Envoi Allen puts unbeaten record on line at Punchestown

Envoi Allen will face five rivals when he attempts to stretch his unbeaten career record under rules to 11 in the Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Having landed his point-to-point in February 2018, the Gordon Elliott-trained gelding has carried all before him – twice winning at the Cheltenham Festival, including last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Owned by Cheveley Park Stud, the seven-year-old has embarked on a novice-chasing campaign this season and has been faultless in two victories to date, at Down Royal and most recently in Grade One company at Fairyhouse.

However, Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade Three promises to present his biggest test yet over the larger obstacles, because he must give 11lb all round to some smart performers – chief among them Asterion Forlonge.

Trained by Willie Mullins, the seven-year-old – who runs in the colours of Gold Cup-winning owner Joe Donnelly – was fourth to Shishkin in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and got off to a winning start over fences at this track in November, before falling in Limerick’s Grade One Faugheen Novice Chase over Christmas.

Joseph O’Brien supplies two further rivals in Navan winner Fils D’oudairies and Sempo – while Henry de Bromhead’s Punitive and Dinny Lacey, from James Motherway’s yard, complete the intended line-up.

Envoi Allen all set for Punchestown

Gordon Elliott has confirmed Envoi Allen an intended runner in the Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old already has two Cheltenham Festival victories on his CV, having won the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, and he is the even-money favourite to make it a hat-trick in the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March.

He will be widely expected to make it three from three over fences by extending his unbeaten record under Rules to 11 overall in Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade Three, where his potential rivals include his high-class stable companion Andy Dufresne.

Elliott said: “Envoi Allen runs at Punchestown on Sunday. He’s in good form and worked yesterday (Tuesday) morning. I’m looking forward to running him.

“He has plenty of weight to give away, but we said that’s where we’ll go. It’s a nice distance for him and it looks like the ground will be grand and safe.

“I’m not sure if Andy Dufresne will run. He’s in good form – but whether we will run the two of them against each other, I’m not sure. We’ll have to talk to the owners and see what happens.”

On the same Punchestown card, Elliott plans to run Magic Tricks in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, a Grade Two contest he has won in each of the past two seasons with Felix Desjy and Andy Dufresne respectively.

At Fairyhouse on Saturday, the Cullentra handler has several entries for the Dan And Joan Moore Memorial Chase – while the exciting Quilixios could put his unbeaten record on the line in the ITM Virtual Stallion Trail Hurdle.

Elliott added: “Magic Tricks will run in the Moscow Flyer. He won well in Navan, and Christmas was always going to come a bit quick after that so we had this race in mind for him. It’s been a lucky race for us the last few years.

“I’ll run four or five in the Dan Moore at Fairyhouse. Chosen Mate was disappointing the last day, and maybe he struggles on heavy ground – he could be a horse for the Grand Annual again.

“I’m not sure if we will run Quilixios at Fairyhouse or keep him for Leopardstown next month. We’ll run something in the race.”

Envoi Allen the star name among Punchestown possibles

Envoi Allen could be the star attraction at Punchestown on Sunday after appearing among 11 entries for the Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old is arguably the most exciting National Hunt horse in training, having won each of his 10 starts to date, including a pair of victories at the Cheltenham Festival in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

Gordon Elliott’s charge has made a smooth transition to fences this season, most recently producing a foot-perfect display in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse – and having sidestepped the Christmas action, he is set to return in this weekend’s Grade Three contest.

Elliott has back-up in Andy Dufresne and Conflated, while the Willie Mullins-trained Asterion Forlonge could bid to bounce back from a fall in the Grade One Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick three weeks ago.

Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Chatham Street Lad would be a fascinating contender for Mick Winters, although he is expected to run in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse the previous afternoon.

Joseph O’Brien’s pair of Fils D’oudairies and Sempo also feature, along with Dinny Lacey (James Motherway), I’m A Game Changer (Andrew McNamara), Punitive (Henry de Bromhead) and Rebel Gold (Tom Foley).

Grade Two honours are up for grabs in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Willie Mullins has saddled a record seven previous winners of the race, with Mikael D’Haguenet (2009), Vautour (2015), Douvan (2015) and Min (2016) among the Closutton stars to have claimed victory.

This year Mullins has three contenders in Echoes In Rain, Ganapathi and course-and-distance winner Power Of Pause.

Gordon Elliott has landed the last two renewals with Felix Desjy and the aforementioned Andy Dufresne. The master of Cullentra could chase the hat-trick with either or both of Joseph Conrad and Magic Tricks.

Other hopefuls include the prolific Dreal Deal from Ronan McNally’s yard, Henry de Bromhead’s Gua Du Large and Paddy Corkery’s Master McShee, who was last seen impressing in handicap company at Leopardstown.

Bachasson keeps up Mullins’ winning streak

Bachasson rounded off a fantastic end to 2020 for Willie Mullins when completing a New Year’s Eve double for the champion trainer at Punchestown.

The Closutton handler racked up a staggering tally of 16 winners in the space of four days at Leopardstown and Limerick – with Sharjah, Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi among his six Grade One heroes.

The feature event on the final day of the year was the Punchestown Hurdle, a race Mullins had won in each of the three previous years, including with Bachasson in 2018.

The grey was the 30-100 favourite to repeat the feat in the hands of champion jockey Paul Townend, having made a successful start to his campaign in the Clonmel Oil Chase in mid-November.

Those who took the prohibitive odds can have had few concerns, with Bachasson leading from flag-fall and cruising to a six-and-a-half-length verdict over stablemate Scarpeta.

Mullins said: “I was hoping he’d jump a bit better, but Paul said he was just idle out in front on his own.

“We’ll mix it between hurdles and fences for the rest of the season, and we’ll probably keep him down the country over fences.

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“He’s not a big horse, but it’s the size of the heart that counts and not the size of the horse.”

Mullins had earlier saddled 10-1 shot Stones And Roses to win the Home Of The Placepot Handicap Chase, with Brian Hayes the winning rider this time.

“He’s improving and is a real old-fashioned staying chaser. Extended trips are what he likes, and he jumps for fun,” said Mullins.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Grand National Trial.

“I’m delighted to give Brian a winner. He’s an integral part of our yard for schooling and riding work.”

Longhouse Poet returns to the Punchestown winner's enclosure
Longhouse Poet returns to the Punchestown winner’s enclosure (Alan Magee/PA)

Longhouse Poet opened his account over fences with a determined display in the Join With A 10 Euro Risk Free Bet Beginners Chase.

Placed twice at Grade One level in novice hurdles last season, behind Envoi Allen and Latest Exhibition, the Yeats gelding disappointed on his chasing bow here in October before finishing second and third in successive races at Naas.

Martin Brassil’s charge was a 100-30 chance for his latest assignment under Mark Walsh, and dug deep from the home turn to get the better of a protracted duel with Run Wild Fred by a length and a half.

“He’s a horse that we always thought would need a trip, and he handles the ground. He had the experience from his few runs over fences – and he was fit,” said Brassil.

“He’s not a Grade One horse, so we may look at novice handicaps in the spring over an extended trip.”

Riviere D'Etel in the snow at Punchestown
Riviere D’Etel in the snow at Punchestown (Alan Magee/PA)

French recruit Riviere D’Etel made a successful Irish debut for Gordon Elliott in the Tote Supporting Punchestown 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle.

Runner-up in a Listed event at Auteuil on her latest competitive appearance in September, the daughter of Martaline comfortably landed prohibitive odds of 8-15 in the hands of Jack Kennedy.

The jockey said: “She’s going to have to step up in class now, but she couldn’t have done any more today.”

Elliott doubled up in the bumper with the Jamie Codd-ridden Humble Glory (9-4).

Jessica Harrington and Sean O’Keeffe combined to land the Tote Supporting Irish Racing Handicap Hurdle with Wingin A Prayer (3-1), while the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle went to John Morrison’s Danegeld (7-1), ridden by Mike O’Connor.

Grand National winner Madden announces retirement

Grand National-winning jockey Niall Madden called time on his riding career at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.

Madden, known affectionately as ‘Slippers’, guided the Martin Brassil-trained Numbersixvalverde to win the Aintree spectacular in 2006.

His other notable victories include the 2005 Galway Hurdle aboard Noel Meade’s More Rainbows, the 2006 Christmas Hurdle on Jazz Messenger and the 2010 Galmoy Hurdle with former Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition, trained by Mouse Morris.

Numbersixvalverde (right) claims National glory at Aintree Aintree
Numbersixvalverde (right) claims National glory at Aintree (David Davies/PA)

Madden’s final winner came aboard Philip Dempsey’s The Long Mile in the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Chase at Limerick on Monday, a horse owned by JP McManus, with whom Madden enjoyed a long association.

The jockey hung up his boots for the final time after finishing down the field in the Tote Supporting Punchestown 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle on Rich Belief.

Madden said: “I’ve had a great career and had my first ride here in 2001. It was nice to finish up here at my local track.

“The Grand National was obviously the big highlight, and I rode two Grade One winners – the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Jazz Messenger and the two-mile chase at Leopardstown over Christmas on Nickname.

“I’d like to thank all the owners and trainers who have supported me over the years – and obviously mam and dad, and Aine (O’Connor, fiancee). Unfortunately they can’t be here today, but I’m delighted to come out on my own terms.

“I’ve no major plans, although there are a few roads I’d like to go down. Nothing is set in stone – and I’m open to all job offers.”

Captain delivers at Punchestown

Captain Guinness got his career back on track with a first victory over fences at Punchestown.

The five-year-old was a high-class novice hurdler for Henry de Bromhead last season – and was not done with when he was brought down two flights from the finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Like many of De Bromhead’s horses, Captain Guinness was widely expected to take higher rank over the larger obstacles, but was pulled up on his chasing debut at Tipperary in October, after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem.

With Rachael Blackmore again in the saddle, he was 4-5 favourite to show his true colours in the GAIN Supporting Laois GAA Beginners Chase – and jumped well in the main on his way to a near five-length success over Midnight Run.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that and Rachael was really happy with him. He took a little blow turning in, so hopefully he will come on from that. It’s great to get him back on track.

“Obviously he was very disappointing the first day and hopefully we can keep the heart right. Rachael said it’s very testing ground and she thinks he’ll be better on nicer ground.

“He did a piece of work since Tipperary and worked well. He’s just been tipping away since and we keep monitoring the heart. Certainly before and after he runs now we will always check his heart.”

Captain Guinness holds an entry in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on Boxing Day, but his trainer added: “Christmas may come a bit soon and there is a nice race at Naas in early January.

“He can go there and if all goes well, then he can go to the Irish Arkle.”

Betfair cut Captain Guinness to 20-1 from 33-1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham next March.

Cape Gentleman makes his mark on hurdling bow

Irish Cesarewitch winner Cape Gentleman made an impressive start to his career over hurdles at Punchestown.

An 80,000 euro purchase out Nicolas Clement’s yard in France, the four-year-old filled the runner-up spot behind the high-class Mt Leinster on his Irish debut for Emmet Mullins at Listowel in September, before going one better at the Curragh the following month.

The Champs Elysees gelding was the 5-4 favourite for the Gift A Donation This Year Maiden Hurdle – and bar one mistake in the back straight, jumped accurately in the hands of Brian Hayes.

Petibonome and Homme D’un Soir tracked the leader into the home straight, but Cape Gentleman ultimately proved far too good, coasting clear under his motionless rider on the run-in for a two-length victory.

“That was great – it was great to get him on the board on his first run over hurdles,” said Mullins.

“He jumped well for most of it, I missed the mistake so I must go back and look at that.

“Brian seemed very happy – he’s over the moon with him.”

Betfair make Cape Gentleman a 20-1 shot for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Mullins added: “We’ll have a look at the programme book now. He’s hopefully a horse to look forward to in the spring.

“I was very sceptical if he’d handle the heavy, winter ground today. I had a Leopardstown maiden hurdle at Christmas in the back of my head, but that’s knocked on the head now.

“I’m not sure where we’ll go now, but we’ll look at a step up in grade and he should be able to cope with it.”

Bargain-buy Skyace sparks Festival dreams

Skyace will head straight for the Cheltenham Festival after continuing her fairytale campaign with victory at Punchestown on Sunday.

Bought for the bargain-basement price of £600 by trainer Shark Hanlon, after being placed in three bumpers for Willie Mullins, the five-year-old made a successful start for her new connections at Tipperary in June and has not looked back.

Despite having won a Grade Three event at Down Royal on her previous start, Skyace was a 28-1 outsider for Sunday’s Listed assignment – but proved that recent triumph was no fluke as she ran out a dominant five-length winner in the fog that shrouded the track.

Hanlon said: “I don’t know why she was 28-1. She’d won her graded race, beating a horse that finished third in the Champion Bumper (Queens Brook). If Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott trained her, she would have been 3-1.

“She’s a very consistent mare. It’s a dream come true for the syndicate that own her. There’s five of them involved and it’s unreal to think you can turn £600 into £50,000 in the space of six months.”

Hanlon confirmed his intention to give Skyace a winter break before preparing her for a tilt at the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, for which she is a best-priced 25-1.

“She’ll be put away now and will come back for the mares’ novice hurdle in Cheltenham in March – that’s the big plan for her,” the trainer added.

“She’ll get six weeks off now and won’t run before Cheltenham. She’s only a five-year-old and an improving mare.

“The owners will be going to Cheltenham whatever happens. If they can’t go racing, then they’ll go down the town and watch it there.”

Bargain-buy Skyace continues march through the ranks

Skyace continued her rags to riches story with a clear-cut success in the Listed Voler La Vedette Mares Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Bought for £600 having failed to win in three outings for Willie Mullins, the Shark Hanlon-trained mare was winning over hurdles for the fourth time.

A surprise 66-1 winner in Grade Three company at Down Royal last time out, the five-year-old was conceding weight to all her rivals as a result.

But that did not seem to matter in the slightest, as Jody McGarvey – who has struck up a good relationship with Hanlon’s charge having been on board for all her wins – always looked confident.

Finest Evermore, trained by Mullins, was sent off the odds-on favourite but was beaten approaching the last as Skyace rewarded her supporters at 28-1, winning by five lengths with The Sliding Rock battling on for second past the market leader.

The winner was cut to 33-1 from 50s for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

McGarvey said: “She’s improving all the time, jumped beautifully and she stays well. She galloped right to the line and is getting better with every run.”

When asked if this helped to prove last time was not a fluke, he added: “She won a maiden on the bridle, she won a novice hurdle on the bridle and she went to Down Royal and won a Grade Three. I don’t know what more she has to do to prove to people that she’s as good as she is.”

Power Of Pause not for stopping at Punchestown

Power Of Pause may have failed to win any of his three bumpers but he remains unbeaten over hurdles having shown a fine turn of foot to beat a decent field at Punchestown.

The meeting only got the go-ahead after three inspections, meaning the Irish Racing Industry Fundraiser For Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin In Memory Of Pat Smullen Rated Novice Hurdle was run in thick fog.

What could be seen was Jessica Harrington’s Crosshill shooting clear approaching the last and with a short run-in he seemed to have done enough.

Crosshill did not meet the last flight on a good stride, though, and David Mullins, riding Power Of Pause (6-1) for his uncle, Willie, sensed his chance.

Having pinged the last and landed running, he was almost on terms and in a matter of strides he had gone clear, winning by two and three-quarter lengths from the 6-5 favourite.

“He travelled and jumped well and is improving all the time,” said assistant trainer David Casey.

“He won his point-to-point and then took a bit of time to get going in bumpers. I’d say going jumping has helped him and, having won a point-to-point, he’s probably going to be a chaser down the road.

“David said he’d enough pace for that today, but he’d get two and a half miles.”

Unfortunately, by the time the feature John Durkan Memorial Chase was run the fog had closed in once more and following the big race won by Min, the remainder of the meeting was called off.

Initially the fourth race was delayed by 15 minutes while an inspection was carried out, but on completion of that the decision was taking.

Clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan said: “Following a further consultation with stewards, riders, doctors, judge, trainers and everyone involved, the rest of the meeting has been cancelled.”

Min bidding for landmark success in top-class renewal of John Durkan

Patrick Mullins is relishing the opportunity to partner Min for the first time in his bid for a record third victory in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old has landed the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One in each of the past two seasons, with Ruby Walsh doing the steering in 2018 and Paul Townend aboard 12 months ago.

With Walsh now retired and Townend instead heading to Cork to partner Min’s stable companion Chacun Pour Soi in the Hilly Way Chase, the most successful amateur jockey in Irish racing history will come in for the ride on last season’s Ryanair Chase winner.

He said: “I can’t wait to ride him – it’s a great ride to pick up.

“It looks a very tough race, but he has a fantastic record and hopefully we can improve it on Sunday.”

Min is one of four runners for the champion trainer, who is bidding to equal Jim Dreaper’s haul of seven John Durkan victories.

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Mullins also saddles Melon, who was last seen going down by a nose to Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in March when ridden by Mullins – the fourth time he has filled the runner-up spot at the Festival.

Samcro (left) and Melon jump the final fence together in last season's Marsh Novices' Chase
Samcro (left) and Melon jump the final fence together in last season’s Marsh Novices’ Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

The Closutton quartet is completed by RSA Chase third Allaho and Tornado Flyer.

Mullins junior added: “Melon and Allaho are two of the top novices from last year, so it will be interesting to see how they get on in open company for the first time.

“All three of them are in great form and working well. It would be no surprise if any of the three won.”

Gordon Elliott was due to fire a twin assault, with stable companions Battleoverdoyen and Samcro  set to renew rivalry after finishing first and third in a Grade Two contest at Down Royal last month. However, Samcro was declared a non-runner on the morning of the race

Battleoverdoyen is Gordon Elliott's sole runner in the John Durkan
Battleoverdoyen is Gordon Elliott’s sole runner in the John Durkan (Brian Lawless/PA)

“From the minute Battleoverdoyen crossed the line in Down Royal, it was always the plan to come to Punchestown for the John Durkan,” Elliott said.

“Battleoverdoyen won well in Down Royal and came out of his race well. We’ll see if he can back that up now.

“The trip should be good.”

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Chris’s Dream came close to claiming Grade One glory on the same Down Royal card – going down by a neck to Elliott’s The Storyteller in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.

Jockey Robbie Power is hopeful he can go one better this weekend, saying: “Chris’s Dream ran a blinder at Down Royal and I wouldn’t swap him on Sunday.

“He won the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park last season over two and a half miles and he travelled very strongly at Down Royal, so I don’t see any negative to him dropping back in trip.

“The horse that beat him at Down Royal had match fitness, which we didn’t have, but Chris’s Dream ticks all the boxes on Sunday and now he has had a run under his belt, which some of his opposition won’t have.”

A stellar field is completed by Joseph O’Brien’s Le Richebourg, who makes his first competitive appearance since winning for the fourth time in five starts over fences in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February of last year.

Min faces strong opposition in John Durkan hat-trick bid

Min is set to face seven rivals in his bid for a record third victory in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on Sunday.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old joined the likes of Native Upmanship and Djakadam as a dual winner 12 months ago – and will be well fancied to complete the hat-trick on his first start since winning the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Owned by Rich Ricci, his racing manager Joe Chambers told the Nick Luck Daily Podcast: “He’s in good form, he got his Cheltenham Festival victory in the Ryanair last year and he would probably have gone on to Aintree.

“He’s going for his third John Durkan in a row. He blew up badly at the back of the last 12 months ago when it was a bit of a howling gale and he did throw some ‘wahoo’ leaps in.

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“We’re hoping he’ll run well, for all that it will be a tough race as Willie has declared Allaho and Melon as well along with Tornado Flyer and then there’s Samcro, Battleoverdoyen and Le Richebourg – it’s a good field.

“Some of them have race fitness on their side so it’s going to be a real test of where he’s at.”

Min is one of four runners for the champion trainer, who is bidding to equal Jim Dreaper’s haul of seven victories.

Mullins also saddles Melon, last seen filling the runner-up spot at Cheltenham for the fourth time when beaten a nose by Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase, as well as RSA Chase third Allaho and Tornado Flyer.

There was little between Samcro (left) and Melon at Cheltenham
There was little between Samcro (left) and Melon at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

Melon is set to renew rivalry with Samcro, who will be expected to improve from his comeback third at Down Royal last month. His Down Royal conqueror and stablemate Battleoverdoyen is again in opposition.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Chris’s Dream bids to go one better than when mowed down late by The Storyteller in Down Royal’s Ladbrokes Champion Chase.

A quality Grade One field is completed by Joseph O’Brien’s Le Richebourg, who makes his first competitive appearance since winning for the fourth time in five starts over fences in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February of last year.

Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, said: “He’s been off a long time with a leg injury. Joseph is happy with him. It’s a hot enough race to get him started, but we don’t have many choices where to go so it will be nice to see him out.

“He’s been back in training a good while and he’s up for the run now.”

Chacun Pour Soi won at the Dublin Racing Festival but was a late Cheltenham absentee
Chacun Pour Soi won at the Dublin Racing Festival but was a late Cheltenham absentee (PA Wire)

It promises to be another big afternoon for the Mullins team, with the Closutton maestro sending his star two miler Chacun Pour Soi to Cork for the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase – a Grade Two prize he has already plundered on 10 occasions.

The eight-year-old will undoubtedly be a warm order to score on his first start since beating Min at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, with an 11th-hour setback having ruled him out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Mullins is doubly represented, with Cash Back also one of seven declared.

Coeur Sublime primed for Leopardstown challenge

Trainer Gearoid O’Loughlin is looking forward to seeing Coeur Sublime compete for top-level honours over the festive period following his promising stable debut in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

The five-year-old was runner-up in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when trained by Gordon Elliott, before finishing down the field in the Champion Hurdle on his return to the Cotswolds in March.

With owner Chris Jones having decided to move his charge to O’Loughlin’s yard during the summer, Coeur Sublime made his first start for his new trainer last month – and after travelling strongly to challenge for the lead, he weakened to finish a creditable fourth.

O’Loughlin said: “He’s come out of the race really well – as good as you could expect.

“Keith (Donoghue) said he gave a big blow coming to the last (hurdle). He would have been entitled to that, with it being a Grade One and coming from a small trainer.”

Coeur Sublime is likely to renew rivalries with Morgiana Hurdle one-two Abacadabras and Saint Roi in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.

“That was kind of the aim – to get the Morgiana run in and then go to Leopardstown at Christmas,” O’Loughlin added.

“He’s probably entitled to be there. He seems in good old form, and his mind is good, so fingers crossed – it’s exciting for a small yard like ours to have a horse like him.

“I think he handles soft ground. But there has always been a question about his wind, so a bit of nicer ground might help him.”

Min on course to bid for John Durkan hat-trick

Hat-trick seeker Min heads 11 in contention for the John Durkan Punchestown Memorial Chase.

Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old has bagged Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile feature on his seasonal bow in each of the last two campaigns.

Min, winner of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on his last start back in March, is one of five entries for Mullins – along with fellow Rich Ricci-owned runner Chacun Pour Soi, who proved too good in the Dublin Chase last term before having to sidestep Cheltenham.

The Cheveley Park-owned Allaho, third in the RSA Chase in March, is another Mullins possible – as well as narrow Marsh Novices’ Chase second Melon and Tornado Flyer, who was fifth in that race and already has a run under his belt this term.

Samcro emerged victorious in the Marsh for Gordon Elliott – and the much-touted eight-year-old is in this weekend’s potential field following his third place behind re-opposing stablemate Battleoverdoyen at Down Royal.

Joseph O’Brien could also be double-handed with dual Grade One-winning novice Le Richebourg a possible to have his first start since February 2019, while stablemate Mortal has already run five times this season.

Also in the line-up is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Chris’s Dream, who was edged into second in Down Royal’s Champion Chase on his return – a race in which another possible contender, Noel Meade’s Tout Est Permis, finished third.

Allaho, Chacun Pour Soi, Le Richebourg and Melon all have an alternative entry on Sunday in Cork’s Grade Two Kerry Group Hilly Way Steeplechase, over an extended two miles.

Neverushacon too strong for Thunder rivals

Neverushacon made a successful return to action in the Ballymore Group Risk Of Thunder Chase at Punchestown.

Runner-up to Yanworth in last year’s renewal, Jessica Harrington’s charge subsequently won over the cross-country course in February before finishing down the field behind Easysland at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Making his first competitive appearance since, Neverushacon was the 2-1 favourite under regular partner Paddy Kennedy, and travelled strongly and jumped accurately on his way to an 11-length victory over last year’s third Ballyboker Bridge.

Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother, said: “He was deadly and we couldn’t be happier with him – he seems to absolutely love it here.

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“We may go back to Cheltenham in December with him if the ground isn’t too heavy

“For whatever reason, he just seems to be a different horse around here.”

The Willie Mullins-trained Colreevy made a smart start to her career over regulation fences with a wide-margin victory in the Ballymore Group Rated Novice Chase.

Colreevy after winning at Punchestown
Colreevy after winning at Punchestown (Alan Magee/PA)

The point-to-point graduate won the Grade One championship bumper at the Punchestown Festival in the spring of 2019, and went on to ply her trade at a high level over hurdles last term.

However, she could scale even greater heights over the larger obstacles judged on this 15-length success under Paul Townend.

“The trip was ideal, she handled the ground well and she jumped great,” said the champion jockey.

“There was plenty of carnage behind me and I was able to stay out of trouble.

“Her form speaks for itself. She’s a big mare and chasing will be her game.”

Mullins and Townend were on the mark again in the Hub At Ballymore Maiden Hurdle, with French recruit Blue Lord (3-1) making a successful Irish debut – lunging late to deny even-money favourite Julies Stowaway by half a length.

Townend said: “That was a nice performance. It was halfway down to the last before the penny dropped and he started galloping for me. From there with a good jump at the last I was going to win.

“He jumped brilliant. The second wasn’t stopping and it was a good performance to come from behind and go by.

“I think he’ll get further.”