences at Aintree.

“The Grand National was the first thing that captured my imagination in the world of racing. It’s that kind of special race that captures a global audience – I never thought that I’d be winning it some day.

“I know I keep saying it, but it is genuinely hard to comprehend.”

Blackmore has certainly not had it easy, kicking off her riding career as an amateur struggling for winners on the point-to-point circuit before making the bold decision to turn professional at the age of 25.

Her career in the paid ranks got off to a steady rather than spectacular start, but she insists she never doubted she had made the right decision.

She said: “It took me a while to get that first winner as a professional, but I was no stranger to waiting a long time for a winner – they didn’t exactly come thick and fast as an amateur.

“There was never a moment where I thought ‘have I done the right thing?’, and that was mainly because I was riding a lot more.

“I was going racing nearly every day. It might have only been for one or two rides, but I was racing a lot more than before – which meant I was getting more practice and getting better at what I was doing.

“I received a lot of support. Shark Hanlon was my main backer then, and I wasn’t getting anxious because the winner wasn’t coming because that is racing, unfortunately.”

Not one to seek the limelight, Blackmore is nevertheless aware of her current position as a role model to potential jockeys of the future – whether that be male or female.

She said: “When I was starting off, I was seeing Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh achieving massive things. Seeing what they were achieving encouraged me and never made me think about gender – I never entered the weighing room thinking about gender.

“Hopefully that will just carry on now, and the same encouragement will be there for other people.

“We’re very lucky in our sport that it (gender) isn’t an issue. It’s the same with the likes of Hollie Doyle on the Flat – you’d be hoping that those things will all help.”

Blackmore is keen to pay tribute to De Bromhead, who himself has enjoyed remarkable success at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Henry de Bromhead and Blackmore at Aintree
Henry de Bromhead and Blackmore at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

As if becoming the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup in the same week were not enough, he also saddled the second in the Gold Cup and the first two in the Grand National, with Minella Times followed home by stablemate Balko Des Flos.

“Henry’s achievements are nothing short of phenomenal,” she said.

“It’s incredible what he’s done – it has never happened before. I really hope that angle of it is not forgotten.

“To train those winners in Cheltenham, and have a one-two in the Gold Cup, was incredible – and then to come out and have a one-two in the Grand National, it really is a phenomenal story.

“He’s an exceptional trainer, and I feel very lucky to be part of his team. He’s got a very good team of staff that work for him, and it’s a privilege to be part of the whole thing.”

Blackmore and Townend (left) are battling out for the jockeys' championship in Ireland
Blackmore and Townend (left) are battling out for the jockeys’ championship in Ireland (PA)

With Cheltenham and Aintree in the rear-view mirror for this season, Blackmore is relishing the challenges ahead – with the Punchestown Festival next on the big-race calendar.

She can look forward to plenty of high-profile mounts and potentially making more history, as a thrilling race with Paul Townend to be crowned Ireland’s champion jockey comes to its climax.

Theirs is a friendship and rivalry which dates back to Blackmore claiming a very first victory on the pony racing circuit when she was just 15.

“I’d say I rode in five or six pony races in total, and Paul would have been very accomplished at the time and the champion pony race rider,” said Blackmore.

“For me, it took a lot longer for the penny to drop. He was extremely good back then, and I was definitely not in the same league.

Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore during the Grand National
Minella Times and Rachael Blackmore during the Grand National (Tim Goode/PA)

“You wouldn’t think we’d be in the situation we are now if you look back at the video. If you had to pick someone to ride a Grand National winner of the future from that video, I’d say I’d have been about 500-1!”

She added: “The last four weeks have been brilliant, but you can never accomplish everything you want to accomplish in racing.

“Racing is constantly turning. We came back from Cheltenham, and that was brilliant, but a few days later we were in Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National – then we were in Aintree and now we’re gearing up for Punchestown.

“It’s a constant, evolving wheel where you’re definitely enjoying what’s happening, but you’re also getting focused on what’s coming up.

“I suppose there’s pressure there to prove you are what people say you are. But at the same time, if pressure got to me I’d probably be in the wrong job.

“It isn’t really a job to me. You’re a very privileged person when you can do something you love and get paid for it.”

Although Blackmore’s focus is very much ending a remarkable campaign on a high at present, she hopes there will be time to celebrate this summer – once coronavirus restrictions allow.

She said: “The minute Covid has decided to cease and resist, there will be a party!

“We have a break at the end of June, so it would be nice to get away if we can, but I don’t think you can do too much planning in the current circumstances.”

Setback ends Delta Work’s Gold Cup hopes

Delta Work has been ruled out of the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup by trainer Gordon Elliott.

The eight-year-old is a multiple Grade One winner and was fifth behind Al Boum Photo in the Cheltenham highlight last March.

He was last seen in action when third to Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, a problem has emerged since then and Elliott fears it has probably put an end to Delta Work’s campaign.

The Betfair ambassador said: “Unfortunately, Delta Work has suffered a setback which has shown up since he last ran at Leopardstown.

“It’s going to rule him out of the Gold Cup and probably the rest of the season.”

Metier heading straight to Cheltenham for Supreme tilt

Harry Fry has revealed ante-post favourite Metier will sidestep the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday week and head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Mastercraftsman gelding is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this term, completing his hat-trick with a runaway Grade One success in last month’s Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown.

Fry was preparing to let his stable star step into handicap company for the lucrative contest on Saturday – but with the cold snap leading to the entire meeting put back eight days, the trainer has confirmed a change of plan.

He said: “The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is very much our number one target and while we were happy to have a go at the Betfair en route, next weekend is only just over three weeks before the Festival.

“It’s not like he was going to the Betfair rated 139 – he’s rated 149 and already a Grade One winner.

“We think he’s got a very good chance in the Supreme, so that’s where our focus is.

“Newbury and the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) and everyone involved deserve a lot of credit for rescheduling the whole fixture, but sadly it doesn’t fit in with our plan for Metier – it wasn’t to be.”

Metier is the shortest-priced British-trained runner for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 7-1, with the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It the 7-4 favourite following his second Grade One success at Leopardstown last weekend.

Fry added: “Appreciate It probably wasn’t as visually impressive as he was at Christmas, but you still can’t knock him – he’s a dual Grade One winner.

“I don’t think we should dismiss Ballyadam either, who obviously didn’t run as well as he can at Christmas, but certainly ran much better to be second to Appreciate It the other day.

“As always there will be formidable opposition coming from the other side of the Irish Sea, which is another reason why we want to make sure we have our horse fresh and absolutely A1 for the big day.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Altior far from certain for rearranged Newbury date

Altior is far from certain to take up an opportunity at Newbury on Sunday week as connections weigh up the “pros and cons” of a race so close to Cheltenham.

The ground will be a major consideration, because it is well documented that testing conditions do not suit Nicky Henderson’s charge, particularly in view of the time he will have to recover before the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The Berkshire track’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture will go ahead next Sunday instead, after an inspection on Friday confirmed freezing temperatures will prevent it taking place on its original date this weekend.

Nicky Henderson with Altior
Nicky Henderson with Altior (Bradley Collyer/PA)

It was already confirmed before the inspection that the new slot on February 21 had been provisionally arranged.

Altior was declared for the Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Chase – better known as the Game Spirit – with leading Gold Cup contender Champ in the Betfair Denman Chase. The latter has not run since last year’s victory in the RSA Chase at the Festival.

Henderson said: “It’s highly commendable that the card could be going to be re-run and we’re grateful the opportunity to run Champ and Altior is available.

“As far as Altior is concerned, I need to discuss further with (owners) Patricia and Christopher Pugh to sum up the pros and cons of a race at this stage, particularly with a view to the going we might encounter on Sunday week, which is all important. This is relevant to the reduced time gap between the two races.

Champ in winning action at Cheltenham
Champ in winning action at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

“As far as Champ is concerned, he is coming off a longer lay off and it is more important that he has a race prior to the Gold Cup, which, in fairness, is only two days short of a month between the two.

“Obviously we will keep all options open and everybody up to date with our plans.”

Henderson added: “I must say it will be a great effort on behalf of Newbury, the British Horseracing Authority, the sponsors and ITV should it all come off.

“It will be a big effort from everybody involved, and we’re very grateful.”

Henderson sticking to Newbury plan despite possible rescheduling

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior and Champ will take up their respective engagements at Newbury – even if Saturday’s high-profile card is rescheduled for the following weekend.

The Berkshire track’s Betfair Super Saturday fixture is already in serious doubt following several days of sub-zero temperatures, with an inspection called for 8.30am on Friday.

Discussions have been taking place about the possibility of the entire card being switched to a later date, and it is believed that a Sunday slot on February 21 is the favoured option.

Henderson said earlier this week he would “desperately request” that both the Betfair Denman Chase and the Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Chase – better known as the Game Spirit – were saved, to give Champ and Altior the opportunity to run ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

And speaking on Thursday morning, the Seven Barrows handler gave his backing to restaging the meeting, which also includes the lucrative Betfair Hurdle, should it be on Sunday week.

Henderson said: “It’s fine by me. It’s the plan to run both Altior and Champ – they’ve got to have runs.

“We’re discussing everything with owners and things and it’s frustrating, but really nothing changes.

“I need to talk to Patricia Pugh about Altior and JP (McManus) about Champ, obviously. (But) if they send the whole card there (February 21), then we’ll be there.

“It’s amazing really that he (Keith Ottesen, clerk of the course at Newbury) says he doesn’t expect the ground to be that bad, which would help, as we wouldn’t want it very soft with that timing.

“I must say it will be a great effort on behalf of Newbury, the British Horseracing Authority, the sponsors and ITV should it all come off.”

Champ after winning at Cheltenham last March
Champ after winning at Cheltenham last March (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He added: “The horses were all geared up for this weekend and we’re just going to have to explain to them that Henderson has got his dates wrong!

“It will be a big effort from everybody involved and we’re very grateful.”

Having suffered just his second defeat over obstacles when beaten by Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton on his latest appearance, Altior will head to Newbury aiming to prove he still has what it takes to land a third Queen Mother Champion Chase next month.

Champ, meanwhile, will be looking to confirm himself a legitimate Cheltenham Gold Cup contender in the Denman Chase, having been off the track since his last-gasp victory in the RSA Chase at last year’s Festival.

Waiting Patiently to be aimed at Aintree

Waiting Patiently will sidestep the Cheltenham Festival and instead be aimed at the Grand National meeting at Aintree.

Ruth Jefferson’s stable star made a hugely encouraging return from over a year off the track when runner-up to Frodon in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The talented 10-year-old was subsequently dropped in trip from three miles to two miles and a furlong for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, where after being supplemented he finished third to First Flow and Politologue.

Having already been taken out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Waiting Patiently retained the option of running in either the Ryanair Chase or the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the Cotswolds, but has now been scratched from those races, too.

Jefferson said: “I took him out of the Queen Mother ages ago and I’ve now taken him out of the Ryanair and the Gold Cup.

“Thinking about it, we felt the King George wasn’t the fastest run three-mile race in the world, so maybe the Gold Cup wasn’t the right option.

“And after his last race, he was going to need a little bit of veterinary attention, so we thought we’d leave him for Aintree.

Ruth Jefferson is looking towards Aintree with Waiting Patiently
Ruth Jefferson is looking towards Aintree with Waiting Patiently (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s not had an issue as such, but the longer between his Ascot run and his next run the better.”

Reflecting on Waiting Patiently’s latest performance, North Yorkshire-based Jefferson added: “I just thought he was flat out, to be honest.

“He came into the race and just stayed on at the same pace.”

Gentlemansgame not certain to head to Cheltenham Festival

Mouse Morris has warned punters to “hold their powder” when it comes to backing the promising Gentlemansgame at the Cheltenham Festival.

Having just his second start under Rules, the five-year-old finished a creditable second to the impressive Gaillard Du Mesnil in the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

As a result he is now among the favourites for next month’s Albert Bartlett, but even if he does make the journey to Cheltenham, Morris slightly favours the shorter Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at this stage.

“I was delighted with him, I really was,” said Morris.

“But whether he travels (to Cheltenham), we’ll have to see. I just don’t know yet.

“If he goes he’d probably run over two-five, as the three-mile race has a gruelling reputation. It can leave a mark.

“No one seems to know what is happening with the travelling yet, either.

“I certainly won’t be rushing him this season, he’s an out-and-out chaser. We’ll keep all options open, it’s just a bit early to commit to anything yet.

“He’d be more unlikely than likely, I think. I’d be holding my powder, that’s what I’d be advising them to do.”

Gold Cup-winning trainer Morris will still be represented at the Festival this season by Sams Profile in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

“If he’s sound on the day, he’ll go,” said Morris.

“It was good to see him win, he was good in the Galmoy.

“He’s already been to Cheltenham and run well, so we’ve no worries on that score.”

Tiger Roll headlines National entries – but connections sound cautious note

Dual Randox Health Grand National winner Tiger Roll is one of 106 entries for the Aintree spectacular on April 10.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-year-old was denied the chance to make it three wins in a row last year, with the race cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tiger Roll, a four-time Cheltenham Festival winner, has not run since disappointing over the cross-country fences at Cheltenham in November – and his National participation is seemingly not guaranteed, with connections remaining unhappy with his rating.

Eddie O’Leary, racing manager for his owners, Gigginstown House Stud, said: “Touch wood, he’ll go for the Boyne Hurdle at Navan (February 21) next and then it will be the cross-country chase at Cheltenham.

“I think the November run was just one of those days. We didn’t expect him to win or anything, but we didn’t think he’d run that bad. There was no reason for it, maybe he had a headache, I couldn’t tell you.

“With regards to the National, he’s still got a crazy weight. For some unknown reason he has this crazy rating, but he didn’t even appear in the end-of-season classifications last year, yet he’s got this rating of 168.

“When I queried it, I was told that was because it was a cross-country rating. Tiger Roll was beaten 17 lengths by Easysland off level weights (in March).

“I’ve always said 168 is crazy and there’s no point in running in the National unless he’s given a chance. We’d be absolutely thrilled if he could run to a mark of 168, but it makes no sense.

“Unless he’s given a chance he’ll probably be retired at Cheltenham if he runs badly, and maybe Cheltenham is the right place to retire him given his record there.”

Trainer Gordon Elliott sprang to prominence when Silver Birch won in 2007
Trainer Gordon Elliott sprang to prominence when Silver Birch won in 2007 (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott has also entered multiple Grade One winner Delta Work as he chases a fourth success in the race having also tasted glory with Silver Birch in 2007. Presenting Percy and The Storyteller are others among his team of 16.

Nicky Henderson has famously never won the National, but he has entered last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini this time around.

Willie Mullins has entered eight, including Burrows Saint, while Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve has been given the option by Evan Williams, despite still being a novice.

The Ted Walsh-trained Any Second Now, French cross-country specialist Easysland and Kimberlite Candy feature in a strong numerical team for owner JP McManus.

Lake View Lad, Potters Corner, Bristol De Mai and Magic Of Light are others prominent in the early betting.

Golfer Lee Westwood could fulfil a lifelong dream should Yorkhill or Bellshill make the race.

Speaking to thejockeyclub.co.uk, he said: “It’s no secret that I have a real love for racing and that stems from watching big races like the Grand National from a young age. I’ve always wanted to have a runner in the big race, so to have two entered is perfect.

“It was such a thrill to see Yorkhill get back to winning ways at Newcastle in November and you certainly can’t write him off as a multiple Grade One winner, while Bellshill has plenty of class and would certainly have a chance if he runs.

“Sandy Thomson has done a great job with both horses so far and I’d love to win a race that’s famous all over the world.”

David Bridgwater’s Cheltenham Festival winner The Conditional and Jonjo O’Neill’s Ladbrokes Trophy winner Cloth Cap are other leading contenders.