Mullins encouraged despite near misses in Savills

Very little has gone wrong for Willie Mullins to date at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting – but he did have to settle for minor honours in the Savills Chase.

The champion trainer was responsible for the first three as they turned for home – with Kemboy, Melon and Allaho rounding the bend in front.

However, Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard came with a wet sail to pip Kemboy by half a length at the line – with Melon close up in third.

Allaho finished fourth, one place in front of another Mullins runner Tornado Flyer – while completing the quintet from the yard was Easy Game, in seventh.

“I was very happy with everything in the Savills,” said Mullins.

“Kemboy was back to form, and it was a fantastic run. Melon put in a great round of jumping, and it was another fantastic run.

“Allaho was maybe the one that was a little bit disappointing. I think there is a lot more to come from him.

“Paul (Townend) thinks he still hasn’t reached where he was last year.”

Mullins’ other two runners both also left him with hope for the remainder of the season.

He added: “I was delighted where Tornado Flyer finished, because he didn’t jump well enough in the first mile to finish in the first five or six – and he did end up finishing fifth.

“(I hope) we can improve his jumping – he just seems to have lost his confidence for some reason.

“Easy Game was probably not good enough, but he had a little setback since his last run and perhaps needed it.

“I’d imagine we’ll be aim them for the Dublin Racing Festival – that would be the target.”

A Plus Tard swoops late to grab Savills success

A Plus Tard finished with a flourish to collar Kemboy in the final strides in a vintage renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

Kemboy looked sure to win the race for a second time in three years, having helped set a strong gallop in the early stages before stablemate Melon took over the lead with a mile to run.

Melon went well clear at one stage, but David Mullins did not panic on Kemboy and when Melon stuttered into the second last, Kemboy reclaimed the lead.

It looked sure to be a Willie Mullins-trained winner as at that stage Allaho was third, but as he dropped away, A Plus Tard could be seen making ground.

Stepping up to three miles for just the second time, Henry de Bromhead’s A Plus Tard (15-2) hit overdrive having jumped the last with many lengths still to find and he ended up providing jockey Darragh O’Keeffe with the biggest win of his career by half a length.

The race lost some of its lustre when the front two in the betting, Minella Indo and Delta Work, departed within two fences of each other early on the second circuit.

The winner was cut to 10-1 from 66s by Betfair for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

“He did everything right, he travelled and I thought we went a really good gallop,” said O’Keeffe.

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“Rachael (Blackmore) said to me beforehand that she was going to sit upsides in front (on Minella Indo), and she was only a couple of lengths ahead of me, so I wasn’t worried.

“I sat away and had Paul Townend in front of me (on Allaho) and he (A Plus Tard) was pinging fences.

“When I gave him a squeeze after jumping the second last, he picked up and he galloped right to the line. After the back of the last I did (think I was going to get there).

“It was brilliant and I’m absolutely over the moon. I can’t thank Henry de Bromhead enough – it’s my first Grade One winner and my first winner for him. This lad had a real, live chance.

“There were a few questions about whether he stayed or not, but he definitely stayed anyway.”

A Plus Tard after winning the Savills Chase
A Plus Tard after winning the Savills Chase (Niall Carson/PA)

De Bromhead hailed O’Keeffe’s effort, adding: “It was some finish, he was brilliant. He stayed really well and it was a super ride from Darragh.

“It was unfortunate with Minella Indo, but he seems OK which is the most important thing and Rachael seems OK.

“It’s very frustrating, but I’m delighted for A Plus Tard, for Darragh and for (owner) Cheveley Park (Stud).

“It was a brilliant ride from Darragh, he was very cool on him.

Henry De Bromhead with his trophy
Henry De Bromhead with his trophy (Niall Carson/PA)

“I said it to (Cheveley Park managing director) Chris Richardson about Darragh and he was very happy after Rachael decided to go with Minella Indo.

“He’s an up-and-coming young rider and we were delighted to get him.

“He stayed on really well in the end. I thought he was staying on in the Ryanair last season and he definitely stayed on really well there.

“He won a Grade One here over two (miles and) one (furlong) last year and now he’s won over three miles. He’s still only six.

“We’ll see what we do now. He had a tough race there so I’ll speak to all the connections and decide after that. I’m delighted with today.”

When asked if he could be a Gold Cup contender, De Bromhead added: “Absolutely, he stayed at it really well and needed every inch of it.

“I wouldn’t like to make any plans yet. We’ll enjoy today as this is a pretty savage race to win.

“We’ll see whether it’s the Ryanair or the Gold Cup, it’s up to everyone involved.”

Minella Indo out to rubber stamp Gold Cup ticket

Minella Indo bids to enhance his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims in a mouthwatering renewal of the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

Mowed down late on by Champ in an epic RSA Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, Henry de Bromhead’s charge has been hugely impressive in winning his two starts this term at Wexford and Navan.

The seven-year-old is second only to dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in ante-post lists for the blue riband next March – and his credentials will face a thorough examination on Monday, with several multiple Grade One winners in opposition.

De Bromhead said: “It’s obviously a very good race and it will be Minella Indo’s first time really out of novice company.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

The Knockeen-based trainer also runs Balko Des Flos and A Plus Tard, with the latter a fascinating contender as he tackles the three-mile distance for the first time.

A Plus Tard is an interesting second string for De Bromhead
A Plus Tard is an interesting second string for De Bromhead (PA)
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De Bromhead added: “They all seem in good form. A Plus Tard is going up in trip and we’ll find out a lot about him. It’s certainly worth trying and he’s kind of limited by only going left-handed.

“It was either run over two miles or three miles and we said we’d try him over three miles and see how he fared. He seems very adaptable.”

Gordon Elliott also launches a formidable three-pronged assault, with last year’s winner Delta Work joined by esteemed stablemates Presenting Percy and Samcro.

Presenting Percy looked back to his best when landing a Listed prize at Thurles on his latest appearance, while Samcro steps up to three miles for the first time since his point-to-point days.

“Delta Work won the race last year and then won the Irish Gold Cup in February. He is a real Leopardstown specialist and I’m very pleased with how he has come forward from his first run of the season at Down Royal,” Elliott told Betfair.

“Presenting Percy was impressive at Thurles last time and looks to be back on track. I think he showed at Thurles that he could still be a Gold Cup player and he is another who has probably improved again since his last run. I’m really looking forward to running him.

“It’s going to be fascinating to see how Samcro gets on at three miles. I could see him travelling best of all on the run to two out and what happens after that is a bit of an unknown. A big run here would open up new options for him.”

Delta Work (right) sees off Kemboy and Presenting Percy in the Irish Gold Cup
Delta Work (right) sees off Kemboy and Presenting Percy in the Irish Gold Cup (PA)

Willie Mullins saddles five runners, with Allaho, Kemboy, Melon, Tornado Flyer and Easy Game all declared.

Kemboy was a runaway winner of this event two years ago before going on to win at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring, but has failed to recapture that form since, most recently chasing home Presenting Percy at Thurles.

David Mullins rides Kemboy, with stable jockey Paul Townend siding with Allaho, despite finishing a disappointing sixth on his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan at Punchestown.

Willie Mullins said: “We didn’t see what happened to Allaho the last day, but David (Mullins) said he didn’t jump and missed two fences. He has far more potential than any of the other horses in the race and I thought Paul should ride him.

“Kemboy likes the track and has done it around here before, but the ground might be too soft.

“It’s Melon’s first time over three miles and he has every chance.

“We have five runners, but they could all run well and not finish in the first three.

“It’s a top class-race and probably going to be better than a Gold Cup in Cheltenham.”

Fakir D’oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), Tout Est Permis (Noel Meade) and Jett (Jessica Harrington) complete the stellar field.

Leopardstown set to serve up Savills cracker

What looks set to be one of the races of the season so far is in prospect at Leopardstown on Monday, with a field of 14 declared for the Savills Chase.

The three-mile feature sees any number of Gold Cup contenders in action, with the Henry de Bromhead-trained Minella Indo favourite to stretch his unbeaten record over fences to three in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

But dangers abound, including the Gordon Elliott-trained trio of Samcro, Presenting Percy and Delta Work – who bids to defend his crown under Jack Kennedy.

Willie Mullins has a team of five – featuring 2018 winner Kemboy, Allaho, Easy Game, Melon and Tornado Flyer.

De Bromhead also runs A Plus Tard and Balko Des Flos, with Joseph O’Brien saddling Fakir D’oudairies and Jessica Harrington sending out Jett.

Noel Meade’s Tout Est Permis completes the high-class line-up.

Minella Indo is one of 20 still in hunt for Savills glory

Minella Indo tops 20 possibles for next week’s Savills Chase, the feature event on the penultimate day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge has impressed with two comfortable victories so far this term, after having victory in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham snatched away in the shadow of the post by the flying finish of Champ.

Minella Indo heads the ante-post markets for next week’s three-mile contest, in which De Bromhead has also confirmed King George VI Chase possible Monalee – along with A Plus Tard, who could step back up in trip, and Balko Des Flos.

Gordon Elliott has a strong potential hand with his six-strong team currently including Presenting Percy, The Storyteller, Samcro and defending champion Delta Work.

Kemboy showed some of his old sparkle when second to Presenting Percy at Thurles on his return – and trainer Willie Mullins is another with multiple options, and has Allaho and Melon among his six entries.

Elliott has given The Storyteller an alternative over the smaller obstacles in the other Grade One on the card, the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, with Sire Du Berlais and Fury Road other eye-catching possibles for him.

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Mullins is well represented again, with last year’s fourth Barcardys in his trio, while Olly Murphy’s British raider Thomas Darby also features among 13 entries.

The final day of the fixture has two Grade One contests, with Mullins’ Saint Roi headlining eight contenders for the Matheson Hurdle.

Last year’s victor Sharjah and Grade One winner Saldier strengthen the Closutton trainer’s team – but Elliott’s Abacadabras is the main challenger, having edged out Saint Roi by a neck in the Morgiana last time.

A top-class field is in prospect for the Neville Hotels Novices Chase, with Mullins’ Monkfish bidding for Grade One honours after an impressive fencing bow.

He renews rivalry with Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition, whom he just beat in last term’s Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Elliott’s Pencilfulloflead is another name of note among 10 in contention.

Clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer reports the ground on the hurdles track for the final two days of the meeting to be on the softer side – but there is a possibility of watering on the chase course, with a dry forecast in prospect.

He said: “The wooden stick is only a guide, as much as a going description is only an opinion.

“What we can tell you is there is plenty of juice in the track right now.

“The chase track is good to yielding, the hurdle track for days one and two is mainly yielding, a little bit slower in places – yielding, yielding to soft in places.

“The hurdle track is on the inner lines for days three and four – and it’s more in the yielding to soft side, slower ground on the inside lines.”

That is not the case at present on parts of the chase track, however.

“There’s a bit of light rain this morning (Monday) and 10 millimetres in recent days,” Wyer added.

“The forecast in the immediate future is generally dry, a little showery, but generally dry.

“On that basis we are monitoring the situation regarding any watering on the chase track. If any watering is needed, it will be mainly from the winning post round to the three-mile start, just beyond the 10-furlong starting area.

“We’re considering options in that regard, but we’re happy where we are at this stage.”

Champ heads 23 contenders for Savills Chase prize

RSA Chase hero Champ is among 23 entries for the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on December 28.

Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when nabbing Minella Indo in the dying strides at Cheltenham in March.

He faces a tough test on his first venture out of novice company with his potential rivals including the last two winners of the race – Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work and the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy.

Elliott also has Presenting Percy, The Storyteller, Battleoverdoyen, Samcro and Shattered Love while Allaho, Acapella Bourgeois and Easy Game are among Mullins’ contingent.

Minella Indo could re-oppose and is part of a strong entry from Henry de Bromhead’s stable.

Sire De Berlais, dual winner of Cheltenham’s Pertemps Hurdle Final, may go for Grade One glory in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle.

Elliott’s charge made a successful reappearance in the Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

Among other big names are Fury Road, Bacardys, Bachasson, Thomas Darby, The Worlds End and Ronald Pump for Matthew Smith.

Envoi Allen and Asterion Forlonge are among 19 entries for the Racing Post Novice Chase on December 26.

Both horses also have the option of the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick the same day.

The De Bromhead-trained A Plus Tard and Chacun Pour Soi were first and second in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase in 2019 and could have a re-match on December 27 after 17 were entered.

Put The Kettle On, Notebook and Samcro are also in the mix.

Star mare Honeysuckle, winner of the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle over this course and distance in February, is among the 11 horses entered for the Grade One Matheson Hurdle on December 29, the last of four days of the meeting.

Aspire Tower, Abacadabras, Saint Roi and Sharjah, winner of this race for the last two years, are in the list as is the Tom Symonds-trained Song For Someone following his victory in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle.

Envoi Allen is also among 23 entries for the Neville Hotels Novice Chase as Gordon Elliott seeks a fourth consecutive win and fifth in total in this Grade One.

Minella Indo obliges with minimum of fuss at Navan

Minella Indo further enhanced his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials with a near-faultless display at Navan.

Reeled in late on by Nicky Henderson’s Champ in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham, Henry de Bromhead’s charge made a foot-perfect start to the current campaign in a Grade Three contest at Wexford last month.

Faced with just three rivals in the Grade Two BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase, Minella Indo was a prohibitively-priced 2-11 favourite in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, and his supporters will have had few concerns.

Brahma Bull made much of the running under David Mullins and was still travelling strongly as he rounded the home turn and moved to the stands rail.

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Blackmore positioned her mount on the far side of the track and he picked up well between the final two fences to grab the lead before pulling seven and a half lengths clear on the run-in.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. He did everything good, it was a lovely race for him and I’m glad we’ve got it behind us now.

“You couldn’t have asked him to do it any better. He jumped really well and did everything he had to do.

“I would imagine we’ll aim towards the Savills Chase at Christmas, I think that will be our next one.

“He’s had two nice races for second-season novices and now we have to go against the big lads and see how we fare there.”

Asked if he had the potential to be even better than stablemate Monalee, who was fourth in the Gold Cup last season in the same colours, De Bromhead said: “It would be great if he is because Monalee is rated 171, so if he is I’ll be very happy!

Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham
Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s probably achieved a little bit more in each division because he won his Albert Bartlett and Monalee was second, I don’t know if it might have been a lesser race.

“He was only just chinned in an RSA and Monalee was well beaten – I don’t know, it’s unfair on Monalee, but we can’t fault what he’s doing at the moment.

“It’s nice to have a possible Gold Cup contender like him, but all along last year we thought Monalee had a great chance and thankfully he ran like he did.

“It’s great and the more of these types you can have the better. We’ll see how it all unfolds between now and then.

“At the moment we’re thinking Monalee for the King George, but if they end up having to run against each other they have to run against each other.

“Ideally you’d prefer not to, with the same owners.”

Coral cut Minella Indo to 7-1 from 8-1 for the Gold Cup, making him their joint-second favourite with last season’s runner-up Santini and just behind dual winner Al Boum Photo, who is the 6-1 favourite. Betfair stayed unchanged at 8-1.