Sir Gerhard bags Mullins’ 11th Champion Bumper success

Willie Mullins won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper for the 11th time as Sir Gerard held off stablemate Kilcruit to give Rachael Blackmore another winner.

Blackmore was landing her third Grade One of the week, having already won the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle and the Ballymore on Bob Olinger.

Mullins was keeping up his recent trend of winning the race from outside of his apparent first string – although Sir Gerhard was sent off at only 85-40, having scored twice already for Gordon Elliott before switching stables.

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Kilcruit was backed into 10-11 favouritism on the back of a scintillating display at the Dublin Racing Festival – but when Blackmore kicked off the home bend, she stole an advantage she would not relinquish.

Having only set what appeared a steady tempo, Sir Gerhard was soon in the clear as Paul Townend tried to close on Kilcruit.

As the line approached, Kilcruit was gaining – but they flashed past the post with Sir Gerhard still half-a-length to the good.

Mullins said: “I have to say well done to the Cullentra (Elliott) team. He came in great condition.

“The first night he came, we didn’t have any of the feed he’d been eating at Cullentra, so we just gave him our usual feed – and he didn’t miss an oat.

“He’ll probably go for the Champion Bumper at Punchestown. We’ll have a word with (owners) Cheveley Park, but that would look the obvious target.

“They are two good horses, and I’m delighted to have them. Looking at it, Kilcruit looks like a Ballymore horse and Sir Gerhard a Supreme type (next season).”

Sir Gerhard showed a fine attitude, to go with his evident speed.

Mullins added: “He looks to be a natural – he has a huge stride. Rachael let him bowl along, and he was lugging out with her – he’s still a bit green.

“He obviously has a lot of natural ability. He’s a fine, big horse who will be made for jumping fences at some stage.

“We were fortunate enough to get him. When he came to us he was very fit, and I just wanted to get him settled in, and I was surprised how well he settled in.

“We didn’t want to overdo things, because it’s a lot of stress to change yards and change gallops. It was all about having the horse relaxed, and it was all about hoping he was fit enough – which he was, and he has the ability.”

Tiger ready to Roll in hunt for Glenfarclas Chase hat-trick

Tiger Roll will bid to reclaim his crown and become the first three-time winner of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

The 11-year-old claimed the prize in 2018 and 2019, but last season’s attempt at a third consecutive win was foiled by the French-trained Easysland.

Defeated by a conclusive 17 lengths, Tiger Roll has been beaten by similarly wide margins since and was pulled up when contesting the handicap chase run over the same cross-country course at Cheltenham’s November meeting.

Now campaigned by Denise Foster after the suspension of Gordon Elliott, the dual Grand National hero will cross paths with Easysland again at Cheltenham – where he is a four-time Festival winner – and is reported to be in fine fettle ahead of the contest.

Tiger Roll (right) schooling over Cheltenham's cross country fence ahead of his run the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday
Tiger Roll (right) schooling over Cheltenham’s cross country fence ahead of his run the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Wednesday (David Davies/PA)

“Keith (Donoghue, jockey) rang after schooling Tiger Roll this morning and tells me he’s in great form,” Foster said.

“He seemed in super form at home before he left.

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“I watched him last week and he was very bullish in himself, which is hopefully a good sign.

“The truth is only Tiger really knows how he’s feeling, but he obviously likes Cheltenham and Keith seems very happy with him.”

On the same card is a notably competitive renewal of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, with Willie Mullins seemingly well positioned to take an 11th victory in the Grade One race.

Kilcruit ridden by Patrick Mullins after the Goffs Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race during day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse
Kilcruit ridden by Patrick Mullins after the Goffs Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race during day one of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse (Niall Carson/PA)

Kilcruit heads the market after a commanding victory at Leopardstown last month, where he was completely unchallenged as he cruised to an easy 12-length success.

“Kilcruit put up a huge performance at the Dublin Racing Festival and I was very pleased,” Mullins said of the run.

“I was gobsmacked actually at how well he won on the day, and I’m hoping he can put a similar kind of performance in at Cheltenham.”

Mullins will also saddle the undefeated Sir Gerhard, who joined his yard earlier in the month from Elliott.

“Sir Gerhard is a fine horse,” he said of the Cheveley Park-owned gelding.

“His form looks very good and he looks like he could be anything, as he’s got all the qualities of a good horse.

“It’s going to be very tough changing stables so soon before the race, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Paul Nicholls will be hoping for a first success in the contest as he sends out Shearer, a five-year-old son of Flemensfirth.

The gelding was last seen triumphing by nine lengths in a bumper at Warwick, before which he was beaten by just a head on his racecourse debut.

“Shearer is a very nice horse,” Nicholls said.

“He was named after Alan Shearer and I know Alan has followed him.

“He just got beaten on his debut at Hereford and then won well at Warwick on ground that was far too testing for him.

“He’s had a nice break and has improved, he definitely deserves to take his chance.”

Sir Gerhard likely to follow Envoi Allen route to Cheltenham

The Dublin Racing Festival is the likely next port of call for Champion Bumper favourite Sir Gerhard.

A £400,000 purchase for Cheveley Park Stud after winning his only start in the point-to-point field, the five-year-old made the perfect start for his new connections when scoring by 14 lengths on his bumper debut at Down Royal in late October.

Gordon Elliott’s charge strengthened his position as ante-post favourite for the Festival in March with an impressive display in a Listed event at Navan on Friday, and an outing at Leopardstown is next on his agenda.

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Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, said: “He showed plenty of ability (at Navan) and we were very excited.

“Envoi Allen won the Listed race Navan before going to Leopardstown and then Cheltenham and I think we’ll probably follow the same route.”

The leading owners have plenty of high-profile horses entered over the upcoming festive period, headed by the brilliant and unbeaten Envoi Allen, who has options at Leopardstown and Limerick.

Elliott suggested he was likely to sidestep Christmas following his latest triumph in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, but running plans have not yet been finalised.

Richardson said: “I haven’t really had a chance to discuss plans with the Thompsons (owners) or Gordon yet, so we’ll see.

“We’re in a fortunate position to be a bit spoilt choice and we’re just having to decide what goes where. That will unravel as we go through the next week.”

Envoi Allen has been faultless to date
Envoi Allen has been faultless to date (PA)

Ballyadam could carry the famous Cheveley Park colours in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 27.

Allaho appears unlikely to run in either the King George at Kempton or the Savills Chase at Leopardstown after disappointing on his seasonal reappearance in the John Durkan at Punchestown, but A Plus Tard looks set to tackle three miles for the first time in the Leopardstown race.

Richardson added: “The Royal Bond was the plan for Ballyadam, which he won nicely, and obviously the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (is a target), but where we go before then I’m not quite sure yet.

“On the basis of Allaho’s last performance we’re probably going to have a bit of a regroup. He’s certainly not going to come to England for the King George and I think Willie (Mulins) will look for something closer to home.

“I think the trick with A Plus Tard is he likes to go left-handed. It looks like he’s going to step up to three miles and it might give us a few more options going forward.”