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Quilixios triumphs in style for brilliant Blackmore

Quilixios gave Rachael Blackmore a remarkable sixth victory of the week at the Cheltenham Festival when landing the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Blackmore can do nothing wrong and produced another brilliant ride on the Cheveley Park Stud-owned four-year-old, trained by Henry de Bromhead.

She had Quilixios (2-1) up with the pace from the outset, with rank outsider Talking About You for company.

When that horse weakened coming down the hill with two flights left, Blackmore asked Quilixios for his effort and got first run on the field.

Adagio tried to cover the move, but was outclassed by the unbeaten Quilixios, who powered up the hill to win by three and a quarter lengths.

Adagio held Haut En Couleurs by a head for second place. Zanahiyr, the 11-8 favourite, was fourth after failing to get in a blow.

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Quilixios – a recent transfer to the De Bromhead yard having previously been trained by the suspended Gordon Elliott – was given a quote of 12-1 for next year’s Champion Hurdle with Betfair and 14-1 with Coral.

De Bromhead said: “It’s been an incredible week.

“He’s a lovely horse, but we’ve only just got him. He’s a gorgeous horse and I’m pleased for Cheveley Park, as they are great supporters of ours.

“All credit to Gordon and his team as he looked amazing on joining us, we’ve done very little with him.

“We knew he jumped really well, and had been really impressive before today and he’s a lovely looking horse. He’ll be a nice chaser in time.

“I wouldn’t know about next year, we’ll have a chat and see what everyone wants to do.”

Blackmore admitted her parents are thoroughly enjoying her exploits at home in Ireland.

She said: “They’re getting a great kick out of it, so it’s brilliant. I know they’d have loved to have been here today, like a lot of people.

“I’m just happy I’m here and these horses are here.”

David Pipe said of Adagio: “I’d normally never happily take second, but we’d have taken that before the race as it looked an above-average Triumph.

Quilixios sees off his rivals in the Triumph Hurdle
Quilixios sees off his rivals in the Triumph Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

“He had colic not so long ago, so to do that was fantastic, and remember he came out of a claimer. We’ll see how he comes out of this, but he’s quite a tough horse and Aintree is the obvious place if he runs again. There will be lots more good days to have with him.”

Willie Mullins, trainer of third home Haut En Couleurs and Tax For Max, who was sixth, said: “It was a very good run and we’re delighted with him. He jumped and galloped and he’ll come on a lot for that. We’ll head to Punchestown we think.

“Tax For Max was very green and it’ll be educational for him for the future.”

Lisa O’Neill, representing Denise Foster, trainer of Zanahiyr, who had to settle for fourth, said: “It was a little bit disappointing. He probably ran a bit too keen and struggled to get up the hill after that. We’ll take him home and see how he is after the run before making a decision about running again this season.”

Alan King said of fifth-placed Tritonic: “He just floundered away a bit on that ground. We’ll see about Aintree, but he might go back on the Flat instead.”

Alan King anticipating Triumph ‘battle’ for Tritonic

Alan King is confident he has Tritonic in top form as he prepares for a “proper battle” against a clutch of fellow prospective stars in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Even before embarking on his so far unbeaten hurdles career, which includes a highly-impressive Grade Two win in Kempton’s Adonis on just his second start under three weeks ago, Tritonic took King to centre stage on the Flat as a Royal Ascot runner-up last summer.

The Barbury Castle trainer therefore has every right to consider him a leading light at the top level – but he has great respect for Friday’s opposition from either side of the Irish Sea.

Zanahiyr, like Tritonic unbeaten over jumps, has spent most of the winter as ante-post favourite.

He will represent Denise Foster, as he bids for a fourth successive victory – while his Irish compatriot Quilixios, transferred this month from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead’s stable, is already a four-time winner after his Grade One success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

The home contingent has a second strong contender too, in David Pipe’s Adagio – who won both the Triumph Trial over course and distance in December and the rescheduled Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow a month later.

Tritonic was yet to race over hurdles at that point, but has since surged towards the top of the market, and King is delighted with his preparation.

“He’s absolutely A1,” he said.

“I don’t think the track (at Cheltenham) will be any different to him, but the opposition is a lot stronger.

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“I’ve got great respect for David Pipe’s horse and the Irish horses – so it’s going to be a proper battle.”

Tritonic’s eyecatching Flat rating of 99 is an obvious indication that he could go right to the top over jumps.

“I hope so,” added King.

“But if he can do the talking on Friday now, we’ll see what happens.”

Quilixios, who has won his races by an aggregate of more than 50 lengths, also boasts fine credentials for the Champion Hurdle-winning partnership of De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, echoes King’s respect for the opposition – albeit in a select field of eight.

“It looks a very good race,” he said.

“The fields might be a little bit smaller at Cheltenham this year, but all the top horses are there.”

Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival
Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Quilixios could yet be one of them, and Richardson added: “He’s done nothing wrong – he’s four from four.

“He was most impressive when well clear at Leopardstown last time.”

Adagio has done plenty to fuel Pipe’s dreams of victory in a race which launched his father Martin’s great training career when Baron Blakeney won it as an unconsidered 66-1 shot 40 years ago.

In his three wins from four starts over hurdles, he has proved all conditions come alike to him.

“The great thing about Adagio is that it doesn’t really matter what the ground is and he’s got Cheltenham form,” said Pipe, who reports Tom Scudamore’s mount back in rude health after being briefly laid low in mid-winter.

“He had a little colic after his last run and was a bit quiet in himself.

“(Normally) he’s a real character who loves his food and he was just off games for the week.

“He’s been in very good form since, and jumps and travels.

“It’s a red-hot Triumph Hurdle. Is he good enough? We’ll find out at Cheltenham.”

There are also two Willie Mullins’ hopefuls – Haut En Couleurs, a narrow winner on his only French start but unraced for current connections – and Tax For Max.

Completing the eight are Nigel Hawke’s Historic Heart – runner-up to Adagio in the Triumph Trial – and Sean Curran’s filly Talking About You, who is the most experienced hurdler in the field with four wins from her 10 starts.

Quilixios camp yet to decide between Boodles and Triumph

A final decision on which race Quilixios will contest at the Cheltenham Festival will not be made until later this week.

The French import is unbeaten in three starts for owners Cheveley Park Stud – completing his hat-trick with a Grade One success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.

He is set to make his debut for Henry de Bromhead after Cheveley Park decided to remove the eight horses they had in the care of Gordon Elliott following the photo of the Grand National-winning trainer sitting on a dead horse which emerged on social media.

But whether Quilixios contests the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle a week on Tuesday, or potentially clashes with former stable companion Zanahiyr in the JCB Triumph Hurdle three days later, remains uncertain.

“A decision on which race he’ll run in will be made later this week,” said Cheveley Park director Richard Thompson.

“He’s very exciting. We have big hopes for him longer term and view him as a long-term prospect.

“The Triumph may be a little bit too quick for him, but we’ll see what Henry thinks later in the week.

“We’re quite relaxed regarding which race he goes for – because while next week is important, we want to do what is right for the horse as it’s all about the longer term with him.”

Quilixios will be part of a six-strong Cheveley Park team heading to Cheltenham.

Envoi Allen and Ballyadam, who also joined De Bromhead last week, are bound for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Marsh Novices’ Chase respectively, while A Plus Tard is on course for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

From Willie Mullins’ yard, Allaho will carry the Cheveley Park silks in the Ryanair Chase, with Sir Gerhard – another former Elliott inmate – set to line up for the Champion Bumper.

“I haven’t had updates from Henry or Willie on the horses that moved last Tuesday. I’ll get those later in the week, I’m sure,” Thompson added.

“Henry and Willie are very experienced, so we hope the horses settle in. They’ve only moved up the road, so hopefully it’s not too bad.

“Of course it’s not ideal – no one wanted this situation.”

Monday Musings: Willie Mullings and A Plot Awry

The Dublin Racing Festival, two days of the best jump racing in Ireland and perfectly placed five weeks before Cheltenham to offer definitive clues about the likely destination of many of its major prizes, did its job this weekend, writes Tony Stafford.

It also made the more than considerable likelihood that Willie Mullins will see off Gordon Elliott as champion trainer once again in their homeland into a formality. Fifteen races, mostly Graded and bolstered by some very valuable and fiercely contested handicaps, were framed. Mullins won nine of them, four of seven on Saturday and five from eight yesterday.

Elliott won one, in his juvenile hurdle niche where he still has the stranglehold on Triumph Hurdle calculations after Mullins decided that he needed to give French Aseel a little more time to settle into the stable routine. Ruby Walsh, the most brilliant race reader (Flat and jumps to be fair) I’ve yet to encounter on television let us in on that secret when discussing the Elliott winner Quilixios, who has supplanted French Aseel as second favourite at 6-1 behind his unbeaten stable-companion Zanahiyr, a 5-2 chance.

But elsewhere at least three Mullins Cheltenham candidates cemented their claims on major prizes next month. Last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner, Monkfish, maintained his unblemished record over fences in the 2m 5.5f novice and is now an 11/10 shot for the Festival (RSA as was) Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. If you think he’ll go instead in the shorter Marsh Chase you can have 7/1. Don’t take it because he won’t!

Saturday’s bumper winner, Kilcruit, bred by Willie Mullins’ mother, is now the 6-4 favourite for the Festival Bumper after a 12-length romp under the breeder’s grandson Patrick in Saturday’s Grade 2 event. The only problem with taking that 6-4 is that there are sure to be other Mullins runners in the race; but they will need to be good to beat this one.

Incidentally, when he made his debut at Clonmel last season, Kilcruit was actually beaten, and at the time was trained by Willie’s brother and the rider’s uncle Tony, who had such a spectacular summer with the staying German-bred mare Princess Zoe, winner of the Group 1 Prix Du Cadran at Longchamp last autumn.

Kilcruit turned up in Willie’s string for his seasonal debut at Navan in December where he won by almost ten lengths and, up in grade, had even more real estate and a good deal of extra goodwill to spare over Saturday’s rivals.

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A third certain Festival favourite will be yesterday’s easy novice hurdle winner, Appreciate It, now only 7/4 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. All three of these will have been heavily linked in multiple bets but the bookmakers are far less likely to be wrong-footed by these as they clearly were over the weekend by a very well-planned and almost as well-executed three-horse bet that could easily have repercussions for the far-sighted originators, or unscrupulous conspirators, according to where you stand.

Late on Saturday night, bookmakers, among whom Bet Victor have come forward to declare their hand, were assailed online by punters all wanting to back three horses, I would imagine in singles and linked multiples.

In Saturday night’s early betting they were all outsiders with only one – the middle leg, Blowing Dixie, at Southwell – having any realistic credentials according to yesterday’s Racing Post analyses.

Anyway, the three horses were firstly Fire Away, a 20/1 chance in the newspaper’s betting but double that the night before. In his last runs in Ireland he had been 7th of 15, beaten 38 lengths at 20/1; 14th of 25, beaten 25 lengths at 66/1; 8th of 11, beaten 26 lengths at 16/1; 6th of 8, beaten 39 lengths at 8/1; and PU of 16 at 8/1.

Those runs in Ireland took place between November 19th 2019 and March 2nd 2020. Transferred to Daragh Bourke’s Scottish stable he had three runs in late summer. They were 10th of 15, beaten 51 lengths at 50/1; 7th of 10, beaten 61 lengths at 20/1; and, last time out on September 16th, he started 50/1 and pulled up in a field of 11. Over the period his rating had fallen from an initial mark of 116 to 98.

Yesterday he was making his debut for a new stable, having joined Laura Morgan’s team near Melton Mowbray from Bourke only 11 days before the race. “He had two horses for sale and I originally had a different one in mind but chose him. I’m delighted I did,” she told Racing TV, understandably as he won the race unchallenged by 18 lengths at even money!

Leg two, Blowing Dixie, had won four races at Southwell, all of them over a mile and a half when trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam but, even so, for an 80-rated four-year-old Fibresand specialist to realise as much as £50k at last year’s July Sales at Newmarket might seem rather surprising.

Fetch it he did and, switched to the ultra-shrewd Iain Jardine, Blowing Dixie began a busy autumn schedule running six times between early September and late November. His card reads 7th of 7, beaten 25 lengths at 80/1; 8th of 9, beaten 22 lengths at 66/1; 7th of 8, beaten 28 lengths at 10/1; 10th of 13, beaten 21 lengths at 66/1; 5th of 6, beaten 16 lengths at 66/1; and finally 8th of 9, beaten 25 lengths at 17/2.

Starting for Jardine on a mark of 80, by yesterday he was down 15lb to 65. A 12/1 shot in the Racing Post, he started 4/6 and won by an easy two and a half lengths. His most obvious market rival, Drew Breeze, winner of two of his previous three races, started slowly and was never nearer than fifth of the eight runners, beaten 16 lengths at 13/8.

Daragh Bourke also figured in the third member of the overnight triumvirate. A former £260,000 buy from Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in 2017 after winning an Irish point and Galway bumper, Gallahers Cross didn’t win for Nicky Henderson and was sold on for £40k.

Between June 2019 and January last year he ran five times for Bourke beginning with an 8th of 9, beaten 48 lengths at 7/1, when the gloss of the decent placed Henderson form had not properly worn off. Next came an 8th of 10, beaten 62 lengths at 20/1; 11th of 12, beaten 54 lengths at 28/1; 7th of 7, beaten 39 lengths at 16/1; and, finally, last month, 7th of 8, beaten 50 lengths at 9/1. This time the official reaction to the string of poor performances was a reduction from 115 to 90.

So it is possible, even on the scantiest of scrutiny, to discern a pattern. Each of the three horses had a series of very poor runs from their respective (two, close together) bases in Scotland in the latter half of last year, and all three dropped just over a stone in the ratings and suddenly found form enough on the home gallops to persuade certain people to want to back them, and all on the same day.

The only thing that went wrong – possibly denying winning trebles into the thousands of odds against – was that Gallahers Cross, a 4-5 shot at the off, could finish only fourth of the seven runners, behind an all-the-way Paul Nicholls top-weight winner, Get The Appeal. Like Gallahers Cross, Get The Appeal is a son of Getaway.

As someone who set up a multiple bet many years ago which foundered at the final leg of four (when a future – two runs later! – Group 1 winner ridden by a multiple champion jockey finished unplaced), I can sympathise with those who thought their big pay day had come. On the other hand, any one of them whom I happen to know who didn’t bother to let me in on it – serves you right! But then, as with our try all those years ago that involved physically covering 300 betting shops, rather than pushing a few buttons on computers, two out of three isn’t bad.

Finally, it just remains to question how can any horse beat Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle after Saturday’s romp in the Irish Champion, a victory far more emphatic than last year’s? Tough, with plenty of stamina and unbeaten in one point-to-point and ten runs under Rules, surely the Henry De Bromhead mare can give Rachael Blackmore the distinction of being the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle. Sorry Epatante, unless Nico can contrive to make this a speed rather than a stamina test, her crown definitely looks to rest precariously on her head.

As Liverpool FC are finding, it’s one thing to win a championship, quite another successfully to defend it.

Quilixios claims comfortable verdict in Spring contest

Quilixios justified strong support when running out a ready winner of the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Trained by Gordon Elliott for Cheveley Park Stud, he was the winner of a hurdle race in France last March before moving to Ireland this term.

Having been impressive at Punchestown and Down Royal on his first couple of outings for Elliott, he seemingly faced a much tougher assignment in this Grade One.

Jack Kennedy was content to sit some way off the strong gallop set by Danny Mullins and Saint Sam, but when he asked his mount to close up, he did so effortlessly.

Quilixios and jockey Jack Kennedy celebrate a Grade One win
Quilixios and jockey Jack Kennedy celebrate a Grade One win (Niall Carson/PA)

While his jumping could not be described as super slick, it did not need to be on this occasion and he had the race in safe keeping on clearing the last, winning by five and a half lengths at odds of 4-6.

Coral cut the winner into 5-1 from 8s for next month’s Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“He made a mistake at the third last and to be fair to him, he picked them up well after that,” said Kennedy.

“Once I got to Danny (Mullins, on Saint Sam), I could feel him start to race, but once I got to the front, he idled. He is an idle horse but did it very well.”

Elliott, registering his first winner of the Dublin Racing Festival, said: “He was probably the first horse over the weekend we felt had a real chance of winning – yesterday we needed luck to have a winner. It is a relief though.

“He’s been flawless and in fairness to him, he hasn’t run since Down Royal. My plan was Chepstow over Christmas, but that was called off.

“Tom Malone bought the horse for Cheveley Park and it’s their first Grade One winner since Mr Thompson passed away and they’ve been big supporters of the yard.

“He’s more than a juvenile. Both of the good juveniles (stablemate Zanahiyr) are more than just juveniles.

“I’d imagine they’ll both have to go to the Triumph.”