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A Plus Tard sets out on Festival path with Betfair Chase reappearance

Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson is excited to see last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard make his return to action in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

A Grade One winner over two miles a couple of years ago, the seven-year-old successfully stepped up to three miles when lunging late to land a thrilling Savills Chase at Leopardstown last Christmas.

Connections elected to head straight to the Festival off the back of that victory and it almost paid off, with A Plus Tard finding only stablemate Minella Indo too strong in the blue riband.

With Minella Indo having suffered defeat on his seasonal debut at Down Royal three weeks ago, Thompson is aware that the other star stayer in Henry de Bromhead’s yard is likely to improve for the run.

That being said, he is anticipating a bold showing on Merseyside from A Plus Tard, who will be a first ever runner at the track for the De Bromhead team.

“It’s very exciting to be going to Haydock on Saturday. He’s in great shape, I think. He’s bouncing around and looking the part, so we’ve got to go in with confidence,” said Thompson.

“It’s obviously his first run of the season, but apart from that he’s in cracking form.

“We’re hoping for a big run, but we’ve got to recognise that he could improve for the run, of course.”

Thompson believes the fact conditions at Haydock are unseasonably dry is a positive for A Plus Tard’s chances as he bids to deny proven mud lover Bristol De Mai a fourth Betfair Chase success.

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after finishing first and second in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo and A Plus Tard (right) after finishing first and second in the Gold Cup (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We’ve got a bit lucky with the ground – that’s a plus, anyway,” he added.

The main reason A Plus Tard is travelling across the Irish Sea at this early stage of the campaign is the fact he prefers left-handed tracks.

Provided all goes according to plan this weekend, the son of Kapgarde looks likely to follow the same route as last season in preparation for his bid to go one better in the Cotswolds.

Thompson said: “All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March. We’ll see how Saturday goes, but he’ll probably go back to the Savills Chase again and then on to the Gold Cup.”

Delight for Cheveley Park as Allaho flies to Ryanair glory

Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson was thrilled to see Allaho deliver a poignant success for the team with a scintillating display in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

More renowned for their success on the Flat, the successful breeding and ownership operation have made a big splash in the jumping game in recent years with a relatively small but select team.

It has been a difficult year for the Thompson family, with the death of Cheveley Park owner David Thompson in early January, before several of their Cheltenham Festival hopes moved yards just a fortnight before the showpiece meeting.

The ups and downs of racing have been perfectly encapsulated by horses carrying the familiar red, white and blue colours this week.

Sir Gerhard provided Cheveley Park with a third successive win in Wednesday’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper – but it was a very different story when the previously unbeaten Envoi Allen fell in Thursday’s opening Marsh Novices’ Chase.

There was a huge pick-me-up for connections just over an hour later, however, with the Mullins-trained Allaho and the seemingly unstoppable Rachael Blackmore producing a fantastic front-running performance in the first of the two day three features.

Thompson said: “What’s happened today, in the space of about an hour, just demonstrates horse racing doesn’t it?

“Henry (de Bromhead) says Envoi Allen is absolutely fine, which is the key thing, of course.

Allaho returns to the Cheltenham winner's enclosure
Allaho returns to the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Allaho has always threatened to put in a big performance. He ran very well at the Festival last year and there’s been a bit of confusion since about his trip and the way he likes to be ridden, but today was absolutely perfect.

“He jumped like a stag throughout the race. It was really incredible to watch.”

Thompson admits the victories have brought on mixed emotions, with his father very much in his thoughts.

He added: “I’ve been watching all the racing with mum and my three sons. It’s been a difficult week because dad loved Cheltenham and it was his idea and his project to buy the jumps horses a few years ago.

“It’s a shame he’s not here to see it this year. We obviously had the horses moving from Gordon Elliott’s a couple of weeks ago as well, so it’s been a really up and down few weeks.”

What has already been a memorable week for Cheveley Park and Blackmore could get even better on Friday, with A Plus Tard challenging dual winner Al Boum Photo for WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup favouritism.

“To win the Gold Cup would be fantastic. It’s unfortunate owners can’t be there, but someone is going to win the Gold Cup – it might be us or it might be someone else,” said Thompson.

“We’ve now had 13 runners at the Festival since 2019 and we’ve won with six. Three Champion Bumpers, a Ballymore, the novices’ handicap chase with A Plus Tard and the Ryanair today.

“We’ll go again tomorrow and go again at Cheltenham with this squad of horses for the next three or four years, you’d like to think.

“We’ve still got two or three younger ones to come as well. We’re just blessed to have had a tremendous amount of success within this small group of horses.”

Envoi Allen the headline act as Cheveley Park target more Festival glory

Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson is relishing the prospect of seeing the brilliant Envoi Allen lead a formidable team into battle at the Cheltenham Festival.

One of the most successful breeding and ownership operations in the sport, Cheveley Park are more renowned for their success on the Flat, with the brilliant sprinter Pivotal, the top-class Medicean and multiple Group One-winning mare Russian Rhythm all household names.

But in recent years, the late David Thompson and his wife Patricia ramped up their interest in National Hunt racing – a move which has seen them land four winners at Cheltenham in the last two years.

Son Richard has been there throughout the glory years, but admits nothing gets the blood pumping quite like a winner in the Cotswolds.

A general view of Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket
A general view of Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I’ve always been brought up on the Flat essentially, as that is where our real business lies,” said Thompson.

“We’ve always strived to breed and race big Flat winners and to have winners at Cheltenham is more fairytale stuff, I suppose.

“I’ve been a Cheltenham regular over the years. Even when I was younger I’ve enjoyed going down to Cheltenham on the train for the Gold Cup – I was there when Dawn Run won and when Desert Orchid won.

“We’ve won some great races on the Flat, which has been fantastic, but the atmosphere at Cheltenham is beyond anything I have experienced at a racetrack in the UK, no question.

“Bringing in a winner at Cheltenham, with the atmosphere and noise, is incredible.”

Party Politics returns victorious in the 1992 Grand National
Party Politics returns victorious in the 1992 Grand National (John Giles/PA)

While Cheveley Park’s involvement in National Hunt racing is a relatively recent move, the Thompsons have had a strong link with the jumps game over the years, most notably with the 1992 Grand National hero Party Politics.

Thompson said: “Party Politics was probably the first really big winner. My father bought him as a birthday present for my mother two days before the National, so that will obviously occupy a big space in my memory bank.

“Dad always liked the jumps. We had a couple of runners in the National in the 1980s – Classified finished third (behind West Tip) in 1986 – and we’ve had a couple of other runners in the race

“Dad always had a thing about the Grand National, as a lot of people do. It’s such a big race.”

It was in 2018 the family decided to extend their interest in jump racing – buying a small but select string of jumps horses to run in Cheveley Park’s easily identifiable red, white and blue colours.

Richard Thompson (centre) and his mother Patricia receive the trophy after Envoi Allen's victory at Cheltenham last year
Richard Thompson (centre) and his mother Patricia receive the trophy after Envoi Allen’s victory at Cheltenham last year (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Although their Flat horses are trained in Britain, a chance meeting between Richard Thompson and Willie Mullins ultimately led to the vast majority of the family’s jumpers plying their trade in Ireland.

“My father and I were chatting a few years ago and I said to him that if we wanted to buy some proper jumps horses, it would be better to buy them young and with more potential, as a lot of the horses we’d bought for the National had been older,” Thompson added.

“I was sitting next to Willie Mullins at the Sir Peter O’Sullevan lunch in 2017 and that Christmas was when dad and I started talking about buying some young jumps horses.

“Dad was obviously getting older, so he agreed that we’d give it a go and I certainly promoted Willie as a potential trainer, having had a good chat with him at the lunch.

“Off the back of that we said having a few horses with Willie and Gordon Elliott might be the way to go, and then Alex Elliott, who bought A Plus Tard for us, recommended Henry de Bromhead.

“That first batch of horses included Envoi Allen, Allaho and A Plus Tard and I think between all the horses we’ve bought they’ve won nine Grade Ones and four Cheltenham Festival races, which is remarkable really.

“We just thought it would be something different and a bit of a change. It’s worked out fantastically well for us.”

Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far
Envoi Allen has carried all before him so far (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The undoubted star of the squad is Envoi Allen, who has lived up to his expensive price tag of £400,000 with 11 straight wins, including back-to-back Festival wins in the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

The seven-year-old will be considered one of the bankers of the whole week when he returns to Prestbury Park for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, and Thompson admits to feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.

“It’s amazing the following that Envoi has got. It’s just fantastic to be associated with a horse like him,” he said.

“It’s a shame we won’t be there to see him this year, but in a funny way that actually takes a bit of the pressure off.

“Let’s just hope he can keep the run going.”

Joining Envoi Allen on the Cheveley Park squad bound for Cheltenham are A Plus Tard, Allaho, Ballyadam, Sir Gerhard and Quilixios.

Should one or more of the sextet roar up the famous hill in front, the success will be tinged with sadness, following David Thompson’s death at the age of 84 in early January.

Thompson said: “My father had tremendous pleasure watching these horses before he passed away. He couldn’t go to Cheltenham in 2019 or 2020 as it was hard for him to walk at that stage, but I know he got tremendous enjoyment out of watching it on television.

“My mum was there on the Wednesday last year and led Envoi Allen in after winning the Ballymore.

“Unfortunately none of us will be there this year because of Covid restrictions, so I’ll be watching the racing on TV with mum and my three sons, who do enjoy the racing as well.”

A Plus Tard is going for Gold Cup glory
A Plus Tard is going for Gold Cup glory (Niall Carson/PA)

A Plus Tard, who provided the owners with their first Festival success two years ago, is this season considered a leading contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup following his last-gasp win in a thrilling Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December.

Thompson said: “That (Savills Chase) was fantastic and it was actually the last race my father ever watched, so it’s quite poignant.”

Ballyadam will be Cheveley Park’s first runner of the week in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, before Sir Gerhard bids to provide the team with a third successive win in Wednesdays Champion Bumper, following the triumphs of Envoi Allen and the currently-sidelined Ferny Hollow.

Allaho heads the betting for the Ryanair Chase on Thursday, while Quilixios will be in juvenile action.

Despite David Thompson’s death, his son insists there will be no let up in Cheveley Park’s bid for success in the coming years, both in the breeding shed and on the racecourse.

Allaho is another who will fly the flag for Cheveley Park at Cheltenham
Allaho is another who will fly the flag for Cheveley Park at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

He added: “It’s business as usual. My mother is still very much enjoying it and I love it.

“Cheveley Park will carry on and do what we’re hopefully not bad at doing, occasionally – breeding a few winners and having a few winners on the track.

“We’ve loved it as a family over the years. It’s given us great enjoyment and fulfilment and we intend to carry on.

“We’ve got around 120 horses in training, including the 16 jumpers. With my father not being around we’ll need to look at things a bit more carefully, but seeing the red, white and blue winning at Cheltenham and winning a few Grade Ones has been fantastic.

“It’s a shame my father’s not here to enjoy the next few years, but at least he was here for some of the success and hopefully there’ll be a good bit more to come.”