Saint Roi to miss Champion Hurdle

Last season’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi has been ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival by Willie Mullins.

The six-year-old was Barry Geraghty’s final Festival winner when bolting up in handicap company in March, and went into the summer as one of the leading players for the Champion Hurdle.

His season started well with a win at Tipperary in October – but since being stepped up in class, he has been beaten in the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle and the Irish Champion.

Mullins said: “Unfortunately he’s out of Cheltenham. Chatting to JP (McManus, owner) the other day we came to the conclusion that we’re not happy with him, and he won’t run at Cheltenham.

“He just hasn’t gone forward. He’s had one or two little niggles, and I think JP was happy to just let him get over those entirely. Maybe they are the reason – maybe not.”

Mullins still has three Champion Hurdle possibles – Sharjah, who was second last year, the injury-prone Saldier and an intriguing new recruit from France, James Du Berlais. However, Sharjah may need a new jockey, as amateurs are barred from riding in the UK at present.

“I’m happy with him (Sharjah). Maybe the last race just came too soon after Christmas. Patrick (Mullins) has his own way of riding him. The better the ground, the better chance he’d have,” said Mullins

“Things aren’t looking good at the moment, we’ll have to see if the protocols change. It’s looking tough at the moment, anyhow. It will give myself and Gordon (Elliott) and any other trainers with good amateurs a problem, but it will be what it is.

Sharjah and Eilish Byrne on the gallops at Willie Mullins' Closutton yard
Sharjah and Eilish Byrne on the gallops at Willie Mullins’ Closutton yard (Niall Carson/PA)

“Saldier won’t run in the rescheduled Red Mills, where it was close enough. He’s entered in the County Hurdle, but he has been aimed at the Champion Hurdle all year, so we’re pressing every button we can to get him there.”

Of James Du Berlais, who is now in the ownership of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, he added: “He had a very busy season in France last year and was bought as a novice chaser for next season, but it’s a long time to wait.

“I was happy to run him somewhere, but I’m not going to run him in the Stayers’, so we said ‘let’s run in the Champion and have a go’, rather than do nothing the whole spring.

“I think he’s rated 167, so that puts him in with a shot. It will be a true-run race – as it always is.”

Mullins trio take on Abacadabras in high-class Matheson Hurdle

Willie Mullins fires three strong arrows at Leopardstown’s Matheson Hurdle.

County Hurdle winner and young pretender Saint Roi, the lightly-raced but highly-talented Saldier and the relatively unheralded Sharjah – bidding for a hat-trick in this race, having given Epatante most to do at Cheltenham in March – all present persuasive cases for Mullins on Tuesday.

Saint Roi seeks revenge on Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras following their meeting in the Morgiana Hurdle – when those connected to the JP McManus-owned five-year-old felt he was slightly unfortunate.

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins, who maintains his partnership on Sharjah, said: “You’d have to think Saint Roi was unlucky in the Morgiana ,and we’d like to think he can turn the tables on Abacadabras.

Abacadabras jumps the last clear in the Morgiana with Saint Roi (white cap) having plenty to do
Abacadabras jumps the last clear in the Morgiana with Saint Roi (white cap) having plenty to do (Niall Carson/PA)

“Saldier is obviously coming back from a long lay-off, but we’ve got plenty of work into him. He still falls into the ‘could be anything’ category, so I wouldn’t discount him in any way, shape or form.

“Sharjah has won this for the last two years. The Flat campaign didn’t go to plan with him, so we’ve given him a break and freshened him up – and I’m delighted to be riding him again.

“Hopefully we can go for the hat-trick, but it might be difficult.”

As ever Elliott provides stiff opposition with Abacadabras, who pushed Shishkin close at the Cheltenham Festival, looking to build on his Morgiana win.

“Some of the Grade Ones at Leopardstown have attracted some great line-ups, and this is another quality race – it’s far more than just a rematch between Abacadabras and Saint Roi from Punchestown,” Elliott told Betfair.

“I was obviously delighted with Abacadabras at Punchestown, where I thought he did well to win because the race did not go to plan for him.

“He didn’t jump well and found himself in front too soon – but he was still able to win, which is a good sign.

“He is going to switch back to better ground here – which will suit him – and he’s been in very good shape since Punchestown, so I’m expecting a good run.

“I think he is a proper Grade One hurdler at this trip and I think if he runs up to his best he will be right there at the finish.”

Elliott also runs the nine-year-old Petit Mouchoir – winner of the race four years ago -who has his first start for the yard since leaving Henry de Bromhead.

Elliott said: “Petit Mouchoir has been a regular in these races for quite a few seasons.

“We bought him at the sales in the autumn, and he’s been given plenty of time to settle in and acclimatise to the routine here and he looks to be in good shape.

“I do think that he will improve for this run – and he is taking on some top class sorts – so I’d be hoping for a respectable showing, and I know there will be more to come from him following this run.”

Aspire Tower was very impressive on his comeback at Down Royal
Aspire Tower was very impressive on his comeback at Down Royal (Brian Lawless/PA)

De Bromhead is represented by Aspire Tower, who is only four but comfortably beat Abacadabras at Down Royal early in the season.

“He ran really well in Down Royal and he’s a horse with a very exciting future,” said his jockey Rachael Blackmore.

“Things went all wrong for him in Cheltenham last year (in the Triumph), but he still managed to get up the hill in second.

“He’s a great one to have in the yard.”

Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge and Gearoid O’Loughlin’s Coeur Sublime complete the field.

Saint Roi on course for Leopardstown

Patrick Mullins believes Saint Roi is the currently the leading hope for Champion Hurdle honours based at his father’s Closutton yard.

With Sharjah and Saldier also in the mix among Willie Mullins’ battalion, the amateur jockey is hopeful last year’s County Hurdle winner Saint Roi can make the step up, despite meeting with defeat when slightly unlucky in the Morgiana Hurdle on his most recent run.

Speaking at the launch of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, Mullins junior revealed Saint Roi is one of four potential runners for the team in the Matheson Hurdle on December 29.

“Saint Roi looks the number one at the moment. I know he hasn’t won a Grade One, but he has huge potential,” said the assistant trainer.

“He’s won around Cheltenham and for me, at he moment he could be the Champion Hurdle horse.

“We were very surprised with how keen he ran in Punchestown (in the Morgiana) and he gave Mark (Walsh) an awful time. Because he was so keen, his jumping got sloppy.

“He winged the third last and Mark was left in a situation where he could go forward and risk him doing too much and having his race run before the last, or take him back and hope he could get a run. It just didn’t work out and that happens.

“Looking at the race you’d like to think he’d be able to reverse the form with Abacadabras, but it’s not always that simple.

“I don’t particularly think he needs a strong pace, for whatever reason he just got fresh on the day.

“David Casey rides him every day at home now and I don’t expect that to be an issue again, to be honest.

“It’s a fascinating race. Obviously Abacadabras won the last day and he’s the one we have to go and get.”

The yard’s other entries include high-class mare Concertista and Sharjah, who Patrick Mullins has steered to win the race in each of the past two seasons.

He added: “Concertista was very impressive the last day, but that was a second season mares race and this is another big step up.

Patrick Mullins (pink) was second to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle on Sharjah
Patrick Mullins (pink) was second to Epatante in the Champion Hurdle on Sharjah (Tim Goode/PA)

“I hope she does run though because Paul (Townend) will probably ride her and that means I’ll get back on Sharjah!

“I think he could be a huge price at around 10-1 as he loves the dry ground there and loves the track.

“He got a little break after Galway. We tried him back on the Flat, but he just doesn’t seem the same horse on the Flat.

“Last season in the Champion Hurdle (at Cheltenham), it was such a big field and we dropped out. In a normal year if there had been seven or eight runners we’d have been five lengths closer.

“Would that have turned the tables with Epatante? – maybe not, but if it was a smaller field this year I wouldn’t mind another crack at her.”

Saldier has been off the track since winning last year’s Morgiana, but there is no doubting his ability.

“Saldier is a very exciting horse. He was probably going to beat Espoir D’Allen in Naas the day he fell as Ruby (Walsh) hadn’t gone for his stick and Mark (Walsh) had,” said Mullins.

“He got a nasty fall there, which put him back, and he’s very fragile.

“We chose not to run him in the Morgiana or Hatton’s Grace as we felt he wasn’t ready enough. You don’t want to be too hard on him at home either, so it’s a balancing act.

“He’s going to be better in March whatever he does at Christmas.”

Willie Mullins taking positives from Saint Roi defeat

Willie Mullins retains full faith in Saint Roi despite his odds-on defeat at Punchestown on Sunday.

Mullins was aiming to win the Morgiana Hurdle for a 10th straight year with last season’s County Hurdle hero, but he endured a luckless run.

Having raced keenly through the early stages before making a mistake at the final flight, Saint Roi eventually closed to within a neck of Abacadabras.

Saint Roi (white hat) had plenty to do jumping the last but closed to within a neck
Saint Roi (white hat) had plenty to do jumping the last but closed to within a neck (Niall Carson/PA)

“So much went wrong, but there are a lot of positives to take out of it,” said Mullins.

“He was beaten only a neck and in another couple of strides past the line he was probably in front.

“He made mistakes and got on the wrong side of things here and there, but the performance was still good. He was pulling hard and Mark (Walsh) was caught between a rock and a hard place.

“The ground was testing and he was hoping he’d drop the bridle halfway around. Then they all rushed by him at the second last and he found himself in a bad position, but these things happen.

“I’m hoping what we learned about the horse might be to our advantage the next day. I’d imagine Leopardstown at Christmas is the obvious route with him.

“He made a few mistakes, but I think that was because he was pulling so hard on heavy ground. On faster ground there will be a better pace and it will suit him better.”

Saint Roi puts Champion Hurdle claims on the line at Punchestown

Saint Roi bids to show he is a true Champion Hurdle contender when he steps up to Grade One company for the first time at Punchestown on Sunday.

The five-year-old only made his debut for trainer Willie Mullins in December on his move from France, yet has shot through the ranks on his last three starts.

Saint Roi looked destined for the top when winning the 24-runner County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and he had no trouble landing the odds on his return in a Grade Three contest at Tipperary last month.

He has been handed the task of giving Mullins a 10th consecutive win in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle, with just four rivals standing in his way.

Willie Mullins has saddled the winner of the Morgiana Hurdle for the last nine years
Willie Mullins has saddled the winner of the Morgiana Hurdle for the last nine years (Simon Cooper/PA)

Mullins said: “He came out of the race in Tipperary well. I’m very happy with him coming here.

“It’s a big step up in class, but he’s going to have to do it some day.”

Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, said: “It’s a competitive-looking race. Willie seems to be very happy with him and we’re hoping he runs well.

“We’ll know a lot more about him after Sunday. He won nicely the last day when the race conditions suited him well. We’re happy with him for Sunday and we’ll take it from there.”

Abacadabras, who was second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, represents Gordon Elliott.

Jessica Harrington runs stable stalwart Supasundae with Coeur Sublime and Jason The Militant completing the quintet.

Latest Exhibition attempts to build on his debut success over fences in the Liam And Valerie Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

Runner-up in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, the Paul Nolan-trained seven-year-old got off the mark over the bigger obstacles over this course and distance last month.

Nolan said: “All is good. He’s in good form and he’s been doing his routine stuff at home.

“I hope he puts in a clear round and gives a good account of himself.

“He seems very well. He’s uncomplicated and hopefully he’ll run well.”

Among his rivals are the Tom Mullins’ mare Court Maid, winner of both her starts over fences, and the Elliott-trained pair Pencilfulloflead and Run Wild Fred.

Elimay goes for a fifth successive win in the Frontline Security Grabel (Mares) Hurdle.

Her last two victories over fences, but connections of the Mullins-trained six-year-old have opted to start this season off over the small obstacles.

Elimay switches back to hurdling at Punchestown
Elimay switches back to hurdling at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

“It’s nice to get her back started. She’s back over hurdles and she’ll be returning to fences later on,” said Berry.

“Willie says she’s well. It’s a nice starting point to get her back out there on a good track.”

Mullins also saddles Buildmeupbuttercup while Harrington’s 2019 Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light is set to take her chance after being a late withdrawal over fences at Clonmel on Thursday.

Saint Roi bids for Mullins’ perfect 10 in Morgiana

Willie Mullins relies on Saint Roi to give him a 10th consecutive win in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

Saint Roi burst on the scene with victory in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and followed up with a successful seasonal debut at Tipperary last month.

Mullins withdrew his other entry, last year’s winner Saldier, at the 48-hour final declaration stage – leaving a field of five on Sunday.

Abacadabras, runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, represents Gordon Elliott – while Jessica Harrington runs three-time Grade One scorer Supasundae.

Coeur Sublime and Jason The Militant complete the quintet.

Paul Nolan’s exciting recruit Latest Exhibition is among seven runners for the Liam And Valerie Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

Runner-up in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old made a winning debut over fences over this course and distance last month.

Among his rivals are Tom Mullins’ mare Court Maid, winner of both her starts over fences, and Pencilfulloflead and Run Wild Free from the Elliott stable.

Elliott’s Fury Road, who was a nose behínd Latest Exhibition in the Albert Bartlett, reappears in the Unibet 1000th Race Celebration Hurdle.

A five-strong line-up includes Henry de Bromhead’s Baptism Of Fire and Ted Walsh’s Dewcup.

Magic Of Light, a late withdrawal over fences at Clonmel on Thursday, is one of five runners for the Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle.

Jessica Harrington’s 2019 Grand National runner-up faces Buildmeupbuttercup and Elimay from the Mullins camp.

Mullins pair among six on course for Morgiana

Willie Mullins’ pair of Saint Roi and Saldier head six in contention for the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

Saint Roi has won three of his four starts for Mullins to date, signing off last term with an impressive County Hurdle success at Cheltenham before returning with a bloodless five-and-a-half-length verdict in a Tipperary Grade Three.

While the five-year-old arrives with the benefit of a run, stablemate Saldier would be having his first start on Sunday since winning this Grade One event last November.

The six-year-old shocked odds-on favourite and fellow Mullins inmate Klassical Dream 12 months ago, but did not run again after suffering a setback.

Mullins has won the last nine renewals of the race. His chief rival this time appears to be Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras, who suffered a surprise reverse at the hands of Aspire Tower on his return in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal last month.

The winner’s stablemate Jason The Militant was back in third in that Grade Two event, and trainer Henry de Bromhead is planning to give him a chance at the top level this weekend.

He said: “I’d say we’ll have a go at the Morgiana this week. It’s a little bit quicker back than I normally would, but he’s tough.

“Paul (Townend) said he felt he might have started to race a little bit sooner than he ideally wanted to, and he said he took a good blow after the last (at Down Royal). I thought with his Flat run at Fairyhouse when he won, that would have had him spot on, but I’d left him a little bit short.

“He will come on for his run the other day. He’s a good horse, so it will be interesting to see him in the Morgiana.”

Jessica Harrington’s three-time Grade One winner Supasundae and the Gearoid O’Loughlin-trained Coeur Sublime complete the possibles.

Latest Exhibition is one of nine entries for the Grade Two Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

A Grade One scorer over hurdles, he made a winning chase bow for Paul Nolan at this track last month, but he could face some stiff opposition this time.

Elliott has Galway first and second Pencilfulloflead and Coko Beach, plus Run Wild Fred, while Joseph O’Brien’s Home By The Lee hit the target in Grade Three company last time.

Tom Mullins’ Court Maid is another to note after two impressive chase victories.

Barry Geraghty auctioning Cheltenham-winning breeches for charity

Barry Geraghty hung up his riding boots in July – and is now putting his Cheltenham Festival-winning breeches up for auction in aid of the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund.

Bidding has opened and will close on Sunday night, for the signed and framed breeches – in an auction backed by Sporting Index as their ambassador Geraghty seeks to raise money for a cause close to his heart.

Geraghty wore them throughout this year’s Cheltenham Festival, including when riding his fifth and final winner at the four-day meeting – and 43rd at the showpiece event through his career – on Saint Roi in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.

On announcing his retirement four months later, he made it clear he had already known when passing the line at the end of Cheltenham in March that he would not be back to ride there again.

As the home of National Hunt racing begins its new season this week, the 41-year-old Irishman said: “Having had my fair share of injuries, I got to know about the superb work that the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund do.

“They play an integral part for jockeys and racing as a whole – and any support we can give them will be greatly appreciated, I’m sure.

“Winning the County Hurdle on Saint Roi gave me a huge buzz, but it was obviously a strange feeling as I was getting off the horse in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham, knowing it would be my last.”

Geraghty is at ease with his decision to retire – but admits there could be the odd pang of mixed feelings when the superstar horses he rode to victory last season start to return to the track.

“I’m enjoying the new pace of life since retiring earlier this summer, and I’m not missing the race-riding too much yet,” he said.

“The real test will be when the big days come around, though, and I have to watch the likes of Epatante, Defi Du Seuil and Champ on the TV screen!”

Bids for Barry’s breeches can be made up until midnight on Sunday, October 25 at

High hopes Saint Roi can prove Champion Hurdle material

Saint Roi “could be anything” as the County Hurdle winner attempts to prove he is up to Champion Hurdle class later this season.

Having impressed many with the way he won one of the most competitive handicaps of the season at Cheltenham, the JP McManus-owned gelding did little to dampen enthusiasm winning a Grade Three event at Tipperary recently.

While plans are fluid for the Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old at this stage, his son and assistant, Patrick, feels he should be treated as a Champion Hurdle contender until he proves otherwise.

The latter did, though, have a rather forgettable experience on Saint Roi at Clonmel in December.

“I thought he had all the ingredients to win the amateur maiden hurdle in Clonmel last year, but that is one of life’s great mysteries,” said Mullins.

“He jumped terribly that day and we got the physio on to him, maybe he was a bit sore. Usually he is a fast jumper.

“We think this horse could be anything. To do what he did last year in the County Hurdle off the back of just two runs for us was extraordinary, you just don’t see that happen.

“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a fantastic jumper usually, he works with a lot of speed, he’s won at the track, although the Champion Hurdle is on a different one to the County, but for me he ticks all the boxes. Until he says he’s not good enough we’re going to think he is.”

Mullins rode Sharjah to finish second to the McManus-owned Epatante in last season’s Champion Hurdle and by the sound of things would not be giving up the ride on him to anyone else.

“Last season for four or five strides I was thinking ‘here we go’, but the mare probably won quite comfortably in the end – Barry (Geraghty) was always in position A,” he said.

“A smaller field might have helped me, we went forward in the Irish Champion to follow Honeysuckle and it didn’t seem to work so we went back to ride him patiently so he could pass horses which he seems to love.

Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah
Patrick Mullins (left) has enjoyed some great days on Sharjah (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I think he’s a huge price (for the Champion) again, I think he could be a Theatreworld and be placed in the race a couple of times and on another day – Epatante was coughing in February last year – you just don’t know.

“To me he’s a fantastic horse, he had a little break after Galway and will probably have the same programme, Morgiana then back to Leopardstown. I’d love to win a third Christmas Hurdle on him and I’d love another crack at Honeysuckle.”

In the same Rich and Susannah Ricci colours is Saldier, undoubtedly talented, as he showed when winning the Morgiana Hurdle almost a year ago, but who has had his issues, having managed just two runs in the last two years.

“Saldier is back in riding away with the rest of the winter horses and we’re probably looking at following the pattern of the rest of the good hurdlers,” said Mullins.

“I think the form of his Morgiana win would put him smack bang in the Champion Hurdle picture if we can keep him right – so far we’ve had no issues with him.”

Mullins’ father has dominated the mares’ hurdle scene for years, but he suffered a rare reverse at Cheltenham in March in that division when Honeysuckle lowered the colours of Benie Des Dieux.

It was a first defeat in nine completed starts since joining Mullins and a revenge mission is on the cards.

“Benie Des Dieux is back in and, like Quevega, we won’t campaign her very heavily, we want another crack at Honeysuckle, I’d love to see them meet again,” said the champion amateur.

“I think she was unlucky, but Rachael (Blackmore, Mullins’ housemate and rider of Honeysuckle) disagrees strongly.

“I think the Mares’ Hurdle has worked out, I know they could have run in the Champion or Stayers’ but it was a great race.”

Saint Roi makes perfect return to action at Tipperary

County Hurdle winner Saint Roi is as low as 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle in March following a smooth win on his comeback in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Tipperary.

The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old is very lightly-raced, but that did not stop him recording an extremely impressive success at Cheltenham.

Sent off the 4-7 favourite to make a winning reappearance, Mark Walsh never endured a moment of worry and despite a slightly sloppy leap at the last, Saint Roi beat Tigris River by five and a half lengths.

Mullins said: “I’m very happy with that. The race conditions suited him very well and it was a big advantage.

“Noel Meade’s horse (Beacon Edge) coming out was a help as well and we’ll take all the help we can take at this stage of the season!

“He did it nicely, but he had a big advantage with the conditions of the race.

“Mark said he was meeting the last wrong and fiddled it. I think he got a bit tight for room over the third-last. I was worried that he was coming off the bridle, but Mark said he was just tight for room.

“Otherwise he was very slick with his jumping and I’m not worried on that front.

“That’s the type of speed he shows all the time at home and his last piece of work before Cheltenham was electric. I thought going there he’d take a lot of beating.

“The likes of the County Hurdle are hard races to fancy horses in, though.”

As for future targets, Mullins added: “He did very well during the summer and is out early purely because this race suited conditions-wise.

“The Morgiana would be on the agenda, but that might be throwing him in at the deep end.

“He’s a second-season novice and there might be easier options. I think there is a race at Down Royal for second-season novices (Grade Two WKD Hurdle).”

Saint Roi was completing an early Grade Three double for Mullins who was also on the mark with the Paul Townend-ridden Shewearsitwell (11-8 favourite) in the Joe Mac Novice Hurdle. A step up in class awaits.

“It was a good performance and she’s improving all the time,” said Mullins.

“She’s a sharp little jumper and that was a huge benefit to her in this contest, stepping up in grade.

“At least I know now that she’s competitive over the minimum trip so I wouldn’t be afraid to keep her at that trip.

“I’ll have a word with Paul though because he said she was probably going as fast as she was able to so when the better hurdlers come out it might be difficult. So far so good.

“We’re very happy for Closutton Racing Club (syndicate) as it’s their first graded winner. It’s good to have a nice mare for them.

“We’ll try to keep her to mares’ company and she’ll have to go up in grade now. The dream would be to be good enough to run in the Royal Bond.

“She’s good enough to run in it now anyway and that will be in the back of our minds.

“We might try to find something between now and then for her. Timewise Down Royal could be a possibility for her.”

Davy Russell returns victorious aboard Galvin
Davy Russell returns victorious aboard Galvin (Gary Carson/PA)

The other Grade Three on the card was the Like A Butterfly Novice Chase, which went the way of the Gordon Elliott-trained Galvin, who was sent off at odds of 1-4.

Winning rider Davy Russell said: “It was great and he’s getting the hang of things. It wasn’t the toughest of races, but he’s coping with things an awful lot better now.

“Gordon does a great job with all these horses and he’s a fantastic man to be riding for. I’m delighted to be a part of the team.”

Monday Musings: A Very Different World

In the week that Lord Derby’s much-hated Hatchfield Farm plan has finally been given approval in its latest scaled-down form, Newmarket’s own Member of Parliament has indicated that there will be further irritations to come for some of his most celebrated constituents, writes Tony Stafford.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health as well as West Suffolk MP, said that “in the coming weeks, people aged over 70 would be required to stay at home in self-isolation for four months” with the aim of protecting that vulnerable group from the ever-growing threat of Covid 19.

Sir Michael Stoute is one of the trainers who will need to work out feasible working patterns within his yard to fulfil those conditions. Nick Rust, outgoing Chief Executive of the BHA, indicated that within a very short time, the UK would echo most other racing authorities around the world by imposing the “no-spectator” format, with one groom and one owner only allowed for each participating horse.

I was looking forward to Huntingdon on Thursday but that no longer seems an option. Even if Waterproof is allowed to run, I’m in the soon-to-be-barred age group. Last night my wife, who doesn’t drive, confirmed that our local shop where I’ve bought my Racing Post each morning for the past 17 years had run out of toilet rolls in the manner of the supermarket we visited late on Friday after my return from Cheltenham. Yesterday morning, the Turkish-born owner laughed as he pointed to very full shelves of the largely-missing product. I don’t think the people that sanctioned the seemingly-annual price-rise in that publication, now £3.50 daily and £3.90 on Saturday, might experience a reader backlash!

It’s a fast-moving situation.

We knew we were on borrowed time in Gloucestershire (or across the border in Worcester where Harry Taylor and I stayed in the wonderful Barn B and B, Pershore) last week. Thankfully for the racing industry and racegoers, but more especially the local community, as the Racing Post headline put it, it was a Last Hurrah. See you, hopefully, sometime in July. Just how much damage in human and commercial terms will have been done by then is a terrifying prospect.


Every day since 1962, the best part of 60 years, I’ve been obsessed by horse racing. I still find it hard to accept that almost everyone else has no conception of Hethersett, the 1962 St Leger winner who a month earlier at York was the agent of my first big win as a 16-year-old in a Bournemouth betting shop, part of a treble with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder.

In jumping, contrarily, it wasn’t ever Arkle: I was a Mill House adherent in their clashes in the mid-1960’s. It was his compatriot, L’Escargot, a few years on, twice winner of the Gold Cup and the horse that prevented Red Rum from a Grand National hat-trick in 1975 when the weights and the ground turned the tide in his favour. Rummy’s third win was delayed for two years, Rag Trade similarly denying the Ginger McCain star in 1976. These heroics from L’Escargot came five years after his first of two successive Gold Cups.

Last week Al Boum Photo joined the select group of dual winners of Cheltenham showpiece, with Kauto Star’s two victories being separated by success for that great horse’s equally eminent stable-companion and contemporary, Denman. Triple winners in the modern (post 1945) era have been restricted to Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate, whose trainer Henrietta Knight was busily autographing copies of her latest book in the Shopping Village last week.

On Gold Cup Day I believe we were in the process of witnessing the best performance ever by a four-year-old at the Cheltenham Festival when the final flight intervened to halt Goshen’s serene progress. Veterans, like me, will have been recalling a similar blunder by Attivo back in 1974, but he and rider Robert Hughes recovered. The Cyril Mitchell-trained and Peter O’Sullevan-owned favourite kept going to win by four lengths as his owner commentated with his usual unflappable calm on BBC television.

In 2013 - is it really seven years ago? - Our Conor won the race by 15 lengths, his final victory in a career ended a year later with a third-flight fall in the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have achieved the feat of following the Triumph Hurdle win in the next year’s Champion Hurdle. The first was Clair Soleil, in the race’s Hurst Park days. That track, between Kempton and Sandown, closed in 1962, the race transferring to Cheltenham three years later.

The Hurst Park years were generally a French benefit and some of that country’s top trainers targeted it. Francois Mathet, Derby winner Relko’s handler, trained him as a four-year-old but it was in Ryan Price’s care that he won the Champion Huirdle, Fred Winter the jockey both times. Alec Head was another to win the race during that era. At Cheltenham, the great Persian War preceded three consecutive Champion Hurdles with his Triumph victory and the others were Kribensis, trained for Sheikh Mohammed by Michael Stoute all of 32 years ago and Katchit (Alan King).

I’m convinced that had the understandably distraught Jamie Moore managed to retain his balance after his mount’s single error in an otherwise flawless performance, Our Conor’s margin would have been superseded. It was a display of raw power that the handicapper Dave Dickinson would have been hard pushed to keep below 165 at a minimum.

It was a week for the clever trainers, that is those with yards full of horses that they can engineer to enable them to target big races without giving away too much in the build-up, and some spectacular results were achieved. None was more striking than Saint Roi, a horse who had been fourth in his sole run in France, in an Auteuil Listed race in September. Transferred to Willie Mullins plenty was expected, but certainly not the 23-length fifth of 17 at 1-3 at Clonmel in December. He atoned by winning a maiden by nine lengths on New Year’s Day at lowly Tramore.

He’d obviously improved more than a touch in the intervening ten weeks under Mullins’ tutelage as the torrent of money told on Friday morning and, off 137, Saint Roi won the County Hurdle as he liked. McFabulous on Saturday at Kempton, a superb bumper horse the previous season, but surprisingly lack-lustre in his first couple of hurdles, also managed a timely win at the third attempt for Paul Nicholls at Market Rasen last month. That (minimum three runs) qualified him for the EBF Final. Off an undemanding 132, McFabulous strolled home as the 5-2 favourite in an 18-runner supposedly-competitive race where they went 10-1 bar one in the re-scheduled-from-Sandown event.


I keep intending to give Coquelicot a bigger mention in these jottings and she certainly deserves a stage of her own after a third win in a row on Saturday. Her victory came with some elan in the also re-staged from Sandown EBF Mares’ Final, a Listed National Hunt Flat race which makes the filly a very valuable proposition.

Do I sense a move in her direction by someone whose horses run in green and gold colours and who has horses in the Anthony Honeyball stable? She certainly has the profile of a JP horse! By the time we get the answer to that, Sir Michael and me will almost certainly be in lock-down. This time a week ago we inhabited a very different world.