Tag Archive for: Sandor Clegane

Nolan rules out Cheltenham for Sandor Clegane

Sandor Clegane will miss the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival and could be saved for next season, according to trainer Paul Nolan.

Having won a Punchestown bumper by 15 lengths on his debut, the five-year-old was no match for the hugely impressive Facile Vega at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival.

Hopes were high that the Fame And Glory gelding could get back to winning ways in the BetVictor INH Flat Race at Naas on Sunday.

Yet having travelled supremely well under Barry O’Neill, Sandor Clegane did not find as much as anticipated off the bridle and the 4-9 favourite was beaten three-quarters of a length by Music Drive.

Nolan said: “Of course were were disappointed to be beaten. It was just one of those things.

“We will have a chat to the owners, but he won’t be going to Cheltenham. That’s definite.

“We will possibly consider Fairyhouse or Punchestown if the ground comes up soft enough. It might be a little bit more up his alley on testing conditions.

“Unfortunately if just didn’t happen the other day. The slow pace didn’t suit him and I wouldn’t read much more into it than that.

“Of course we are disappointed, but we are still hoping he is a good horse and once he gets a jump in front of him and over a further trip, I think he will be a different animal. I hope that’s the case.”

As short as 16-1 with BetVictor for the Champion Bumper, Nolan is now left pondering where his next outing will be, and he is tempted to bide his time.

“You don’t like running in too many bumpers, but you will see any of Gordon Elliott’s and Willie Mullins’ champions have won two or three bumpers, and it is a long time to let him off – if you let him off now, you are not coming back until next October,” the Enniscorthy handler added.

“We are happy enough to take a chance on giving him a bit of an easy time of it and consider Fairyhouse or Punchestown if the ground came up heavy. That will be it. If it doesn’t come up that way, we won’t be running.

“I think he will be more at home on softer conditions. Naas had lovely ground, but it was drying out considerably.

“On the day he was beaten fair and square. I don’t think perhaps they would have quickened up as they did had the ground been a couple of inches deeper, but I don’t like making excuses.”

Nolan wary of taking on ‘phenomenal’ Facile Vega again

Paul Nolan was left stunned by Facile Vega’s “phenomenal” display at Leopardstown on Saturday and is undecided whether Sandor Clegane will take on Willie Mullins’ charge in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.

Facile Vega quickened up with ease under Patrick Mullins to score by 12 lengths in the Goffs Future Stars (C&G) INH Flat Race, with Sandor Clegane a good second under Barry O’Neill.

The five-year-old, owned by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, was cut to 4-5 favourite for the Champion Bumper by William Hill after the facile success.

Enniscorthy handler Nolan feels the winner now has his rivals digging for answers.

Nolan said: “Sandor Clegane produced a really nice run, but it hard to see how you could reverse the form with the winner. He looks out of the ordinary.

“We were a good winner without him. Barry didn’t give him a hard race. My fella got one flick behind the saddle, because Patrick (Mullins) went wide so fast that there was no point hitting him again, and I just thought the two horses quickened off the bend, but Patrick’s horse quickened again and went away.

“He has to be as impressive an individual at the racetrack as I have ever seen. He looks phenomenal.”

Sandor Clegane was having his first run since landing a Punchestown bumper on debut in early December and the Fame And Glory gelding will likely come on for the race.

Yet Nolan is in two minds about taking on Facile Vega again so soon.

He added: “We will have to assess things. You are going to Cheltenham and you are going to have a hard race again. What has to happen to reverse the form?

“You can’t be afraid. Life goes on and you have to deal with what you have. Horses have off-days.

“We’re certainly not ruling it out. Basically, we have very good owners and everything will be discussed with them. You are not going to go over hurdles at this stage of the season and he is a big chasing type.

“We are adamant he handles soft ground very well, but we certainly have to plan for Cheltenham. But in my opinion, definitely Facile Vega would not want to turn up in the same form on the day.”

Nolan is also undecided whether Daily Present will take his chance in the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle next month.

An easy winner of a two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle on soft ground at Fairyhouse last month, Nolan is keen to step him up in trip.

He said: “He is a young horse, still only five, and the Albert Bartlett is a three-mile contest. He has his entry and we will make our mind up as to whether we go to Cheltenham or whether we stay at home.

“Again, he is a horse I would like to run with a good cut in the ground. He has the physique to improve a good bit and I was very pleased with the way he went to the line the last day and he won going away. That’s the way you’d want to see him doing it over that trip, so I’m hoping the step up in trip will suit him.

“I think he is a dour stayer and in fairness to the horse, he has a lovely attitude.”

Mrs Milner is still on course to run in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham
Mrs Milner is still on course to run in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Nolan is also hopeful that Mrs Milner can bounce back from a disappointing display in the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, when fourth of six to Thomas Darby.

She has been on the sidelines since, but is still on course for a trip to Cheltenham, where she landed the Pertemps Final at the Festival meeting last March.

The Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle is the target, for which she is a general 10-1 chance.

“Mrs Milner is still going for the mares’ race,” said Nolan. “She is in good form. Of course we were disappointed with her at Newbury, but there were a couple of horses who ran funny on that day and they went a million miles an hour, so we were disappointed. There is not point saying anything other than that.

“She is in good form, she came home and she was very light and that is why we decided to build her up a bit and start again.”

Meanwhile, Aintree is very much on the radar for Discorama, who is poised to have his Grand National audition at Fairyhouse on Wednesday.

Discorama has a Grand National prep-run this week
Discorama has a Grand National prep-run this week (David Davies/PA)

Seventh to Minella Times in last year’s renewal of the extended four-and-a-quarter-mile marathon on Merseyside, Nolan is hopeful that the nine-year-old, owned by Andrew Gemmell and Thomas Friel, will go well in the three-mile Fairyhouse Easter Festival 16th-18th April Rated Chase.

“We’re pleased with him, but unfortunately we couldn’t get a prep run into him before the National last year,” said Nolan. “He ran incredibly well considering he had no prep run.

“He has had a wind operation for a while now and we are hoping that it still seems to be working.

“He had a tie-back operation, which is one of the more serious ones – it is like the last-car-on-the-road job.

“It seems to be holding in place and we are running at Fairyhouse hoping to run well and if he didn’t run well, you’d be worried.”

Nolan harbouring high hopes for Punchestown victor Sandor Clegane

Paul Nolan is excited to see how far Sandor Clegane can go after providing the yard with a much-needed boost at Punchestown last weekend.

A week on from the heartbreak of seeing stable star Latest Exhibition suffer a fatal injury in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, Sandor Clegane made a hugely impressive debut in scoring by 15 lengths.

Nolan is keen to give the son of Fame And Glory another run to see whether he can earn himself a crack at the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He said: “The horse is owned by the same connections as Latest Exhibition, he’s a young horse and if we can keep him in one piece he looks like he has a bright future.

“You can question the depth of the bumper he won, but it’s the manner of his performance and the way he did it that you’d have to be very pleased with.”

The victory came as no surprise to the Enniscorthy-based trainer, who added: “We were expecting a big run. We don’t win many bumpers, so you couldn’t be too confident, but we bought him off what we thought was a very good piece of work and thankfully it turned out to be.

“He’s five in a month’s time, but he’s a tall, laid-back horse and we’ll look at a winner’s bumper with him rather than look to go jumping with him right away.

“Christmas might be a little too soon, but we’ll keep our options open. You’d certainly love to do it on the track again before you’d consider going to Cheltenham in March.

“Barry (O’Neill) thinks he’ll come on loads from Punchestown and was adamant another run would bring him on even more mentally.

“We’re very pleased and we’re not going to rush anything, but the owners were thrilled with his performance and we’re hoping he’ll kick on.”

Nolan also provided an update on his Cheltenham Festival heroine from last season, Mrs Milner.

The Pertemps Final winner finished a well-beaten fourth stepped up in class for the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month, but Nolan feels she is better than she showed.

Mrs Milner on her way to winning the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham
Mrs Milner on her way to winning the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He said: “There’s no point in saying we were happy enough with how she ran because we weren’t.

“She’s a mare that seems to improve when she gets a bit of sun on her back in the spring.

“You could ask ‘is that run at Newbury as good as she is?’. I hope it’s not.

“Nicky Henderson’s horse (On The Blind Side) finished second and we were beaten by him in a photo-finish in Cheltenham last November, so on a line through him I didn’t think we ran our race.

“She’s entered in Leopardstown over Christmas. We’ll make our minds up closer to time, but that would be the plan at the moment.”