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Game Changer breaks chasing duck in Thurles Grade Three

I’m A Game Changer secured his first win over fences in style as he lifted the Grade Three Pierce Molony Memorial Novice Chase at Thurles.

Andrew McNamara’s nine-year-old had been placed in seven of his 11 previous chase outings, including in graded company, but had yet to get his head in front.

However, he righted that statistic with a strong staying performance in the two-mile-two-furlong contest.

I’m A Game Changer travelled well throughout for Darragh O’Keeffe, making smooth progress to assume the lead approaching the last, and he galloped all the way to the line to beat Whatsnotoknow by a cosy eight lengths.

McNamara said: “I thought turning in he might run into a place, but Darragh said he was fierce confident and won well. We had been riding him that way in good races to try to pick up a few quid – and while he has been doing that well, today’s race a slightly lesser race than the ones he had been running in.

“He has had a few issues but is on the right path at the moment, and hopefully he will stay going that way. We had thought about tipping away in these races and leaving him as a novice again for next season, but we’re not too upset that plan has gone out the window.

“He’ll keep going for the summer, and there are loads of races for him.”

McNamara was particularly pleased to land the race which remembers Molony, the former manager and owner of the track.

He added: “We are good family friends of the Molonys as well, and I’d have known Pierce well, so am delighted to win their race.

“His nine-member syndicate are based all over Ireland, and there is another one in Australia. I’s their first horse, and they’ll be thrilled.”

O’Keeffe went on to notch a double aboard Getaday (9-2) in the following Duggan Veterinary 4cyte For Horses Handicap Chase.

Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider Jack Kennedy kept the bandwagon rolling with victory aboard Commander Of Fleet (15-8) in the See You In October Hurdle.

A Grade One victor back in 2019 and second in that year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Commander Of Fleet missed an entire season through injury and failed to sparkle on his first two starts before coming good here.

Kennedy said: “This is a horse with loads of ability and it is nice for him to win that.”

Rachael Blackmore, who was crowned top rider at Cheltenham, also struck Thurles gold with Myth Buster (13-8) in the Horse & Jockey Beginners Chase.

Kennedy pinching himself after Gold Cup success

Jack Kennedy is still “on cloud nine” following his WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup victory aboard Minella Indo.

The 21-year-old steered Henry de Bromhead’s charge to a length-and-a-quarter verdict over stablemate A Plus Tard in the Festival showpiece on Friday.

He was back in action at Thurles on Saturday, winning on Commander Of Fleet, after which he reflected on his Cheltenham achievement.

Rachael Blackmore congratulates Jack Kennedy after the Gold Cup
Rachael Blackmore congratulates Jack Kennedy after the Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “Yesterday was unbelievable, and I’m still on cloud nine. The phone nearly blew up – I had close to 300 messages.

“I never really had a moment’s worry throughout the race – and while he was pulling up on the run-in, it was idleness, and he had his ears pricked. When he heard A Plus Tard coming to him, he pulled out again.

“Everyone at home was thrilled, and it was great.”

Kennedy and Blackmore enjoyed a guard of honour at Thurles
Kennedy and Blackmore enjoyed a guard of honour at Thurles (PA)

Rachael Blackmore partnered Minella Indo’s stablemate A Plus Tard to second spot in the Gold Cup, narrowly failing to cap a spectacular week which saw her claim the leading rider title at the Festival with six winners – including the Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle.

Blackmore was also in action at Thurles, with the limited personnel at the track forming a guard of honour before the third race to hail the riding stars.

She said: “It was a fantastic week and it hasn’t sunk in yet. It is hard to comprehend it all, to be honest.

“Honeysuckle was unbelievable, and I think her performance in Leopardstown (last month) fairly rubber-stamped what race to run in at Cheltenham – so it was fantastic.

“It was an unbelievable week for Henry (de Bromhead), and it was an incredible achievement.

“When you are going over with the book of rides I had, you are just hoping you can get one of them to do it – and that was a big relief when that (first win) happened.

“It is all about Cheltenham, and being able to get on the calibre of horse I was on over there – I’m still trying to draw breath after the last four days!”

Grand Paradis favourite for Martin Pipe after Thurles victory

Grand Paradis scored his third win from four runs when taking the Markaye Contracts Ltd Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle at Thurles for Gordon Elliott.

The five-year-old galloped to a convincing 13-length success in the Grade Three contest, starting at 7-2 and claiming a second win over hurdles after triumphing at Fairyhouse last time out.

As a result, he was promoted to 6-1 favourite from 10-1 by Betfair and Paddy Power for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The grey gelding was piloted by Jack Kennedy, who felt he had come on from that previous performance and would eventually be a candidate for steeplechases.

“He has improved from his maiden hurdle win and I’m delighted,” the jockey said.

“He is very good to jump, he is a lovely horse and seems to have a good future ahead of him.

“He is a big chaser in the making and whatever he does over hurdles will be a bonus, he isn’t a slow horse but will stay.”

Grand Paradis was one of two Elliott-trained victors on the card, the other being Thurles Racecourse Hunters Chase winner Jury Duty.

Sent off at 11-2, the 10-year-old took up the lead over the last fence and held off the challenging Stand Up And Fight to prevail by three-quarters of length under Jamie Codd.

Last season’s surprise Cheltenham Festival Hunter Chase winner It Came To Pass was towards the rear of the field before unseating Maxine O’Sullivan over the third fence from home.

Kilkenny trainer David O’Brien also enjoyed a double on the card, his first ever, beginning with Minx Tiara’s victory in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Chase.

The six-year-old mare was a facile 14-length winner under Sean Flanagan, relishing the heavy ground to justify her status as evens favourite.

“Everything went well, she jumped well and loves that type of ground,” said O’Brien.

“She was unlucky in her point-to-point when she was nearly brought down with a circuit to go and her jockey Eoin O’Brien left her to coast home and got her confidence back. The owners decided to hold on to her then and she has paid them back well now with three wins.”

He added: “I had thought about getting black type and while I’d rather get another few chases into her, given the time of year something like the Grade Three novice chase at Limerick (March 14) might suit as it would be great for her pedigree.”

O’Brien’s second triumph was then provided by Cusp Of Carabelli, who obliged in the We’re In This Together Handicap Chase.

“I feel like a proper trainer now!” O’Brien said after the 9-2 victory, with both winning horses owned by the same Fastey For Fun Syndicate.

“That was lovely and I’m so delighted for the syndicate, both the winners were cheap horses and they’re after having great fun with them.

“Minx Tiara was bought for €1,000 and this lad cost €900 and that’s his fifth win and my first double.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Ain’t That A Shame (5-4) lost his maiden tag when taking the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle under Rachael Blackmore.

The seven-year-old gelding came home three lengths ahead of 10-11 favourite Churchstonewarrior after running prominently throughout.

“I’m delighted with that, he stayed really well and Rachael seemed really happy with him,” De Bromhead said.

“He jumps and stays well, is a scopey big horse who has taken time, but it is nice to see him come to himself.

“We’ll look at the festivals and the three-mile options, maybe the handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse. I’m looking forward to getting him over a fence next year.”

Elsewhere on the card, Fighting Fit (6-5 favourite) took the Connolly’s Red Mills Ladies Handicap Hurdle for Aine O’Connor and Philip Dempsey, with the concluding Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares INH Flat Race giving Codd a double as Mollys Glory prevailed as the 6-4 market leader for Michael Grassick.

O’Sullivan has ground worries ahead of It Came To Pass prep

It Came To Pass is set to warm up for the defence of his Cheltenham Festival crown with a first outing in over three months in the first race at Thurles on Thursday.

Almost 30 years on from the success of Lovely Citizen in the same race in 1991, It Came To Pass provided trainer Eugene O’Sullivan with his second win in the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase in March, with his daughter Maxine in the saddle.

The 11-year-old has run just once since – finishing fourth at Fairyhouse in November – and O’Sullivan admits the prospect of testing conditions for his comeback are a cause for his concern, with his Festival assignment just over three weeks away.

He said: “He’s in right order, but unfortunately the ground has been horrendous and it looks like it will be horrendous tomorrow as well.

“I’ve said all year that I wouldn’t run him on bad ground, but I just feel he needs a run.

“I’m going against my word by running him, but he is very fresh and needs to do something, even though he’s not at his best on that ground.

“The ground will be against him, but if it wasn’t tomorrow (for a prep run) it was never and Maxine will mind him”

Connections were presented with another headache on the eve of their stable star’s return following confirmation amateurs will not be permitted to ride at this year’s Festival.

Celebrations for Maxine O'Sullivan at Cheltenham
Celebrations for Maxine O’Sullivan at Cheltenham (Simon Cooper/PA)

O’Sullivan senior has raised the possibility of daughter Maxine turning professional to ensure she can take the ride in the Cotswolds, but all discussions are on hold until after It Came To Pass makes his return.

He added: “That news hit us like a ton of bricks today. I really was hoping that ruling would change nearer the time.

“It definitely has us thinking and what’s happening is we will wait until after Thurles to make a decision.

“Maxine was contemplating turning (professional), but there’s pros and cons to that and there needs to be a lot more thinking done about that than just deciding on the spur of the moment.”

Gentleman may be set for Dublin Festival

Emmet Mullins is considering an appearance at next weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival for his exciting prospect Cape Gentleman.

Runner-up to the Willie Mullins-trained Mt Leinster on his Irish debut at Listowel last autumn, the French recruit subsequently went one better in the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh.

The Champs Elysees gelding made a smart start to his hurdling career at Punchestown last month – and could step up to Grade One level for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

“Cape Gentleman is entered in the Grade One two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Mullins

“He had been entered in the Lawlor’s in Naas, but we missed that because I just wasn’t happy.”

The trainer’s confidence was boosted by the impressive success of Cape Gentleman’s stable companion Noble Yeats in a bumper at Thurles on Wednesday.

A £75,000 purchase from the point-to-point field, the six-year-old could finish only third on his bumper debut at Limerick, but raised his game to win by 19 lengths on his second start at Thurles this week.

Mullins added: “Noble Yeats was beaten at Limerick over Christmas, and I just wasn’t sure what was going on, so we sat on our hands for a while – but it looks like all systems go now.

“We were very disappointed at Limerick, but I would say on the day it was a good bumper. He had been showing us plenty at home, but I was doubting myself coming (to Thurles) and he was good and impressive – I couldn’t ask for any more.

“It was just good to get that win,  and he showed his true colours; he’s an exciting horse for the future, and when we go jumping we could be looking forward to better things.”

Allaho sparkles in Grade Two double for Mullins and Townend

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend secured a Grade Two double at Thurles with victories for Allaho and Colreevy.

Third in the RSA at Cheltenham in March, Allaho had reappeared in the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown before finishing fourth to A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Sent off the 10-11 favourite for the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old took the field along under Townend before being pressed by Mark Walsh-ridden stablemate Elimay.

The latter briefly looked like being a major threat, but the market leader was quick to assert on jumping the last and came home three lengths to the good.

A crack at the Ryanair Chase looks like being on the agenda for Allaho at this year’s Festival, a race for which he was cut to 5-1 from 6-1 by Betfair.

Winning trainer Mullins said: “I think he was idling in front all the time, and that (two and a half miles) might be more his trip. I was a little worried when Elimay got to him, but when he saw her he picked up and went away again like a decent horse.

“Elimay ran a fantastic race as well, and she will go for the Opera Hat Chase in Naas next and maybe on to the mares’ chase in Cheltenham after that.

“Allaho is a huge horse, and I thought he was a three-miler, but maybe he is better off coming back to two-four or two-five – I am thinking about the Ryanair for him.

Colreevy is still unbeaten over fences after her Grade Two victory at Thurles
Colreevy is still unbeaten over fences after her Grade Two victory at Thurles (Thomas Weekes/PA)

“He is making progress, and I think he will improve into the spring – which is the time of year you want to improve in. I’m looking forward to his next run, and he’ll probably go straight to Cheltenham.”

Colreevy (4-5 favourite) took her record over fences to three from three in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase.

Like Allaho she was in front from the outset, although Scarlet And Dove was giving her a race before crashing out at the second-last.

Mullins said: “She jumps very well and takes it all in her stride. Paul was very happy with her, and how she did everything for him with no fuss about her.

“There’s a Grade Two chase at Limerick in March that we’re looking at next – but whether or not she has higher expectations, I don’t know. I’ll chat with the owners – but they were hoping, coming here today, to hopefully win and then go on to Limerick.

Mullins added: “We might revise plans, but we’ll see – whether or not she has enough experience over fences to go to Cheltenham is another day’s work. Certainly what she has done at Limerick over Christmas and today would lead you to think she might have as good a chance as anything over there.”

Mullins completed a treble when Eurotiep gave Aubrey McMahon his first win over the smaller obstacles in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Maiden Hurdle.

The 15-8 shot, owned by the Down The Hatch Syndicate that includes McMahon’s father, Luke, romped home by 19 lengths.

“That was a good performance from the horse having run a cracker in a bumper at Christmas,” said Mullins.

“We’ll stay novice hurdling now and I wouldn’t be afraid to go out in trip with him either as he is well able to gallop. He is a horse to look forward to for his syndicate.”

Mullins’ son Patrick steered Noble Yeats (5-4) to victory for his cousin Emmet in division one of the Thurles (Pro-Am) Flat Race.

Division two went to the Jonathan Sweeney-trained evens favourite Churchstonewarrior.

Torygraph put up a good staying performance to win the W. T. O’Grady Memorial Irish EBF Novice Hurdle.

The well-backed 11-8 favourite, trained by Gordon Elliott, followed up his Fairyhouse maiden hurdle success with a three-and-three-quarter-length verdict over over Angels Dawn in the hands of Jack Kennedy.

The winning rider said: “He is a lovely horse and has improved from Fairyhouse. He is a lazy old horse and you have to keep him up to his work, but he does his best work at the business end of things.

“To look at, he is not your typical big, massive staying horse, but he is definitely more effective over a longer trip.”

The Dublin Racing Festival beckons for Blanketontheground (11-2) after her four-length success in the Lough Handicap Hurdle under 5lb claimer Gearoid Brouder.

Trainer Eoin McCarthy was delighted to see the eight-year-old mare regain winning ways after she was beaten at Limerick last time.

“She is a lovely filly and I suppose we got the tactics wrong at Limerick, but that is behind us,” he said.

“She is entered in the big mares’ handicap at Leopardstown and we need a couple to come out but that is the plan.”

Allaho leads charge for Mullins

Allaho leads a four-strong team for Willie Mullins in the rescheduled Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned seven-year-old has already been placed twice at the Cheltenham Festival, having finished third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Novices’ Chase, and is this year being targeted at the Ryanair Chase.

He will be a hot favourite for Wednesday’s Grade Two feature, which was originally due to be run last Sunday before the meeting was cancelled because of snow.

However, he lines up with something to prove – having failed to run up to expectations in both the John Durkan at Punchestown and Savills Chase at Leopardstown so far this season.

Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park’s managing director, said last week: “He’s a horse who has been difficult to get fit this season, and I’m hopeful we’ll see an improvement.

“Hopefully it will set him up for perhaps the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

“He’s in good form, so let’s keep fingers crossed.”

Mullins also saddles Easy Game, Annamix and high-class mare Elimay – while Gordon Elliott, who landed back-to-back renewals of the race with his Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack in 2015 and 2016, relies on Battleoverdoyen.

The eight-year-old was an impressive winner of a Grade Two at Down Royal on his first start of the campaign, before finishing fourth in the John Durkan last month.

Elliott told Betfair: “We didn’t see the best of him in the Durkan Chase at Punchestown last time when he was a well-held fourth behind Min, and he seemed to be struggling a long way from home in that race.

“He is much better than he showed there, so I’m hoping for better, even though he has to shoulder a Grade One penalty.

“The ground may not be quite as testing as it was in Punchestown, and that could help – while at home he has been in good form for the last few weeks. I’m hoping to see him return to the promise he showed when winning a Grade Two in good style at Down Royal.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos and Roy Tector’s outsider Turndownthevolume complete the line-up.

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase – a race Mullins won for the fourth time in the last six years with Elimay 12 months ago.

The Closutton handler again has a strong hand, with Limerick Grade One winner Colreevy joined by stable companion Yukon Lil.

Elliott is represented by Mount Ida, who finished third behind Yukon Lil on her chasing debut before landing a Grade Three prize at Cork in early December.

“She has made a bright start over fences,” Elliott added.

“I thought her chasing debut was encouraging, and she built on that to win a Grade Three at Cork early last month.

“There weren’t that many options for her over longer trips earlier in the season, which is why she campaigned over two miles, but I think this sort of distance could be ideal for her

“She is penalised for her Grade Three success, which won’t make life easy. But she is in good heart, and it might just help her that she has had a good interval since she last ran.

“If she runs her race I’d hope that she will be right there at the finish.”

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Scarlet And Dove and Declan Queally’s Western Victory also feature in a nine-strong field.

Market Rasen called off as cold weather causes fixtures headache

Monday’s meeting at Market Rasen has been called off as the current cold snap continues to bite.

An inspection was held at noon on Sunday at the Lincolnshire track, but the course was still frozen from Friday evening’s frost and the temperature also dipped again on Saturday night.

With snow showers forecast for Sunday and a -4C possible overnight, an early call was made.

The course tweeted: “Unfortunately we have had to abandon tomorrow’s meeting to frozen ground. With a further low temperature forecast overnight and into tomorrow, there is no chance for improvement.”

The meeting at Plumpton on Monday is also in doubt as the course in currently frozen in places.

Vulnerable areas are covered, but after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight with another cold night forecast, officials will inspect at 8am.

Sunday’s meetings at both Hereford and Thurles were abandoned due to snow.

The fixture at Thurles was due to feature two Grade Two races, the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase as well as the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase, which was due to see the likes of Battleoverdoyen and Allaho clash.

Battleoverdoyen was due to run at Thurles
Battleoverdoyen was due to run at Thurles (Brian Lawless/PA)

Following a first inspection at 7.30am, a second check was called for 9am with snow beginning to settle on the track. However, with no improvement in the conditions, a decision was taken before the scheduled inspection to call the meeting off.

A statement from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board read: “Following a second track inspection at Thurles this morning, the track remains unfit for racing due to snow.

“With no improvement and further snowfall between inspections, the fixture scheduled to take place this afternoon has been cancelled.”

The card has been rescheduled for Wednesday while Saturday meeting at Navan, which was called off due to frost, will now be staged on Friday.

The decision was taken even earlier at Hereford, with heavy snow leaving officials with no option but to call off the card.

Tuesday’s fixture at Kelso is also in doubt as the track is currently frozen in places. An inspection will be held at midday on Monday to assess the situation.

Wincanton’s meeting on Wednesday is also under threat, with an inspection called for Tuesday at 8am due to snow and ice.

Weather hits Sunday action

Sunday’s meetings at both Hereford and Thurles have been abandoned due to snow.

The fixture at Thurles was due to feature two Grade Two races, the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase as well as the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase which was due to see the likes of Battleoverdoyen and Allaho clash.

Following a first inspection at 7.30am a second check was called for 9am with snow beginning to settle on the track. However, with no improvement in the conditions a decision was taken before the scheduled inspection to call the meeting off.

A statement from the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board read: “Following a second track inspection at Thurles this morning, the track remains unfit for racing due to snow.

“With no improvement and further snowfall between inspections, the fixture scheduled to take place this afternoon has been cancelled.”

The decision was taken even earlier at Hereford with heavy snow leaving officials with no option.

Frost covers had been placed over the course but a thick covering of snow with no prospect of improvement meant it was an easy decision.

As a result, the sole meeting on Sunday now takes place on the all-weather at Lingfield while Market Rasen’s meeting on Monday must survive a noon inspection.

The meeting at Kelso on Tuesday is also in doubt as the track is currently frozen in places.

An inspection will be held at midday on Monday to assess the situation.

Wincanton’s meeting on Wednesday is already under threat with an inspection called for Tuesday at 8am due to snow and ice.

The meeting at Plumpton on Monday is also in doubt as the course in currently frozen in places.

Vulnerable areas are covered but after temperatures dropped to -3C overnight and another cold night is forecast, officials will inspect at 8am.

Allaho seeks to restate Festival credentials at Thurles

Allaho bids to get his season up and running as one of four runners for Willie Mullins in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

Twice placed at the Cheltenham Festival, having finished third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Novices’ Chase, the seven-year-old has failed to run up to expectations in his two previous starts this winter.

Allaho was sixth of seven runners when a leading contender for the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on his reappearance – and was again well-beaten when fourth behind fellow Cheveley Park Stud-owned star A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown.

He drops in distance and class for Sunday’s Grade Two feature in County Tipperary, on a card which must pass an 8am inspection – with snow and ice in the forecast.

Should the meeting go ahead, hopes are high that French import Allaho can show his true colours before a likely return to Cheltenham in March.

Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park’s managing director, said: “He’s a horse who has been difficult to get fit this season, and I’m hopeful we’ll see an improvement this weekend.

“Hopefully it will set him up for perhaps the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

“He’s in good form, so let’s keep fingers crossed.”

Mullins also saddles Easy Game, Annamix and high-class mare Elimay – while Gordon Elliott, who landed back-to-back renewals of the race with his Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack in 2015 and 2016, relies on Battleoverdoyen.

The eight-year-old was an impressive winner of a Grade Two at Down Royal on his first start of the campaign, before finishing fourth in the John Durkan last month.

Elliott told Betfair: “We didn’t see the best of him in the Durkan Chase at Punchestown last time when he was a well-held fourth behind Min and he seemed to be struggling a long way from home in that race.

“He is much better than he showed there so I’m hoping for better, even though he has to shoulder a Grade One penalty.

“The ground may not be quite as testing as it was in Punchestown and that could help, while at home he has been in good form for the last few weeks. I’m hoping to see him return to the promise he showed when winning a Grade Two in good style at Down Royal.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos and Roy Tector’s outsider Turndownthevolume complete the line-up.

Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase – a race Mullins won for the fourth time in the last six years with Elimay 12 months ago.

The Closutton handler again has a strong hand, with Limerick Grade One winner Colreevy joined by stable companion Yukon Lil.

Elliott is represented by Mount Ida, who finished third behind Yukon Lil on her chasing debut before landing a Grade Three prize at Cork in early December.

Elliott added: “She has made a bright start over fences. I thought her chasing debut was encouraging, and she built on that to win a Grade Three at Cork early last month.

“There weren’t that many options for her over longer trips earlier in the season, which is why she campaigned over two miles, but I think this sort of distance could be ideal for her

“She is penalised for her Grade Three success, which won’t make life easy. But she is in good heart, and it might just help her that she has had a good interval since she last ran.

“If she runs her race I’d hope that she will be right there at the finish.”

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Scarlet And Dove and Declan Queally’s Western Victory also feature in a 10-strong field.

Gauloise puts down Cheltenham marker with Thurles success

Gauloise maintained her unbeaten record with victory in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle at Thurles.

The French bumper winner made an impressive Irish debut for Willie Mullins over the course and distance last month and was the 4-5 favourite on her return to County Tipperary for this Listed event.

Having travelled strongly in the hands of champion jockey Paul Townend, Gauloise hit the front between the final two flights and was always doing enough after the last to hold Mighty Blue at bay by three lengths.

The winner carries the colours of owner Kenny Alexander, whose star mare Honeysuckle won this race two years ago.

Mullins said of Gauloise: “At home she has looked like she improved and she has shown me that at the track. Her jumping was good enough, too.

“I think she is going to improve again and the minimum trip is no problem to her.

“Paul said she took off with him after the second-last and he wasn’t expecting that sort of response. He thinks she had to show stamina to stay after opening up her lead so all in all, it’s looking good for her.”

Paddy Power cut Gauloise to 6-1 from 10-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Mullins added: “I imagine she might have one more run before Cheltenham, but she looks like she is good enough to go up in grade; her next run will hopefully copper-fasten that.”

Escaria Ten also obliged for favourite-backers in the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.

Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott are a formidable combination
Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott are a formidable combination (PA)

Gordon Elliott’s 6-5 shot cruised to a 20-length success under Jack Kennedy, who said afterwards: “He put in a great round of jumping and he is a nice horse. Hopefully he can keep progressing from that.

“He ran well in Fairyhouse the last day over two-five and the step up to three miles today really suited him.”

Elliott and Kennedy doubled up with Frontal Assault (2-1 favourite) in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Rated Novice Hurdle.

Kennedy added: “He is a big galloper and stays all day, but is just lairy enough when he is in front. When something came to him he pulled it out again.”

Donagh Meyler steered Eoin Doyle’s 14-1 shot Key Commander to a victory in the Molony Cup Handicap Chase, before the Joseph O’Brien-trained Jack Dillinger (6-1) recorded a narrow win over Scheu Time in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase under Oakley Brown.

O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “It is nice to get his head in front again. He was a very decent hurdler and he obviously likes this place as his first run this year was when he finished second here.

“He jumped good and kept at it well. It was Oakley’s third ride back from injury after he broke his wrist in a fall in October – it’s nice for him and it’s his second winner over fences.”

Paul O’Flynn and Darragh O’Keeffe combined to land the Boomerang.ie Handicap Hurdle with 7-2 market leader West Cork Wildway.

“I shouldn’t have run him the last day in Mallow as the ground was too good for him, but you live and learn and it was nice to get another win up before Christmas,” said O’Flynn.

“He is not the biggest horse, but is unbelievable to jump and I’ll be looking forward to him when he jumps a fence. When he goes over fences you’ll see the real deal.”

Sayce Gold out to keep up winning run for Winters

Eight days after taking Cheltenham by storm with Chatham Street Lad, Mick Winters is hoping Sayce Gold can win her fourth successive race in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle at Thurles.

Chatham Street Lad was a brilliant winner of last Saturday’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in the Cotswolds, after which his ever-popular trainer performed a celebratory roll on the ground in the Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure.

While scenes are likely to be a more low-key should Sayce Gold triumph in Listed company on Sunday, she is undoubtedly an exciting prospect – having already won a Fairyhouse bumper, a Thurles maiden hurdle and a Grade Three at Cork this term.

“We were worried about the extra trip going up to three miles in Mallow (Cork), and now we’re coming back to two miles, so we’ll see how it goes,” said Winters.

“She looks well in herself, and we’re very hopeful and looking forward to it.

“She has to give a bit of weight away to the younger horses. But she’s a big, strong mare – and it’s not going to be easy for four-year-olds in very soft ground.

“This mare has her job done so far, and hopefully she can keep it going.”

The Trevor Hemmings-owned Sayce Gold heads a field of 11 runners, with a pair of unbeaten four-year-olds in Henry de Bromhead’s Kapard and the Willie Mullins-trained course-and-distance winner Gauloise among her rivals.

Chatham Street Lad bolted up at Cheltenham
Chatham Street Lad bolted up at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Winters also provided an upbeat report on Chatham Street Lad’s condition, with connections identifying a handicap chase at Fairyhouse in the new year as a potential next target.

The eight-year-old was priced up for the Marsh Novices’ Chase, the RSA Chase and the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival following his latest triumph, and his trainer is in no rush to decide where he will end up come March.

He said: “We had an enjoyable trip across the water. We were well looked after, and we really appreciated it.

“It was very exciting watching the young jockey on him (Darragh O’Keeffe) floating down the hill. It’s made us all walk a little bit lighter for the moment!

“The horse has come back home very well – the race didn’t knock a feather out of him, and he came out of it without a scratch. He travelled better home than he went.

“The owners are thinking of running in Fairyhouse in January – there’s a two-mile-one-furlong handicap chase there. He’s in great order and he might go there.

“The owners have plenty of time on their hands because they’re half in lockdown, so they’ll be studying away seeing what’s what.

“I think he’s improving all the time, and he can have a bit of time off over Christmas while we all watch the King George and the big races at Leopardstown and stuff like that.”

Thurles possibility for exciting Sayce Gold

Sayce Gold could make a quick reappearance in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Boreen Belle Mares Novice Hurdle at Thurles on Sunday.

Trainer Michael Winters is eyeing the Listed contest over two miles for the exciting seven-year-old, who completed a four-week hat-trick when scoring by eight lengths at Cork.

That success came in a Grade Three heat over three miles, while her two earlier wins were over two-miles-seven at Thurles and in a two-mile bumper at Fairyhouse.

Winters is tempted to run the Trevor Hemmings-owned mare before Christmas, in a race won in 2018 by Irish Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle, as Sayce Gold has taken her recent exertions so well.

“She came up from the gallop, just to keep her ticking over, and her ears were pricked and she was dancing and having a slight skip and trot,” said the County Cork handler.

“I’d imagine there’s a possibility she’ll running in Thurles. It sounds very close, but she’s bouncing. We don’t have to give her any gallop, but we’ll play it by ear.

“When the ground goes against her we’ll be stepping aside because we want her for chasing next year. It would be great fun and it’s exciting to watch her jump fences at home. She is so athletic.

“I hate to put my head on the block, but the entry is going to be made and, if all is good, she might go there.”

Winters is already looking to next season when Sayce Gold switches to the bigger obstacles.

“She’ll go novice chasing next season and it probably be next October if the ground is right,” he added.

Gauloise burns off Thurles rivals

Willie Mullins could have another classy mare on his hands in Gauloise, who won on her Irish debut at Thurles to form part of a short-priced double for the champion trainer.

Sent off the 4-5 favourite for the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Maiden Hurdle, despite having her first run since winning a French bumper in April 2019, she oozed class under Paul Townend.

Having taken up the running before the second last, Gauloise, sporting the Kenny Alexander colours carried by another top-class mare in Honeysuckle, never came off the bridle in beating Global Equity by five and a half lengths.

“She has been in good form at home, but I was taken by way she quickened after the second last and put it to bed,” said Mullins.

“That looks like she might make into a decent filly if she keeps improving. She was very slick over the last.

“At the moment I’m hoping there is improvement in our horses, but what I loved was the turn of foot she had there – it means she might make it up into another grade.”

Mullins and Townend had earlier won the Killinan Beginners Chase with another odds-on shot, Franco De Port (8-15 favourite), who was last seen being pulled up in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham.

“He is nimble and is a good jumper,” said Townend.

“He pulled too hard in the Coral Cup, we put a line through that and maybe fences will bring about an improvement in him.

“He is not an over-big horse, but is very sure of his feet and that is a big help around here especially.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Gua Du Large (5-6 favourite) was another at a short price to oblige in the Thurles Maiden Hurdle.

“I’m delighted with that – he is still very babyish and it is all new to him. He is a nice horse obviously and hopefully he’ll keep progressing,” said De Bromhead.

“Rachael (Blackmore) said he was pretty green when he came off it (the bridle) and she was happy with him.

“I’m delighted to get the win for Robcour (owners) and we’ll aim for something at Christmas.”

Presenting Percy back in business at Thurles

Presenting Percy got back to winning ways in fine style in the boomerang.ie Chase at Thurles.

In what was a high-class affair for a Thursday afternoon, it was the Gordon Elliott-trained nine-year-old, the only runner in the field who had the benefit of a previous run this season, who eventually came out well on top.

Rachael Blackmore tried to make all on Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth Monalee – but both Kemboy and Presenting Percy were travelling ominously well behind him before turning for home.

At the third-last Presenting Percy (3-1) jumped up on Monalee’s inside for a share of the lead, while 11-10 favourite Kemboy was just behind as Darasso found it all too much.

The three jumped the second from home almost in a line, but on landing Presenting Percy – having his second run for Elliott after moving from Pat Kelly – left Kemboy in his wake, winning by six and a half lengths for Jack Kennedy, with Monalee another two and a quarter lengths back in third.

Betfair cut Presenting Percy to 16-1 from 33-1 for the Gold Cup and to 20-1 from 33-1 for the Grand National.

Kennedy said: “He did it very well, he had race-fitness on his side but he put in an exhibition of jumping and quickened up well at the back of the second-last.

“I had sat on him previously at home, but he is very straightforward and is a dream to ride. He jumps and travels away and I was happy at all stages. I was delighted with the way he travelled and I was nearly half-taking him back going across the top I was going that easy.

“That win might do him the world of good and hopefully he can keep going after that.”

Philip Reynolds has enjoyed many big days with Presenting Percy
Philip Reynolds has enjoyed many big days with Presenting Percy (Steven Paston/PA)

Owner Philip Reynolds was thrilled to see Presenting Percy get his head in front again, and could now look to the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He said: “It’s a huge relief – I watched the race from behind the couch!

“I was most pleased to see the way he finished and how he picked up from the back of the second-last. Anne, my wife, says putting the sheepskin noseband back on made the difference.

“It’s just nice to see him back and maybe now we can make a plan.

“Well done Gordon and Jack.”

Kemboy is expected to progress from his return to action
Kemboy is expected to progress from his return to action (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy was ridden by Paul Townend, who said: “He made a mistake at the last fence up the back and that came at the wrong time for him. He had a good blow and I thought he ran OK.”

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins added: “I thought at least he travelled well, in the main he jumped very well and got tired from the back of the last, which I wasn’t surprised at.

“I thought it was satisfactory, he’ll need to improve but he should.”