The Jam Man ’50-50′ for Grand National outing

A Randox Grand National bid for The Jam Man is “50-50” at this stage, according to trainer Ronan McNally.

Hugely impressive in winning the Troytown Chase at Navan, the eight-year-old subsequently finished a fair sixth behind Main Fact over hurdles at Haydock, but was beaten a long way at the Dublin Racing Festival.

However, McNally has not been happy with the overall health of his string in recent weeks and feels that effort is easily explained.

On the possibility of a trip to Aintree, he said: “It’s probably 50-50 at this stage. He’ll be entered in the Irish National as well and we’ll just see how things are looking closer to the time.

“I never really dreamt he’d be running in a National until he won the Troytown – it surprised us how well he won. That opened up a few doors for us.

“He’s got a mark now which means we don’t have to worry about people dropping out of races for us to get in – it’s half the battle getting into these races.

“He’d have a lovely weight in the National on 10st 7lb. Because he’s only a small horse, it’s just whether he’ll take to the fences or not, but I suppose everyone has that question going there for the first time.

“We can take him to school at the Curragh to see if he takes to those and I think he’ll stay. He goes to sleep in his races which will help. Getting round would be my worry!”

He added: “We’ll just see how he is. If he’s healthy and well three weeks off, then it could become reality that we could have a go. The horses just aren’t quite firing at the minute, so we’ll have to hope they are in better form.”

The Jam Man ready for Dublin Festival return

The Jam Man is being aimed at the same handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival in which he was second last year.

Ronan McNally’s seven-year-old has not been seen since finishing sixth in a valuable event at Haydock behind Main Fact in November.

In his previous run, though, he had provided McNally with the biggest win of his career in the Troytown Chase at Navan, cruising home by 18 lengths.

“I wish there was a race for him tomorrow – he’s in absolutely brilliant form,” said the Armagh owner-trainer.

“He’ll go to the Dublin Racing Festival – but I wish it was this weekend and not three or four weeks away, because there’s nowhere for him to go.

“Unfortunately we’ll just have to sit tight with him – which is a shame, given the form he’s in.”

McNally hopes The Jam Man’s return to Leopardstown will signpost his target at Cheltenham in March.

“The only race suitable for him at the Dublin Festival is the valuable handicap he was second in last year (William Fry Handicap Hurdle),” he added.

“I’ll aim him for that again, and we’ll see how he goes after that.

“Hopefully that will give us a better indication about what race at the Cheltenham Festival we should aim for.”

McNally hatches new plans for his prolific winners

Ronan McNally intends to alter his course after the travel implications of Covid-19 and Brexit scuppered December plans for both The Jam Man and Dreal Deal.

Dreal Deal, who is unbeaten in his last five runs over jumps and on the Flat, was an intended runner in the Grade One Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on Tuesday – having elevated his rating to 141 – but travel restrictions put paid to that idea.

McNally’s Armagh yard was struck with a cold at around the same time, resulting in a week of steadier work as the trainer reconsidered where next to campaign his string.

“We’ve no real plans for Dreal Deal – he’s entered in a Grade One novice at Naas, but he probably won’t go for that,” McNally said, referencing the Naas Novice Hurdle on January 10.

“My horses all had an easy week last week, because they all just had a wee bit of a cold. I’m not sure what the plan is with him at the moment, so we’ll just get them going again and see what’s coming up for them.

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“They’re back cantering up the gallop and they all seem 100 per cent. We’ll just have to make a new plan – we couldn’t have gone to Newbury anyway with the travel restrictions, so that was out of the question, and I wasn’t too bothered about giving them an easy time over Christmas. We’ll regroup now and have a look at what’s coming up.”

McNally’s versatile stable star The Jam Man was also prevented from running in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas by travel problems.

“We couldn’t get the boats – some of the boats were off because of the coronavirus, and that led to a backlog,” he said.

“Because of Brexit they were all rushing to the boats, all of the lorries. We would have had to sit at the boat for five to seven hours because of delays – and that wasn’t viable with the horse in the truck, so we couldn’t actually get a boat to take us over.”

An entry in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday was also vetoed as the seven-year-old works back to race fitness after his break, so the Dublin Racing Festival at the same track is pencilled in for his next engagement.

“He was entered in the Pertemps at Leopardstown – but with him having an easy week, we’ve had to put that on hold,” added McNally.

“Again we’ll just have to look for something – it’s not that easy to find races for him with his rating, so we’ll just have a wee look at the calendar here and see if there’s anything for him.

“It might be the Dublin Festival, realistically, before he gets a run in February. We’ll have a look and see if there’s anything else in the meantime.”

The Jam Man is a winner on the Flat, over fences and over hurdles, but McNally intends to stick to timber – provided The Jam Man continues to prosper in that sphere.

“I’d say for the minute we’d be sticking over hurdles,” he said.

“If he doesn’t prove that he’s going to be able to be competitive over hurdles, then I’d probably look at something like an Irish Grand National over fences.

“I’d like to get him in one of the Stayers’ Hurdle trials just to see if he’s going to be competitive. If he’s not going to be competitive, he won’t run in it – we’ll look for something more suitable.”

The Jam Man steers route back to Stayers

Ronan McNally has another tilt at the Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle pencilled in for the impressively versatile The Jam Man.

Last seen claiming the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan by an empathic 18 lengths, the diminutive gelding is now in line for a return to hurdling as he tracks a route back to Prestbury Park.

McNally has Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in mind for the seven-year-old’s next run, with a visit to Haydock for their Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle also under consideration.

“He’s in at Haydock next weekend, which is probably 50/50 at the minute,” said the Armagh owner-trainer.

“His main target now is the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, the Grade One over three miles. That race is six weeks away, and ideally when he’s going well he likes to be running, so I’m not sure if I want to wait six weeks with him.

“He’s having an easy week this week, and he’s back up to his racing weight from Sunday already, but he can get quite fat if he’s given too much time off. He’ll canter away next week, and if I think he’s back we’ll probably have a look at the Haydock Grade Three handicap.

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“If he doesn’t go there I’d say it’s likely he’ll just go on to the Long Walk Hurdle.”

The Jam Man has been something of a talisman for McNally, winning on the Flat and over both hurdles and fences, including representing the stable at the elite level in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

He finished ninth, but McNally believes his stable star did not quite fulfil his potential and is hoping to target the race again this season.

“I’d love to go back to the Stayers’ Hurdle this year and give it a wee rattle when he’s healthy,” he said.

“He ran in it last year, and it wasn’t his true running. I’m not saying he’s anywhere good enough to win it but I would like to give him a chance when he’s healthy.”

The Jam Man, who is ridden on the gallops by McNally’s schoolboy son, Kian ‘Tubbs’ McNally, is an 11-time winner.

“He’s unbelievable, he’s basically a pony,” he added.

“He’s just like a wee teddy bear around the yard – for him to do what he’s doing is unbelievable. He’s just a wee pet. We’re lucky to have him in truth – he can do anything.”

McNally also owns and trains the five-year-old hurdler Dreal Deal, who has recently been the winner of five successive handicaps.

He began is winning streak in September, after a summer competing on the Flat, and will now be rested before his next steps are plotted.

“Plans are fluid with him at the minute – he’s just out on a break,” said McNally.

“He’ll probably have a month off, he’s actually out at grass at the minute. Over the next week or so we’ll just start to formulate a plan – we didn’t want to rush into anything just yet.

“He’s mixing it with the best of the novices on his rating, (but) whether or not he’s good enough for that is another thing. I suppose when we get him back we’ll see whether he falls into graded company or stiff handicapping.”

After Dreal Deal’s most recent win at Cork, McNally spoke of his willingness to sell the horse to the right own provided he is not moved to another trainer.

“I don’t mind keeping him at all, I’m more than happy to keep him,” he said.

“I’m in no rush to sell him, but if the right owner did come along to keep him in the yard I might have been interested. We’ll see – there’s no offers at the minute, and we’re happy enough.”