Tag Archive for: Paul Hennessy

Hennessy planning Irish Champion Hurdle spin for Heaven Help Us

Connections of Coral Cup heroine Heaven Help Us have confirmed the eight-year-old will take in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle on the way to her ultimate target, the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Paul Hennessy-trained homebred daughter of Yeats caused a 33-1 shock when scoring at the Festival last March under Richard Condon.

Though beaten on her return to Prestbury Park in the International Hurdle in November, she was only a neck behind Royal Kahala in a Grade Three at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Hennessy admits he still cannot quite believe he has trained a Cheltenham Festival winner.

“What she has done for us has been absolutely amazing,” he said.

“This is all new to us. We grew up watching Cheltenham and the excitement that goes with it, but to actually go there and win is absolutely unbelievable.

“I know plenty of people who have invested a lot of money and Cheltenham is a hard place to get into. You need a good horse – but we are just blessed that this has happened for us.

“You hear people saying that Cheltenham is not the be-all and end-all, but if it is not, I’d like to know what is!

“If there is a better place for racing horses than Cheltenham, I don’t know where it is.”

The dam, Spare The Air, was the only horse in Hennessy’s yard when Heaven Help Us was foaled – and she has proved by far the best of her four offspring, taking Hennessy and owner John Turner to places they could only imagine.

“Everything about her, since the day we started – when she was fifth in a really good mares’ bumper in Ballinrobe to Gypsy Island, who is a fantastic mare – has been an unbelievable roller-coaster. It has just been amazing. It has been more than a dream. It has been just wonderful,” said Hennessy.

“Right up until the last day at Leopardstown. That was a very, very good race and we are thrilled with her.

“So, I am certain she will go for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham now, as she would have to carry nearly top-weight in the Coral Cup.

“She ran very well in that graded race at Leopardstown and while the weights suited her slightly in that, I don’t think a couple of pounds either way would have made much odds.”

Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle will be a heavy favourite for the Irish Champion Hurdle (Niall Carson/PA)

Before that, Heaven Help Us is likely to return to the Dublin track to take on multiple Grade One winner Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle on February 6, rather than run in the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle on the same card, a race she won last year.

“We probably will go for the Irish Champion Hurdle,” confirmed Hennessy.

“She will carry top-weight in the Paddy Mullins race if she was to run in that and, giving away lumps of weight to well-handicapped mares like she was last year, would not be easy.

“She would have to battle very hard – and I’m not saying she wouldn’t have to battle in the Champion Hurdle – but while it is a proper race over two miles, it would give her a workout.

“She won the Paddy Mullins last year off 10st 5lb and she would be carrying 11st 12lb or something like that this year. So that is a different ballgame.

“We will put her in the Irish Champion Hurdle, even though Honeysuckle and all those Grade One winners are in there. It might be less taxing to run her in the better race.”

All being well, connections will continue to live the dream thereafter, with their sights firmly fixed on the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, for which she is as short as 7-1 third-favourite with Paddy Power.

“Even the thought of going to Cheltenham again is crazy,” laughed Hennessy. “We are still dreaming. It is amazing. It is like a long, good dream – I just hope someone won’t go waking us up too soon!”

Hennessy sights set on Cheltenham return with Heaven Help Us

Paul Hennessy has an eye on a Cheltenham Festival return for Heaven Help Us after delighting in her narrow defeat in the Grade Three Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday.

The mare gave the trainer a season to remember last year, winning the Grade Three Coral Cup Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival by nine lengths in March in a triumph made all the more notable as Hennessy was handling a string of only three horses at the time and was better known for his success with greyhounds.

This term the bay began at Punchestown in a Listed mares’ race before returning to Cheltenham early in December for a tilt at the Grade Two International Hurdle, a race in which she finished fourth when pitched against geldings.

The Leopardstown contest was another graded affair and she was beaten just a neck by Peter Fahey’s Royal Kahala.

“We were absolutely thrilled because it’s a step up in grade for us,” Hennessy said.

“The two races that she ran in last year, although they were graded races, they were handicaps and she was running off a much lower mark.

“We had to step off of our mark into a proper graded mares’ race and the expectation is big, but she ran a blinder.

“It’s wonderful, it really is. The whole thing is amazing, that’s she’s come forward this much to be as good as she is.

“You can’t win every day, but to be competitive and come home in one piece is a blessing. There’s not a bother on her, she’s eaten up everything and she’s happy.

“She’s a gift, she really is. It’s very, very special for us to have one like her.”

Richard Condon and Heaven Help Us jump the last well clear in the Coral Cup
Richard Condon and Heaven Help Us jump the last well clear in the Coral Cup (Michael Steele/PA)

Punchestown could be the next port of call for Heaven Help Us if there is no appropriate race at the Dublin Racing Festival, with the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle likely to be the ultimate target when the Cheltenham Festival comes around in March.

“I don’t think there’s a suitable race at the Dublin Festival, though I haven’t gone through too much in depth,” Hennessy said.

“There is another nice graded mares’ race at Punchestown in February and then bringing her back to Cheltenham is the main target.

“We’d probably have to run in the Mares’ race but after her performance she’d be entitled to be there which is wonderful.

“She loves it there, the whole thing is just a blessing. To get something like this in your lifetime is just wonderful and we’re all really enjoying it.

“To think that she’d be able to compete in the races she has to run in is wonderful.”

Hennessy bred the mare at his Kilkenny base and is elated that she has turned out to be a top-level horse capable of representing his small stable at the high-calibre meetings in both England and Ireland.

“We’ve no right to this kind of excitement, it is just a blessing. A gift, there’s no other way of describing it,” he said.

“She was born and raised here at home, her mother was modest enough but she’s just at a totally different level.

“When we made it to those graded races, I don’t have any experience in them with horses – I do have with the greyhounds, but that’s when you’re expected to perform.

“You can sneak in a handicap off the radar and get away with it, but to win at this level is a tougher call altogether and for her to perform the way she did at the level, I was honoured, I really was.”

Hennessy ‘in the stratosphere’ following Heaven’s Festival strike

Paul Hennessy is still on a high following the exploits of Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

Better known as a Derby-winning greyhound trainer, Hennessy struck on the biggest stage of all with one of only a handful of horses in his care.

Ridden confidently by 7lb claimer Richie Condon, the mare never saw another rival having built up an early advantage and was one of the most impressive winners of the week.

“I’m somewhere in the stratosphere, among the stars, that’s how it feels anyway,” said Hennessy.

Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance
Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance (Tim Goode/PA)

“I was sat on the couch with my wife, Susan, on Sunday and turned to her and said ‘I still can’t believe she went over to Cheltenham and won a race’ and she said the very same.

“I almost keep having to watch the race again and keep pressing rewind to make sure it actually happened and that I wasn’t dreaming. From where we are, to send one over and win is hard to believe.”

Having failed to take to fences, the mare has now won two valuable handicaps and a step up in class will be on the cards, possibly over three miles.

“When we exercise her at home, I never see her getting tired – whether it’s five laps or 10 laps, she always walks off the same way. It was just a theory of mind that she’d stay three miles,” said Hennessy.

“Richie was amazing on her and for a young chap who had never ridden the course before, although he walked it twice, he was brilliant. Even though there were false starts, he still managed to get her out.

“Danny Mullins has been our right-hand man since we started with the few horses. She had always been his ride until he wasn’t available. Richie gave her a good ride at Leopardstown and while experience counts for a lot at Cheltenham, once Danny wasn’t available I was happy to leave him on.

“Danny won the Stayers’ Hurdle too, so it was all good and Emmet (Mullins) had a winner – Emmet is my godchild and he is Danny’s cousin.

“We’re small fry and so is Richie, so for us to pull it off is amazing. We didn’t set out with any fancy plan. Taking part in Cheltenham is great, but to win is surreal. She actually ran a decent race in the Supreme last year.

“We can think about the Mares’ Hurdle or the Stayers’ next year. I think the further out in trip she goes will suit her grand.

“What happened to us this year was so wonderful, we wouldn’t be expecting anything like that to happen again, that is the truth.”

Hennessy will let the dust settle before considering Punchestown, but he is looking at two possible options.

“There’s a mares’ race over two and a half miles at Punchestown she could go for, or we could go over three miles if she’s in good form. That’s where we’re at,” he said.

“I would just like to thank the BHA, HRI and Cheltenham for how they ran the meeting. Everyone there was helping you, what they did with the accommodation and the Irish bubble was incredible, so they deserve a lot of credit.”

Heaven Help Us dominates Coral Cup

Heaven Help Us turned what is usually a competitive handicap into a procession when making nearly every yard of the running in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham.

Trained by Paul Hennessy, who until recently was better known as a greyhound handler, the 33-1 shot was left clear at the last when Blue Sari fell, but the winner had flown in any case.

Witness Protection attempted to keep pace with Heaven Help Us throughout, but by the home turn those exertions had taken a toll.

While the field tried to reel in the long-time leader, Heaven Help Us kept finding for 7lb claimer Richard Condon, pulling nine lengths clear at the line.

Nicky Henderson’s Craigneiche came out of the pack for second, with Tea Clipper and Sayo filling the places.

Condon was also on board when the mare won at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out, but she was defying an 12lb higher mark this time.

Hennessy said: “It’s unbelievable, quite incredible to be honest.

“We had a plan, something similar to Leopardstown. There were probably 26 Plan As in the race, but at least we got to use our Plan A.

“Richie was absolutely incredible on her – I don’t think anyone could have ridden her any better than that.

“Training greyhounds is our career. We have about 40 and we were lucky enough to win a couple of English Derbys.

“I only train three horses. It’s off the planet to win here – I can’t believe it.

“We needed a miracle. Heaven Help Us is her name and heaven has helped us today.”

After five successive Irish victories on St Patrick’s Day – including Put The Kettle On in the feature Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – Sky Pirate just held the late thrust of Entoucas to land a blow for Britain at last in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

Nick Scholfield was back on board, after missing Sky Pirate’s two mid-winter victories because of injury, and the partnership showed great tenacity to win by a short-head at 14-1.

Entoucas still appeared to be full of running at the last but just could not quite reel in Jonjo O’Neill’s winner in time.

Ibleo stayed on to be almost four lengths further back in third.

O’Neill was full of praise for Sholfield.

He said: “That was great, and Nick gave him a fantastic ride – he jumped quick and slick, and everything went right.

“He likes it here, he obviously stays (further) but is much better off a fast pace at two miles. That plays into his hands, because he travels and does everything nicely.”

A shot at the Arkle this week was in the reckoning at one stage, but O’Neill chose the handicap option.

“I thought if he couldn’t win this he definitely wouldn’t win the Arkle,” he said.

“I thought it was a good run at Warwick behind Allmankind, and he likes the track here, so it all went well – and the plan went right.

“He might have to take a step up in grade now – who knows until you try – but he was in great form coming here. That was the plan, so we’ll see what happens.

“Nick said he was probably in front a bit early, but when the gap came he had to take it.

“A winner at Cheltenham is what everyone wants, and it is what you work for. To have runners is fantastic – and winners is even better.

“He’s surpassed our expectations. He just came in a different horse (this season), and I can’t give you an answer why.”

Hennessy living Festival dream with Heaven Help Us

A return to the Cheltenham Festival is next on the agenda for Heaven Help Us following her victory at Leopardstown.

On a weekend dominated by the all-conquering Willie Mullins, Heaven Help Us struck a blow for the smaller trainer at the Dublin Racing Festival when claiming a narrow verdict in the Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle for Paul Hennessy.

The Kilkenny-based handler is no stranger to big-race success, having produced two winners of the English Greyhound Derby in Jaytee Jet (2016) and Priceless Blake (2019).

However, having been a long-time friend of the Mullins family, Hennessy admitted he is still on cloud nine as he reflected on one of the greatest days of his professional life.

He said: “I’ve just about come back down to earth. It was an unbelievable day – the stuff dreams are made of.

“We’re normally sat at home watching on TV. When you have a home-bred mare like this, you couldn’t dream of winning these races, and it was extra special to win it for John Turner (owner), who is a good friend of ours.

“Myself and Paddy (Mullins) were neighbours when I was a youngster and he’d often give me a lift to the races in the car. I remember going to the old Dundalk one day with him when it was a grass track.

“Those days fuelled my ambition for racing and I ended up doing the greyhounds after that, so it really was wonderful to win the race named after him on Sunday.

“I grew up with Willie and his brothers Tom and George. It’s a shame we couldn’t celebrate in The Lord Bagenal on Sunday night, but when the restrictions lift, we’ll have our night out – don’t worry about that!”

Heaven Help Us has already provided Hennessy with a winner at Cheltenham, having won a maiden hurdle at the track in October 2019, after which he said: “For us to win a race at Cheltenham is just ridiculous. You have a better chance of winning the EuroMillions.”

The seven-year-old subsequently returned to the Cotswolds to finish a creditable seventh in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – and Hennessy is hoping she might get into one of the handicaps at the showpiece meeting next month.

He added: “We have her entered in the Martin Pipe (Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle), we have her in the Coral Cup and we have her in the County Hurdle. We’ve even put her in the Stayers’ Hurdle, just to try to make sure we get a day out in Cheltenham of some description!

“We did think about running her in a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown next week, to try to get her in the Pertemps Final, but I don’t want to run her so soon after winning the race on Sunday, so we’ll chance one of the other handicaps if we can get in.

“I think she’ll be near the base mark in them all. Personally, I’d be looking to be going up in trip for the Martin Pipe or the Coral Cup, rather than back in trip for the County Hurdle, but we mightn’t have a choice – whichever one we squeeze into is the one we’ll go for.

“She’s already been around Cheltenham. She won her maiden hurdle and ran a fantastic race in the Supreme last year when we were boxing above our weight, but we got a huge thrill out of it.

“We’re having a great time with her. You couldn’t ask for even half of it, in fairness.”

Hennessy and Condon in Leopardstown Heaven

Heaven Help Us provided trainer Paul Hennessy and young jockey Richard Condon with the biggest success of their careers in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle.

The seven-year-old found herself back over timber after a relatively unsuccessful spell over fences and she looked much more at home.

Condon took a lead into the straight off Razzle Dazzle Love, before kicking off the bend and seemingly putting the race to bed.

However, the 16-1 chance slowed into the final flight and lost some momentum, giving JJ Slevin a squeak on Global Equity, but Heaven Help Us held on by a neck.

“It’s a great thrill to win Paddy’s race. We were neighbours and when I was a young lad he would often bring me to the races and make sure I got home as well,” said Hennessy, who is also a successful greyhound trainer.

“I’m ecstatic. You look at the strength of that race. I just thought she wasn’t mad about the fences, but she was second in a Grade One (over hurdles last season).

“I thought we’d switch back to hurdles and it worked out.

“Danny (Mullins) wasn’t available because Willie wanted him, but Richie came in and rode her out for me. I told him he could ride her and he took 7lb off.

“It’s great for us and for her. She won at Cheltenham for us and was second in a Grade One – she’s magic.

“She might go for a Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown to try to get her into Cheltenham. I’d love to have a runner at the Festival.”

Not content with mopping up most of the Grade Ones over the weekend, Willie Mullins also scooped the valuable William Fry Handicap Hurdle with unconsidered 40-1 shot Maze Runner.

He was ridden by Conor McNamara, brother of Derby winner, Emmet.

He said: “It’s lovely to get it. I rode him the last day in Navan when he was a bit gassy and a bit keen.

“I got a lovely position, he relaxed but I was conscious to get there as late as I could. He was good and tough.”

Mullins added: “I’ll look forward to all the Festivals with him for the rest of the season and he can go back and race on the Flat as well. He can mix it between the two and he might win a chase at some stage.

“There could be a big handicap in him on the Flat.”

Mullins ended the meting as he started it with another winner in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, but it was with the relatively unconsidered Grangee (18-1) who prevailed.

Mullins said: Jody (Townend, jockey) springs a surprise. She did exactly as I asked her to, which was to keep her powder dry until the end.

“I was surprised she was beaten at Market Rasen but the winner (Eileendover) looks very good.

“We’ll have a chat about Cheltenham, the ground might be too good by Aintree.”

The Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go (10-1) won at the meeting for a third time in the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase after two wins over hurdles previously.

Byrnes is currently allowed runners as he has appealed against a six-month ban handed out following the Viking Hoard case.

“That’s his third win here and Mark was brilliant on him. We thought he would run well at Limerick over Christmas, but he just can’t jump out of the heavy ground,” said Byrnes.

Of the Viking Hoard case, he added: “I can’t say much with the appeal on Tuesday evening. It’s very upsetting for my family and racing in general and we have to let the case run its course.”