Russell mulling Punchestown option for Aintree hero Ahoy Senor

Ahoy Senor may be heading to the Punchestown Festival this month as Lucinda Russell ponders one more outing over hurdles for her impressive Aintree winner.

Russell has made no secret of the intention that British point-to-point graduate Ahoy Senor’s future will lie over fences as of the start of next season.

But after the six-year-old’s shock yet decisive success from a field of top staying novices in Grade One company at Aintree last week, his Scottish trainer will consider heading to Punchestown for the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle on April 28.

Ahoy Senor was among a clutch of British entries published on Monday for the five-day meeting, which will feature many of the stars of this spring’s major Festivals in a finale to the National Hunt season.

“It won’t do him any harm to get a bit more experience,” said Russell.

“But he really is a (future) chaser, and that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

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A decision over whether to travel has therefore yet to be made.

Russell added: “It’s 50-50 really. We’ve just got him back into work and we’ll find out how he is.

“I’d prefer it to be ground on the soft side. So no firm decision has been made (yet) – we’ll see how we get on over the next week.

“Maybe it’s being a bit greedy – but then again, if he is in good form, he is a racehorse and that’s what he’s been bought to do.”

So far, three days after the lightly-raced Ahoy Senor’s seven-length win from Bravemansgame, he appears to have recovered well from what was his third run of the campaign – and just the second hurdles start of his career.

Russell said: “He’s fine. He’s a remarkable horse really – very inexperienced race-wise, but just a very straightforward horse to deal with.

“We knew he was a very good horse. We only bought him in the autumn, and he missed out on the early-season novices.

“He’s been very well-prepared, and had a full season in training before he ran in his point-to-point – so we always knew physically he was going to cope with it.

“It was just whether he would mentally – but he is just very straightforward.”

Elsewhere among the Punchestown entries, Henry de Bromhead’s champions Minella Indo, Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle are all in the reckoning – and Monkfish and Envoi Allen are on course to clash too in a test of their superstar potential.

Gold Cup hero Minella Indo is one of 11 currently in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup – along with Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, dual winner of Cheltenham’s signature event, and his stablemate Kemboy, successful in the most recent edition of this race in 2019.

Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown
Gold Cup winner Minella Indo may be in action again at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The opposition for Queen Mother Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On, in the William Hill Champion Chase, includes Dan and Harry Skelton’s Nube Negra – who got closest to the mare in second at Cheltenham – and Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi. The latter’s stablemate and Ryanair Chase winner Allaho and Joseph O’Brien’s Aintree Grade One star Fakir D’oudairies also hold alternative Gold Cup entries.

On the same card, which opens the meeting, dual Cheltenham Festival winners Monkfish – unbeaten over fences for Mullins – and De Bromhead’s Envoi Allen, who lost his perfect record when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase last month, are among 12 in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice over an extended three miles.

Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter, winner of Cheltenham’s Stayers’ Hurdle, tops 25 possibles in Punchestown’s Grade One equivalent – and Envoi Allen has the option of dropping back to two miles, with both Mullins’ Energumene and Nicky Henderson’s Arkle and Aintree hero Shishkin among the potential opposition in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The Paddy Power Champion Hurdle could feature a rematch between Honeysuckle and Henderson’s 2020 Cheltenham winner Epatante – who was third this year – with her stablemate Buveur D’Air and Gary Moore’s Goshen also potential British challengers.

British runners tempted by £100,000 bonus at Punchestown

A British-trained winner of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle is in line to collect a £100,000 bonus.

Irish runners won a staggering 23 of the 28 races run at the Cheltenham Festival last month – including the Unibet Champion Hurdle, which went the way of Honeysuckle.

Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant mare is set to go for the double under Rachael Blackmore – and big-race sponsors Paddy Power are offering the bonus in the hope of tempting competition from Britain.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante got closest to Honeysuckle at Cheltenham from the home contingent when third. She is expected to reoppose later this month.

Spokesperson Paddy Power said: “We gave the Brits a beating at Cheltenham and now we’re laying down a challenge to the tune of £100k – come and have a go if you think you’re good enough.

“Honeysuckle blew her rivals away last month and will be well fancied for the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, but now there’s an extra cash incentive for any British raider who thinks they can dethrone the queen.”

Entries for the race will be revealed on Monday, April 12.

Bargain-buy Skyace in line for Punchestown

The Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown could be next on the agenda for Skyace following her popular success at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Bought for the bargain-basement price of £600 after placing in three bumper starts for Willie Mullins, the six-year-old completed her fairytale rise by providing trainer Shark Hanlon with a first Grade One success in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle.

Hanlon reported his stable star to be none the worse on Easter Monday as he reflected on his accomplishment.

“It was a great day. To have my first Grade One winner on Easter Sunday was a dream,” said the Bagenalstown-based trainer.

Trainer Shark Hanlon was thrilled with Skyace's victory
Trainer Shark Hanlon was thrilled with Skyace’s victory (Niall Carson/PA)
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“I think I’ve had seven Grade Ones seconds, so I suppose we were entitled to one. There’s a great buzz around the yard this morning among all the lads – that’s what keeps the whole thing going.

“I think it’s great for racing as it shows you pick up a horse for small money and you can go and have a bit of fun. Hopefully it gets more people into racing.

“I love the owners that I have, but I could just do with one or two big owners in the yard. Hopefully this result helps.”

Hanlon was not short of confidence in Skyace prior to the Fairyhouse assignment – and is eyeing further top-level honours on the final day of the National Hunt season at Punchestown on May 1.

Some of her owners enjoyed celebrating her latest triumph in Dubai.

Hanlon added: “I might have been a bit bold with the comment I came out with on Saturday, saying I thought she was a certainty, but you have to put your head on the block at some stage!

“She’s such a tough mare. She came home and stuck her head in the pot last night and you wouldn’t even know she’d had a race.

“I’d find it hard to run her against the geldings at Punchestown, but I was thinking about it last night and if Honeysuckle goes for the Champion Hurdle in Punchestown, we might go for the two-and-a-half-mile mares’ race. I don’t want to take on Honeysuckle, though.

“Our mare got a break before Cheltenham and after Punchestown there is very little for her, so if she went to Punchestown, she could have a couple of months off again.

“I think she’ll be a right mare for Cheltenham next year – for the Mares’ Hurdle.”

Bailey outlines Punchestown and Sandown options for Flow

First Flow could be a rare British-trained runner in Ireland this season with Kim Bailey considering Punchestown or Sandown for his Champion Chase sixth.

Bailey is keen to go back right-handed with the Clarence House Chase winner, who was beaten six and a half lengths by Put The Kettle On.

“He will go, if the ground is suitable, for either the Celebration Chase or to Punchestown. He has improved so much this season and seems a bit more versatile with the ground,” said Bailey.

“If the Champion Chase was run at Ascot, he would have won. David (Bass) struggled to steer him around Cheltenham and he really struggled to handle the bends there, but that was always going to be the worry we had.

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“At one point down the back straight it looked as though he was going to be pulled up, so how he has got back to finish where he did in sixth I don’t know, but it was a fantastic effort.”

Having taken his strongest team ever to Cheltenham, Bailey left empty handed, but he was enthused by the performances of Vinndication (sixth) and Younevercall (eighth) in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Of the former, Bailey said: “If you take all the Irish runners out of the race, he was second to Paisley Park! The problem with him is he jumps most of his hurdles like fences and that has happened as most of his schooling has been over fences, which he will be going back over next season.

“There is nothing to really run him in over fences and I think it would be too tight for him over fences at Aintree. The only other race is the bet365 Gold Cup, but he won’t be going for that, so he will go for the three-mile hurdle at Aintree.”

Vinndication is likely to head to Aintree
Vinndication is likely to head to Aintree (Tim Goode/PA)

Younevercall is to head to for the bet365 Select Hurdle.

Bailey added: “The plan is to go for the Sandown race he won two years ago. He ran a smashing race in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Half-way down the hill we started to get a bit excited.”

Ultima runner-up Happygolucky could run in either a handicap or Grade One over three miles at Aintree, but Imperial Aura, who pulled up in the Ryanair, is finished for the season.

“Unfortunately Imperial Aura broke a blood vessel in the Ryanair and he will now be roughed off for the season,” said Bailey.

“He was out of his comfort zone from the word go, but I think even if he was on song he wouldn’t have won that race as they went so fast. I think we will probably look to step him up in trip to three miles next year.”

Elliott records Punchestown four-timer

Black Tears initiated a four-timer for Gordon Elliott at Punchestown on Monday with victory in the Quevega Mares Hurdle.

Elliott, who is under investigation by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board over an image posted on social media on Saturday, sent a strong team of horses to County Kildare for Punchestown’s latest fixture, but was not in attendance himself.

With the Willie Mullins-trained Great White Shark a significant non-runner, Black Tears was the 2-5 favourite for the Grade Three opener – and ultimately got the job done with relative ease.

Black Tears after winning at Punchestown
Black Tears after winning at Punchestown (Alan Magee/PA)

After tracking The Getaway Star for much of for much of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, the seven-year-old moved strongly to the head of affairs on the approach to the final flight and pulled five lengths clear on the run-in in the hands of Jack Kennedy.

“It was very straightforward. She jumped and travelled well,” said the jockey.

“She picked off the leader easily and was idle up the straight.

“She jumped very well.”

Papal Lodge in action at Punchestown
Papal Lodge in action at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

Elliott and Kennedy combined for two more winners later in the afternoon, with Papal Lodge justifying 4-5 favouritism in division one of the Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Maiden Hurdle, and Coach Carter springing a 16-1 surprise in division two.

Kennedy added: “Papal Lodge seemed to be the best horse in the race, so I wanted to keep it simple on him. He jumped and travelled great and has done it well.

“Hopefully he can keep improving and there will be more to come from him.

“Coach Carter jumped great and travelled well. He’s a nice horse and hopefully he’ll keep improving.”

Elliott’s fourth winner of the day came in the concluding bumper, with 15-8 favourite Mighty Potter scoring readily under Jamie Codd.

Setback scuppers Cheltenham run for Ronald Pump

Ronald Pump has suffered a setback which has ruled him out of the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Trainer Matthew Smith reports it is not serious and is optimistic his stable star will be back in action at the Punchestown Festival at the end of April.

“He’s thrown a splint. It’s going to set him back a few weeks,” said the County Meath handler.

“He did a piece of work last week and was in great form. He’s fit so we’re hoping, fingers crossed, he’ll make it to Punchestown.

“Thankfully it’s nothing serious. He’ll just need a few quiet weeks.”

Ronald Pump, who was beaten just half a length by Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle back in November, was as low as 12-1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle on March 18.

The Big Dog strikes chasing gold in Grand National Trial

The Big Dog opened his account over fences after coming out on top in a thrilling climax to the Punchestown Grand National Trial.

Peter Fahey’s charge had been placed in his first three completed starts in novice company over the larger obstacles, most recently finishing third when a hot favourite at Navan last month.

Entering handicap company for the first time since his hurdling days, The Big Dog was the 5-2 market leader for Punchestown’s 80,000 euro feature, with top amateur Jamie Codd in the saddle.

The eight-year-old travelled with more zest than many of his rivals for much of the three-and-a-half-mile journey and looked likely to win comfortably after kicking clear rounding the home turn.

However, Screaming Colours finished to good effect in the testing conditions and made The Big Dog pull out all the stops to claim victory by half a length.

Fahey said: “His runs in all his beginners’ (chases) were good after coming back from a year off. I’m delighted for the Kellys (owners), as they are huge racing supporters and its great for them to win a good pot.

“He’ll tip away in good handicaps and see how it goes. He’s lairy and you have to make plenty of use of him, which is tricky in beginners’ chases as when you force it in front, he’s losing ground jumping.

“His jumping was brilliant today until he took it up and he just looks around.”

Considering future targets, the trainer added: “If the ground was heavy we might think about the Irish Grand National, but he’ll probably need to go up a bit in the weights to get into it. We’ll see when the time comes.”

Thedevilscoachman lifts Punchestown Listed honours

Thedevilscoachman continued his progression with a fourth win from five career starts at Punchestown on Sunday.

Successful on his racecourse debut in a bumper at Naas last season, Noel Meade’s charge made a victorious start over hurdles at Cork in November, before finishing fifth behind Appreciate It in Grade One company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.

Having since bounced back to winning ways at Navan, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old was the 15-8 favourite as he stepped back up in class for the Listed I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.

And after travelling strongly for much of the two-mile contest under Mark Walsh, there was a lot to like about the way he knuckled down after the final flight to see off American challenger French Light by two lengths.

Paddy Power left Thedevilscoachman unchanged at 16-1 for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Meade said: “It was a nice race for him. He’s so laidback – he just does whatever you want him to do.

“I’ll have to talk to JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) about plans and see what they are thinking. We’ll see where the handicapper puts him in.

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“He’s a nice horse to have. When you pick him up he has a great turn of foot, which is what you want in a real racehorse.”

Shady Operator also emerged as a potential Cheltenham contender for McManus after justifying even-money favouritism in the opening P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.

Making his cross-country debut for trainer Enda Bolger, the eight-year-old took to it like a duck to water in the hands of Derek O’Connor to leave connections contemplating whether to have a crack at the Glenfarclas Chase in the Cotswolds.

“He did it well. He’s an experienced handicapper, but it was his first time over the course. He’d taken well to the banks at home and Derek said he was very professional,” said Bolger.

“We’ll see now how he is after this. I don’t know whether he’d be good enough to go to Cheltenham or not. He could be a horse to come back here in the spring, but we’ll see when we get him home and talk to the boss man.

“It’s Derek’s first winner over the banks.”

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combined to land both divisions of the Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle, with Pont Aval (9-2) bouncing back to form in division one and Jungle Boogie (2-13 favourite) claiming his second win from as many starts in division two.

Mullins said of Pont Aval: “She’d been doing nice work at home for the last couple of weeks. She was disappointing at Christmas and it’s good to see her back to form.

“Two and a half miles plus will be the programme for her for the rest of the season.”

Jungle Boogie may have earned himself a place on the champion trainer’s Cheltenham team following his 30-length success.

“He’s a brave horse and he was just a bit keen with Paul. He likes to get on about his job, likes to get on with jumping. I think he was too keen to jump well,” Mullins added.

“He looks a decent sort and we’ll see if the owner wants to travel (to Cheltenham) with him. He’s well entered up and could be one for the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett, but he could be very keen to be going for one of those races.

“We’ll see how he comes out of this first.”

Dermot McLoughlin’s Thunderosa (15-2) claimed the David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle under 7lb claimer Paddy O’Hanlon, before Jack Kennedy steered the Liz Doyle-trained Farmix (4-1) to an impressive win in the Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Rated Novice Chase.

Doyle said: “He’s not a quick horse, but he jumps so well and has such a big, long stride that we’ll keep him to two (miles).

“He might get an entry in a handicap in Cheltenham. He’s not overly experienced, so we’ll see what happens.”

Gigolo’ Dai Dai (10-1) won the concluding bumper for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey David Roche.

French Light could provide landmark success at Punchestown

Keri Brion expects to have a clearer idea of French Light’s potential ambitions after running in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.

The six-year-old is one of a handful of horses currently based in Ireland with the former assistant to US Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard – and made a promising Irish debut when finishing second at Clonmel last month.

Having missed an intended appearance in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, French Light instead tests the water at Listed level this weekend.

Brion said: “He had a little cough before Leopardstown. It was nothing too serious, but he needed to be 120 per cent to go up against those horses, so we decided to wait for this weekend.

“Quite a few of the horses in the race on Sunday are probably future graded horses, but we think highly of ours and he’s come on a lot from his run at Clonmel, so we’re looking forward to it really.

“The ground is going to be soft or soft to heavy, but I don’t think is going to be any worse than it was at Clonmel and I like the fact we’re coming back from almost two and a half to two miles.

“This run will tell us where we’re going next, for sure. I know there’s only six runners, but there’s some good horses up against us, so this will give us a pretty good gauge as to where we’re at.”

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French Light’s five rivals include the Willie Mullins-trained Power Of Pause, who has already won over the course and distance and was last seen finishing third in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Noel Meade is in contention for Punchestown honours
Noel Meade is in contention for Punchestown honours (PA)

Noel Meade saddles recent Navan scorer Thedevilscoachman, while Joseph O’Brien is represented by Fire Attack and the long-absent Uhtred, who has not been seen in competitive action since landing a Listed bumper at Navan in December 2019.

“Fire Attack made a really promising hurdling debut when second in a Grade Three novice at Navan in November, but hasn’t built on that in two starts since,” O’Brien told Betfair.

“He isn’t the easiest of rides as he can get quite strong in his races, but he has the ability to be competitive in this sort of company if headgear (hood) can convince him to race more efficiently.

“Uhtred is a promising horse that has won both his starts in bumpers and made a promising hurdling debut in between those two wins last season.

“We had a small setback with him earlier this season which held us up, but he is a good shape now and ready to run. This is a tough enough ask for his seasonal reappearance, but we’ll be hoping that he can show plenty of promise.”

Harry Kelly’s rank outsider Confusionanddelay completes the line-up.

Alpha Des Obeaux is in action for Gordon Elliott at Punchestown
Alpha Des Obeaux is in action for Gordon Elliott at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

The most valuable race on the card is the 80,000 euro Punchestown Grand National Trial, in which Gordon Elliott could saddle six runners.

The Cullentra handler has declared top-weight Alpha Des Obeaux, as well as 2019 winner Dounikos, Roaring Bull, Monbeg Notorious, Out Sam and second reserve General Principle.

Elliott said: “Alpha Des Obeaux hasn’t been at his best this season and could never get involved in the Thyestes last time. It would be hard to have confidence in him, but at home he is showing that he still retains plenty of ability, so it wouldn’t shock me if he were to bounce back to form.

“Dounikos won this race two years ago and has done very little of note since then. He has dropped back to a rating which would give him a chance, though.

“Roaring Bull isn’t the easiest to predict, but he was second in the Troytown this season and he also ran much better than his final position in the Paddy Power Chase would suggest. I could see him running a big race here.

Monbeg Notorious is another Gordon Elliott contender
Monbeg Notorious is another Gordon Elliott contender (PA)

“Monbeg Notorious should find this race right up his street and this could just suit him better than the two he has contested so far this season. He is another horse who is starting to look reasonably handicapped.

“Out Sam could run well. On his four starts this season I think he has shown that he can win again and the twice he has fallen he looked like he was going to run well both times.”

O’Brien has a trio of hopefuls in Smoking Gun, Thermistocles and High Sparrow, while Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog and Midnight Maestro from Enda Bolger’s yard are among the market principals.

Dreal Deal fuels McNally’s Festival dream

Ronan McNally is dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory with Dreal Deal following his latest triumph at Punchestown.

The six-year-old was rated just 84 when his winning sequence began at Navan in September, since when his progress has been nothing short of remarkable.

After successfully reverting to the Flat with back-to-back wins in October, Dreal Deal has won three more races over hurdles – completing his six-timer with a Grade Two success in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

“Sunday was an amazing day – we really enjoyed it. Hopefully there are even better things to come,” McNally said.

“We did think he was a good horse when we bought him. The fellow that advised me to buy him thought he was the best horse he’d ever had through his hands.

“It’s well documented we’ve had aspergillus, and he never really had a chance to show his best because of that.

“Now he’s got his health, he’s definitely some machine.”

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McNally confirmed his stable star will head straight to Cheltenham in March, for either the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore.

While the County Armagh-based trainer considers the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It and Henry de Bromhead’s Bob Olinger as formidable rivals, he is confident his stable star has not yet reached the ceiling of his ability.

He added: “He’s in the Supreme and the Ballymore. I need to sit down with Denis (O’Regan) and work out which race would be best for him.

“He’s won over two-mile-six (furlongs), so we know he stays. He’s won over a mile and a furlong on the Flat and has won a Grade Two over hurdles over two miles, so it’s just trying to work out what the best option for him is.

“The stand-out horse for me this year has been Appreciate It. To me, he has been head and shoulders above anything I’ve seen this season in the novice department.

“The handicapper has us around 7lb behind him, so we have a bit of catching up to do, but there’s nothing to say we can’t make up 7lb.

“Bob Olinger is another stand-out, and I think he’s going for the Ballymore. They look the two stand-out novices, but I’d say we’re not a million miles behind them.”

Ronan McNally (left) with Dreal Deal
Ronan McNally (left) with Dreal Deal (PA)

McNally reiterated his belief that Dreal Deal was not at his best despite winning on Sunday, adding: “The day I was meant to go to Ascot with The Jam Man just before Christmas, I had ridden Dreal Deal in the morning and he didn’t sound great on the gallop. I ended up scoping all the horses, and the only one that scoped well was The Jam Man.

“I gave them all an easy week, and then over Christmas we had a bit of frost. Dreal Deal wasn’t eating great at the time, and his coat was a bit dry looking, so nothing really was going to plan.

“With the preparation that he had, it was hard to believe that he’d go and beat all the big guns in a Grade Two. I think it’s testament to how good the horse could possibly be that he did win.

“I actually think he’s come out of the race better than he went into it, which might sound a bit bizarre. He only lost six kilograms, which is less than a horse might lose after a day’s galloping.

“He could be anything, which is an exciting prospect.”

Dreal Deal (centre) powered home in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle
Dreal Deal (centre) powered home in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (PA)

McNally has previously stated his desire to have a leading owner like JP McManus in his yard, but as yet he has received no concrete offers for Dreal Deal.

He said: “There was an enquiry after the race, with someone asking if he might be for sale. I said I was open to listen to offers, but there hasn’t been anything firm.

“There’s no panic either way. He does look a good enough horse now for some of those bigger owners, but we’ll just see how things unfold.

“He’s an exciting horse for us to go to war with ourselves if nobody is interested.”

Owl Creek Bridge prevails in incident-packed Punchestown contest

Owl Creek Bridge somehow managed to avoid the misadventures all around him to land a gamble in the Sporting Life Beginners Chase at Punchestown.

In what was an incident-packed race from the outset – starting with Padraic’s Choice being withdrawn, causing the race to be delayed – both horse and Conor McNamara had to be at their most alert and agile throughout as fallers, loose horses and at one stage even an errant swan threatened their safe passage.

Favourite Ensel Du Perche was doubly responsible for the manic chain of events in the extended two-mile-six-furlong contest, initially when he fell at the first fence and brought down Good Luck Hope and Half Shot.

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All three horses then ran loose, weaving between runners at the head of a field which would eventually be reduced from the 14 who set out to just six finishers.

Ensel Du Perche was once again the chief culprit as he veered in one direction and then the other approaching the fence leading away from the stands, with his two fellow loose horses for company, before carrying out three more and causing another to refuse.

Among them were the appropriately-named pair Jack Fiasco and Hell On Earth.

Owl Creek Bridge had hunted round in midfield to that point, but the incident left him well clear.

That is where he stayed too for the final circuit, despite the bizarre attentions of a swan, who just briefly threatened another unwanted cameo when appearing on the rail on the run to the last.

After guiding the well-backed 7-1 shot home 12 lengths clear, for his father and trainer Eric, McNamara provided a calm eyewitness appraisal.

He said: “There was plenty of drama going on the whole way, and he had to make his own running after nearly half the field were taken out at the one after the stands.

“He jumped electric, and it’s good to get a beginners. He didn’t beat a whole pile – but a win is a win.”

Mullins hoping Townend will be back in the saddle at the weekend

Willie Mullins hopes his stable jockey Paul Townend will be fit for action again by the weekend after having to sit out Sunday’s meeting at Punchestown.

Townend also misses Punchestown on Monday and Tuesday’s card at Clonmel.

He sat out the ride on Asterion Forlonge – who departed at the first in the Grade Three Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase won by Envoi Allen – as he was feeling the effects of a last-flight fall from Youmdor at Fairyhouse 24 hours earlier.

After Mullins had completed a double in his absence at Punchestown, he said: “Paul was sore after his fall yesterday, and I said to him this morning that I’d prefer he’d rest rather than come here today – especially with the first two races being graded ones.

“There are important races coming up, and I’m hoping he’ll be back next weekend. I didn’t put him on anything tomorrow or Tuesday.”

There is then a three-day break before the jumps calendar resumes in Ireland, initially at Navan and then with a Sunday card at Thurles, which hosts two Grade Two chases.

Dreal Deal continues progression with famous success

Dreal Deal continued his remarkable winning sequence as he sprang a shock on his first attempt at Grade Two level with victory in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Ronan McNally’s six-year-old drifted in the market and was sent off an unconsidered 22-1 shot at Punchestown to post his sixth successive victory, over hurdles and on the Flat.

But after being held up last early on in the two-mile contest, he surged from well off the pace to lead just after the final flight and prevail by a decisive three lengths from the Willie Mullins-trained Ganapathi, under Denis O’Regan.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-4 favourite Magic Tricks came under pressure leaving the back straight and was eventually last of six finishers.

Dreal Deal’s progress through the ranks has been astounding this season.

The former maiden point-to-pointer began it as an apparently exposed performer, without a victory in 11 attempts under both codes, yet is since unbeaten – having broken his duck over hurdles from a handicap rating of 84 at Navan in September and won here at level weights from a field full of the big yards’ most promising novices.

McNally now has his sights on Cheltenham and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

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He said: “He won’t be going to the Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown and will probably go to Cheltenham now. I think he’s entitled to go there now.

Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory
Dreal Deal and Denis O’Regan (centre) on their way to victory (PA)

“If we have to go for a lesser race in between, we will do that, and if not it will be straight to Cheltenham.

“He will probably go for the Supreme, but he will be entered in the Ballymore as well. That was the dream, but he had to go and do that today.

“He’s done it now – so we can dream!”

The victory was made all the more remarkable because Armagh-based McNally revealed the build-up had been far from ideal.

He said: “We had a poor preparation, because he got a stone bruise during the week and that’s why he didn’t go to Fairyhouse (on Tuesday).

“All my horses were a wee bit off around Christmas, so they got a week off – and then with the frost, they missed work as well, so to be honest he’d done no galloping.

“Also his coat wasn’t great the last couple of weeks, and he hasn’t eaten as well he could. Nothing really was clicking, but we needed to get a run into him, and I knew anything he did today that he’d go forward from it.”

O’Regan added: “He can travel real well, but it just takes him a while to get going – and thankfully he got going in the straight. He’d a good jump at the last and won all right in the end.

“He’s definitely entitled to step up into higher company again, and it’s something to look forward to. Well done to Ronan and the team.”

On a day that did not go quite as he would have hoped, with defeat for Ganapathi and the first-fence exit of Asterion Forlonge in his clash with Envoi Alle, Mullins did at least leave with a double.

Frere Tuck (11-4) was the first Closutton winner, in the Punchestown Maiden Hurdle, after which Mullins said: “He choked the last day, and the tongue tie made a big difference to him today.

“Better ground would suit him well as he progresses through his career, and he’d have no problem going back up in trip.”

Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring
Klassy Kay could be one to note at the big meetings in the spring (PA)

Brian Hayes did the steering on Frere Tuck in the absence of Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore aboard Klassy Kay (13-8) in the Punchestown Onwards and Upwards Mares Handicap Hurdle.

Mullins said: “The form of her third at Clonmel the last day has worked out well.

“Going up in trip is suiting her as well, and she’ll have to go up a bit in grade now.

“I think as we go into the spring, drier ground will suit her – and she might be able to win a nice handicap at one of the spring festivals.”

Envoi Allen continues his relentless march

Envoi Allen easily extended his unbeaten record with an 11th successive victory under rules after his chief market rival Asterion Forlonge fell at the first fence in the Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Gordon Elliott’s dual Cheltenham Festival winner was expected to face a telling test in the Grade Three over two and a half miles, in which he had to give 11lb to his four rivals on heavy ground.

But that situation never materialised after Willie Mullins’ grey got in close when leading and fell for the second race in a row, bringing down outsider Sempo in the process.

Jack Kennedy and Envoi Allen subsequently led throughout – and although challenged by Joseph O’Brien’s Fils D’oudairies three out and again at the last, the 1-2 favourite eased clear again on the run-in to win by three and a half lengths from the 25-1 shot.

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Like many onlookers, Elliott was taken by surprise at the early mishap of Asterion Forlonge.

The County Meath trainer said: “It’s a bit of an anti-climax when the other horse went at the first. Jack said he went around in second gear, with his ears pricked.

“When he asked him to quicken going to the last, he did. He got a bit under the last and quickened again.

“He didn’t mind the ground, and he didn’t do anything wrong. I think he’d be better with a lead because he’s idle, but he had to do his own donkey work.”

Paddy Power, Betfair and Coral all left the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Envoi Allen unchanged at 10-11 for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

That is likely to be his next race, unforeseen problems with travelling to Cheltenham apart.

Elliott added: “He’s in everything at Leopardstown (Dublin Racing Festival) for fear something happened (with any Covid travelling restrictions) in Cheltenham, but I’d say we will go straight to Cheltenham.

“He’s been to Cheltenham twice and showed he can win around it.”

A big thumbs up from Gordon Elliott for Envoi Allen
A big thumbs up from Gordon Elliott for Envoi Allen (PA)

Kennedy admitted the loose-running Asterion Forlonge and Sempo had presented a challenge.

He said: “The loose horses had my heart in my mouth a few times. They crossed over me, but Envoi Allen is so honest he never took his eye off the fence. He’s unbelievable, and a very clever horse.

“He only really does what he has to do. He was very idle the whole way around in front – but as soon as I sat into the saddle, he put the race to bed.”

Envoi Allen facing stern examination at Punchestown

Envoi Allen has looked a natural over fences to date – but one of racing’s potential superstars faces arguably the stiffest test of his career at Punchestown on Sunday.

Already a Grade One winner over the bigger obstacles at Fairyhouse, the unbeaten Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old must carry a penalty in the Grade Three Sky Bet Killiney Novice Chase.

And when Elliott picked out this contest as his lead into another trip to the Cheltenham Festival, he probably did not expect to be giving 11lb to a horse as good as Asterion Forlonge – himself a Grade One scorer over hurdles.

Trained by Willie Mullins for Gold Cup-winning owner Joe Donnelly, Asterion Forlonge was fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and won on his chasing debut before coming down five from home in a Grade One won by stablemate Colreevy at Limerick.

Looking forward to an intriguing contest, County Meath trainer Elliott said: “He’s in great form at home, he’s well.

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“It’s a big ask to give 11lb to a Grade One horse, but this has been my plan and I wasn’t going to change it.

“We could get beat a length and run a very, very good race. It is probably going to be his biggest ask, but I’m happy with the horse and we’ll take our chance.

“It’s a bit like last year, we went from Naas to Cheltenham, and I thought this was the right road to go.

“I said a month ago where I was going. If he gets beat it will be disappointing, but it won’t be the end of the world.”

Envoi Allen's jumping has been foot perfect to date
Envoi Allen’s jumping has been foot-perfect to date (PA Wire)

For Chris Richardson, managing director of Cheveley Park Stud, victory would be poignant as only recently the stud’s joint-owner David Thompson died at the age of 84.

“A victory would mean a lot,” said Richardson

“You get nervous when he’s done what he’s done, and when you come up against a horse like Asterion Forlonge who is getting 11lb that is a task in itself.

“This is where Gordon has always wanted to go prior to Cheltenham, though. It’s looks the right race, there was no question of not running him and Gordon is very happy with him.

“He’s an extraordinary horse so you’ve got to go when the opportunity arises, you can’t dodge. He’s happy and it’s green for go.”

Asterion Forlonge promises to provide a stern test for Envoi Allen
Asterion Forlonge promises to provide a stern test for Envoi Allen (Niall Carson/PA)

In the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Elliott runs Magic Tricks, who is well on the way to matching up to his illustrious brother and stable companion.

Elliott said: “He’s a nice horse and I couldn’t believe he got beat in a bumper the first day.

“He was very good in Navan and I think he’s come on a bit from it.”