Tag Archive for: Sir Gerhard

Asterion Forlonge and Sir Gerhard untroubled at Cork

Asterion Forlonge and Sir Gerhard both made the most of having their sights lowered to provide Willie Mullins and Sean O’Keeffe with a double at Cork.

The Closutton pair finished sixth and 12th in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival less than three weeks ago, but each had far less on their respective plates on Easter Sunday.

Asterion Forlonge (1-4 favourite) faced a solitary rival in the Grade Three Bar One Racing Chase and after initially taking a lead from Lucid Dreams, asserted from before the home turn and ultimately won comfortably, by 14 lengths.

O’Keeffe said: “He always likes to jump right, that’s just his way of doing it, but overall he jumped well. His jumping isn’t going to change now with his age but it was a good performance.

“We went a nice gallop, didn’t hang around and it is nice to get another win with him.

“He is a high-class horse and was bang there in those top Grade One chases so the ability is there.

“He has been around a long time, he has been a right horse and they (Asterion Forlonge and Sir Gerhard) are two top horses so it is great to get the opportunity to ride them.”

Sir Gerhard was even shorter odds for the Bar One Racing Hurdle at 1-5 and the result was never really in doubt.

Dropping a full mile in distance, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding stamped his class with a 12-length victory over the long-absent Sempo.

“He retains plenty ability, is a very good horse and it was a nice race for him dropping back in trip today. He made a mistake down the back straight but jumped well and has his own way of doing it,” O’Keeffe added.

“The Stayers’ Hurdle trip stretches him a bit and that two miles in that grade was no problem. I have ridden him plenty at home and he always works well enough so it is nice to get another win into him.”

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Rejuvenated Sir Gerhard ‘may go down Stayers’ Hurdle route’

Willie Mullins’ Sir Gerhard seemed to relish a return to smaller obstacles when taking the feature Tote Guarantee Available On Course & Tote.ie Hurdle at Punchestown.

The Cheveley Park-owned bay was top class over the smaller obstacles earlier in his career, taking the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2022, having won the Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park 12 months previously.

Though he won on his chasing debut last January and finished a close second in the Grade One Gold Cup at Fairyhouse in April, his jumping did not always fill onlookers with confidence.

He was again tried over fences on his first run of this season but fell in the Barberstown Castle Chase at Naas and was reverted to hurdling this time around.

Under Paul Townend, he was the 10-11 favourite and looked to get his mojo back by winning by two and three-quarter lengths ahead of Thedevilscoachman.

“That was a nice performance and he’s got his confidence back over hurdles anyway,” said Mullins.

“We’ll probably stick to hurdles now this season and he may go down the Stayers’ Hurdle route.

“He jumped well at Naas until he fell and it took him a while to recover from that fall.

“I thought looking at him going down to the start that he looked big and I’d be hoping there is more improvement.”

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Sir Gerhard enters Cheltenham reckoning after victorious return

Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Sir Gerhard made a successful transition to the larger obstacles on his belated reappearance at Gowran Park.

Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2021 and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last term, the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old’s seasonal return was delayed by a pre-Christmas injury.

Faced with just two rivals, Sir Gerhard was the 1-6 favourite for his comeback in the Daly Farrell Chartered Accountants Beginners Chase – and while he ultimately got the job done with ease, his first start over fences since his point-to-point days was not without the odd scare.

Largy Debut cut out much of the running at a sound gallop under Rachael Blackmore, with Paul Townend happy to take a lead aboard the market leader.

His supporters would have had their hearts in their mouths when he made a mess of the fence in front of the stands with a circuit to go, but he improved in the jumping department from there on and mastered Largy Debut from the home turn.

Sir Gerhard brushed through the second fence from the finish, but was safe at the last and passed the post with 38 lengths in hand.

Paddy Power left the winner’s Arkle odds unchanged at 10-1, while he is a 6-1 shot with Coral for the two-and-a-half-mile Turners Novices’ Chase and 10-1 for the even longer Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Sir Gerhard after winning at Gowran Park
Sir Gerhard after winning at Gowran Park (Thomas Weekes/PA)

Of Sir Gerhard’s shuddering mistake, Mullins said: “My heart jumped and he stood so far back at it. I hope his back is all right in the morning as he caught it and did well to stand up and Paul did well to stay on him. That is what novices do and it is great to make that mistake early in the race as it puts manners on the horse and he jumped fine after that.

“Paul thought he wasn’t racing, so after the fourth-last sent him up and he was in his hands. He had just been a bit lazy and maybe cantering around on his own on our gallop, he probably thought he was having a quiet day. We teach them, especially the staying chasers, to settle on the mornings they’re not working but we were probably overdoing it.

“I imagine he will go to Cheltenham with very little experience and maybe just that run as I don’t see anything else in the calendar for him. We might take our chance and go straight there, maybe for the Turners or the Brown Advisory – they’ll be going that bit slower and it’ll give him a chance.

“We’re not that well represented in the three-mile race (Brown Advisory) yet, but who knows what’ll happen between now and then?”

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Sir Gerhard makes belated chasing bow at Gowran

Willie Mullins is looking forward to seeing his dual Cheltenham Festival winner Sir Gerhard belatedly get his novice chase campaign under way on the Thyestes Chase undercard at Gowran Park on Thursday.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned eight-year-old won the Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park in 2021 and returned to the Cotswolds to land the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last season.

He suffered his first defeat in four hurdles outings at Punchestown in the spring, but was still expected to take high rank over the larger obstacles this season.

Having suffered a setback before Christmas, the point-to-point winner starts off over regulation fences later than planned in the Daly Farrell Chartered Accountants Beginners Chase, but will nevertheless be a short price to make a successful return.

“He schooled well this morning and I’m looking forward to him running,” Mullins said at Fairyhouse on Wednesday.

“It’ll be a big task for him in that ground coming so late in the season against more experienced horses.

“If his hurdle rating is anything to go by and if he jumps well, he’s one to look forward to.”

Sir Gerhard is set to face four rivals over two miles, with Henry de Bromhead’s Largy Debut bringing decent placed form to the table, having finished third behind Mighty Potter, Minella Crooner and Gentlemansgame in his three chase starts to date.

Indiana Jones (Mouse Morris), Battle Of Mirbat (Michael McDonagh) and Natural Ability (Tony Martin) are the other contenders.

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Monday Musings: Reflecting from the Sofa

Two years ago I happily trudged through four days of Cheltenham, impervious to the threat of Covid-19 which had yet fully to take a grip on this country, writes Tony Stafford. Allowing the meeting to go ahead was one of the biggest sticks the authorities had to deal with at that time as, by the weekend, lockdown was announced.

Last year’s eerie atmosphere when only the most closely connected – and the best of the well-tried chancers – were admitted went on without me and again last week I watched, by choice this time, the events unwinding from the sofa.

With an otherwise empty house it was no surprise that Champion Hurdle Day 2022 quickly morphed in my mind to 13 years earlier when Punjabi’s 33-1 win in the race was accomplished with barely a cheer from the chair:  just a smile of satisfaction.

When Honeysuckle made it two out of two in the race, and 15 out of 15 in all, the smile was just as wide and, like everyone else, my mind was scanning forward to next year as we’d already savoured the extraordinary performance of Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill in the Supreme.

Over the years Henderson’s best animals have all enjoyed better ground and the first day after a dry spell provided a surface that enabled a spectacular course record in that Festival opener. Not only that, Constitution Hill was much faster than Honeysuckle’s Champion Hurdle – a race where we hadn’t believed the gallop to have been in any way pedestrian.

Second home behind Honeysuckle and Dame Rachael Blackmore – if you could have Sir Terry Wogan, then why not? – was Henderson’s 2020 winner, Epatante. Afterwards, Nicky ceded greatness to the winner and great merit to his mare. It’s possibly easy to be charitable after witnessing a performance from one of your own horses that promises to keep you near the top for another few seasons, but it was nice anyway.

Coming to race seven on the opening day, the score was UK four, Ireland two and W P Mullins zero. And at that stage there were only 22 races still to be contested. Willie and son Patrick supplied a fuss-free winner of the astonishingly denuded six-horse field for the National Hunt Chase, but who could have thought he would win ten of those remaining races?

There is no question that he is the greatest trainer of jumping horses since his late compatriot Vincent O’Brien. The first master of Ballydoyle used to win Gold Cups, Champion Hurdles and Grand Nationals in the early post-War years in much the way Gary Moore knocks off little races around Plumpton and Fontwell.

The first inkling of what was to come was in the opener on Wednesday when Sir Gerhard strolled home in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Last year’s Festival Bumper hero carried what was to be the first of three Cheveley Park Stud victories during the week and he was possibly the least spectacular of the trio.

Energumene was the next major Mullins winner, but sadly the anticipated re-match with Shishkin failed to materialise, Henderson’s hitherto unbeatable young chaser never going a yard and pulling up.

As I hinted earlier, the Seven Barrows maestro’s horses are usually better on faster ground – not that Constitution Hill minds mud, he was just as impressive up Sandown’s hill in desperate going on his previous Grade 1 start; but I can imagine the trainer’s thoughts on that evening when the new clerk of the course John Pullin decided to water, even though rain was expected in many forecasts.

It was almost as though Willie Mullins had sent the boys round to demand a level playing-field. UK four, Ireland three. That’s unfair!

“I didn’t think we would be getting the rain we did,” paraphrases the beleaguered new boy’s response to turning the previously pristine acres to a midwinter Thurles peat bog. The die was cast and the tide turned irrevocably.

The nice runs continued, especially for Venetia Williams whose strength every season comes in muddy midwinter. Even if it may more usually be in January at Hereford or Haydock, the hurricanes can happen at Cheltenham too as L’Homme Presse showed with a fine performance in the three-mile Brown Advisory – the Sun Alliance for old-timers like me.

The next day Venetia sent out two long-priced handicappers in the Kim Muir. This race, happily restored as an amateur riders’ event post Covid, went to her Chambard, a 40-1 shot. She also supplied the 66/1 third, the 3,000-1 plus forecast only denied by joint-favourite Mister Coffey, yet another Henderson horse to impress.

The Irish did not exactly replicate their total monopoly of the handicaps as had been the case in 2021 but the old chestnut of allowing the always questionable form in France for qualification in handicaps reared its ugly head once more.

I mentioned last week that contrary to an alleged inside source, I doubted Colonel Mustard would be running against Sir Gerhard again, trainer Lorna Fowler being much too shrewd to waste her breath tilting at that particular windmill.

The County Hurdle had to be the answer. By the morning of the race Colonel Mustard was down to second favouritism, but the snag was that Mullins had State Man, a horse with only three runs on his card in the field.

A win in France as long ago as May 2020; a fall switched to Ireland when 8-13 for a maiden on Leopardstown’s St Stephen’s Day card and then a facile maiden romp at Limerick brought a 141 initial mark. Incidentally that put him 1lb higher than the well-tested and openly raced Colonel Mustard.

Lorna’s horse actually hit the front between the last two flights but you could see State Man galloping all over the field. While at the line it was less than a two-length margin over First Street, another fine run by a Henderson horse, with Colonel Mustard (in the conservatory with the lead pipe), battling on for third.

Mullins had already come out on top in the opening Triumph Hurdle. His Vauban always had the edge over the Gordon Elliott pair Fil Dor and Pied Piper with the rest, and therefore the home team, nowhere. It seems even before Vauban carried the resurgent and always on the box Mrs Ricci colours, the Melbourne Cup was being mooted. You wouldn’t put that past him either.

Five wins on the final day for Mullins did not prevent the 2021 star turn Henry de Bromhead striking back in the most emphatic way. Last year in the Gold Cup Minella Indo gained a big enough advantage over stablemate A Plus Tard to hold off Rachael Blackmore’s mount up the final hill.

This time, as the Betfair Chase at Haydock virtuoso performance prepared us for, it was Pas Trop Loin rather than later that French-mangling turfistes might have greeted the Cheveley Park-owned chaser.

Richard Thompson, once a prodigal son who was perceived as having wasted some of the family fortune as briefly chairman of Queen’s Park Rangers but now restored in the bosom of the Cheveley Park management, was centre stage all week. But on Friday mum Patricia was on hand for the starring role.

She is the nearest to my mind in non-Regal terms to the Queen Mother in her status in horse racing. This has been achieved, not only through these great horses – to which we can add Ryanair winner Allaho – but also the wonderful flat-race breeding and racing operation in Newmarket. Lest we forget, she owned Party Politics when he won the 1992 Grand National.

Now, by winning a Gold Cup and a Grand National, she emulates L’Escargot’s owner, Raymond Guest. He did win a Derby, too, with Sir Ivor. I think Messrs Haggas, Stoute and the rest better line up one for that classic before too long.

- TS


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