Minella Indo could bid for Gold Cup double at Punchestown

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo remains on course for the newly-sponsored Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on April 28.

The eight-year-old led home stablemate A Plus Tard to provide trainer Henry de Bromhead with a one-two in last month’s blue riband.

With A Plus Tard a possible runner at Aintree next week, Minella Indo will be a hot favourite to claim another big-race success in the 250,000 euro feature on day two of Ireland’s end-of-season meeting.

De Bromhead said: “It (Gold Cup) was a hard race, as you would expect, and A Plus Tard pushed him all the way, but he seems to be good since.

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“Like all the horses that ran in Cheltenham, we will give him as much time as he needs and just see how he is before getting going again, but we would hopefully be returning to Punchestown with him.

“He won the Grade One three-mile novice hurdle at the Festival two years ago, following up from the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, so he does like it around Punchestown.

“We will see how he is and discuss it with the Maloneys (owners), but there is a good chance (he’ll run) at this stage.”

Minella Indo’s potential rivals include dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo, who was third when bidding for the hat-trick, and his stablemate Kemboy, who got the better of Al Boum Photo in the most recent Punchestown Gold Cup in 2019 under the retiring Ruby Walsh.

As well as taking over sponsorship of the Punchestown Gold Cup, Ladbrokes will continue its sponsorship of the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle the following afternoon.

Flooring Porter is bound for Punchestown
Flooring Porter is bound for Punchestown (Michael Steele/PA)

The likely star attraction in that Grade One contest is Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, who made all the running in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“Punchestown is definitely the aim for Flooring Porter. He’s good. He came out of Cheltenham fine and is back in full work. We’re happy with him so all roads lead to Punchestown,” said Cromwell.

“It is really just about getting him back in the routine. He’s obviously very fit so it’s only a matter of ticking him over, but it doesn’t take very much to get ready.”

Flooring Porter was ridden by Danny Mullins at Cheltenham after Cromwell’s stable jockey Jonathan Moore stood himself down on the morning of the race due to injury.

Cromwell added: “It was a huge shame for Jonathan, but he is a big part of the team.

“We’re optimistic Jonathan will be back from injury to renew his partnership after Danny Mullins filled in so well at Cheltenham. He’s still quite sore at the moment, but will hopefully be fine by the time Punchestown comes around.”

Punchestown plan for Mrs Milner

Paul Nolan plans to head to Punchestown next with his Cheltenham Festival heroine Mrs Milner.

Nolan’s Pertemps Final winner has recovered well from last week’s trip to Britain, and Nolan has already pencilled in a potential target at the six-day Punchestown Festival – which begins at the end of April.

“We were delighted with her,” said the County Wexford trainer.

“She’s very well – she came out of the race great.

“We’ll make some decisions shortly – she’ll probably aim for something at Punchestown.”

Having won a hugely competitive race by five lengths off a mark of 134, Mrs Milner may be heading out of handicaps.

“There’s not much for her – she’s probably at the stage now where she’s coming out of handicap company, up near the 140s,” added Nolan.

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“In Ireland it’s very, very difficult to win off top-weight in a handicap – so she’ll probably have to take on horses at graded level now, which is not simple.

“At least if she moves out of the fillies’ races she has a 7lb allowance – and as we’ve seen from Cheltenham, it’s been a year for the fillies.

Mrs Milner clears the last to win the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle during day three of the Cheltenham Festival
Mrs Milner clears the last to win the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“She’s only a young mare, and if she continues to improve, maybe she can throw a bit of a blow at the highest level.”

Nolan also reflected on the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase performance of Monkfish, who is the three-time nemesis to date of his own high-class novice Latest Exhibition.

The two rivals first crossed paths in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival, and have twice met in Grade One chases since graduating to fences.

On each occasion Monkfish has prevailed, leaving Nolan to sidestep the Festival in order to avoid another unfavourable encounter with the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut.

Latest Exhibition (left) taking on Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase during the Leopardstown Christmas Festival
Latest Exhibition (left) taking on Monkfish in the Neville Hotels Novice Chase during the Leopardstown Christmas Festival (PA)

Monkfish was triumphant again at Cheltenham, but his somewhat sticky round of jumping produced a less emphatic win than expected and caused many to ponder how Latest Exhibition would have fared had he run.

“He still won,” Nolan said of Monkfish’s Cheltenham performance.

“People say to me ‘you should never be afraid of taking on one horse’, but I’d taken him on three times and been beaten three times, so there was a little bit of an inevitability about things as well.

“He still won the race – he did make mistakes, but he still picked up well and went to the line.

“We can all say ‘maybe this’ or ‘maybe that’, but the horse still won the race – and there’s no reason to think the tighter track on the inside would have suited my horse at Cheltenham either.

“We made a decision and we said that no matter what happens, we’re not going to be sorry.”

Latest Exhibition and Bryan Cooper celebrate winning the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle
Latest Exhibition and Bryan Cooper celebrate winning the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle (PA)

Latest Exhibition will head next to Fairyhouse, for the Underwriting Exchange Gold Cup Novice Chase. Envoi Allen holds an entry there, but appears more likely to wait for Punchestown.

“I hope to God we can come back, because I’d love to end up winning with him before the end of the season,” said Nolan.

“He’s only won once this season and if I was told that at the start of the campaign, I’d certainly be disappointed.

“So we’re trying to rectify that – and hopefully we’ll have made the right decision come Fairyhouse.”

Punchestown assignment on Honeysuckle radar

Henry de Bromhead is “leaning towards” giving Honeysuckle her final outing of the season in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

The mare maintained her unbeaten record in scintillating style at Cheltenham last week, with her rider Rachael Blackmore becoming the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle.

Paddy Power are the new sponsors of the Punchestown race, backing it for the next three years.

“Honeysuckle certainly appears to be going from strength to strength and was brilliant in Cheltenham, so it would be great to be able to go to Punchestown for the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle, all being well,” said De Brohmead.

Rachael Blackmore all smiles with Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore all smiles with Honeysuckle (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“I spoke to Peter Molony (owner Kenny Alexander’s racing manager) over the weekend and without saying for sure, we’d certainly be leaning towards Punchestown if we get the right signals between now and then.

“She seems good, really well and we’re delighted with her. We’ll just let her settle back in and just start tipping away with her again. We’ll just have to see and get a feel for her over the coming weeks and she’ll tell us how she is.

“Each horse is different and there’s no set routine after a race, we’ll let her tell us. She is having a well-earned rest and we’ll pick things up again when she is ready.

“We also have Aspire Tower who will be aimed at the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle. He ran a blinder at Cheltenham to be fourth. We were delighted with him. He is only five, but has made the transition from juvenile to open company very well and he will be aimed at Punchestown as well.”