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Blackmore draws blank at Tramore in race to catch Townend

Rachael Blackmore remained eight winners behind Paul Townend in the race for the Irish jump jockeys’ championship after drawing a blank at Tramore on Sunday, where she missed her final mount of the day following a heavy fall.

With Townend currently on the sidelines due to a foot injury picked up at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting, Blackmore would have been hoping to make more of an inroad into the reigning champion’s lead since her Aintree heroics on Minella Times. But in that time the deficit has only been cut by two.

Blackmore finished in the money on her first three rides of the afternoon without ever looking likely to win, before Game Of War came crashing down at the last in the Green Acre Marketing Handicap Chase.

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Despite walking away she was stood down, with the ride on Western Boy in the Lismore Handicap Chase going to Sean Flanagan. The 15-8 favourite was unplaced.

As for Townend, whether he makes it back for the Punchestown Festival is still unclear.

His main employer, champion trainer Willie Mullins, who saddled a treble with Gelee Blanche (3-1), En Beton (evens favourite) and Bapaume (11-8 favourite), said there was no further news on his condition.

“I have no update on Paul Townend. We are just waiting for as long as we have to wait,” said Mullins after the victory of Gelee Blanche.

He added of that winner: “Hopefully now she can improve as the summer goes on. She has a lot of Galway connections with the Tiger Tail Again Syndicate, so I’d imagine that will be her long-term aim, get back to the Festival in Galway this summer.”

Bapaume, meanwhile, could revert to hurdles at Punchestown.

Mullins said: “We’ll probably go back over hurdles at Punchestown, possibly for a handicap hurdle if he comes out of this well.

“Otherwise we can look over the next month for a similar type of race down the country. Even though the timing isn’t right to go to Punchestown, he mightn’t have had as hard a race as normally with Spyglass Hill making that mistake and the race falling into his lap a bit.”

Henry de Bromhead also enjoyed a winner on a day when he paraded stable stars including Aintree hero Minella Times, Champion Hurdle-winning mare Honeysuckle and Gold Cup victor Minella Indo.

The win came in the concluding bumper with Mind Your Money (15-8), after which the Waterford trainer said: “She is a lovely mare and I’m delighted with that.

“Obviously her run the last day looked really good. Harry (Swan) was brilliant on her. She jumps really well at home so hopefully she will have a nice career over hurdles.

“The parade was incredible and there was a great reception. It’s such a shame that crowd can’t be here, but it was lovely for us and all the team to get a reception like it.”

Minella Escape impresses with Tramore triumph

Minella Escape looks sure to go on to bigger and better things after making it third time lucky over hurdles at Tramore.

A £100,000 recruit from the Irish point-to-point field, Henry de Bromhead’s charge fell at the final flight when odds-on for his hurdling bow at Punchestown in September, before filling the runner-up spot at Navan a month ago.

With the Willie Mullins-trained French recruit Gorki D’airy all the rage as the 5-4 favourite, Minella Escape was second best in the market for the Goodbye 2020 Hello 2021 Maiden Hurdle at 2-1, but proved seven lengths too strong under Rachael Blackmore.

De Bromhead said: “He was a little bit unlucky the first day. He was off for a bit before Navan and I wonder did that just catch him out.

“I’m delighted to get a winner here. He is a lovely horse, he won his point-to-point well and the way he jumped there, you’d be looking forward to a fence with him in time.”

Despite Gorki D’airy’s defeat, Mullins still enjoyed a double on the card, with the victory of dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo preceded by a winning debut over obstacles for Mr Coldstone in the David Flynn Construction Maiden Hurdle.

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The 8-1 shot did not race beyond seven furlongs in three outings on the Flat for Johnny Murtagh two years ago, but proved he has the stamina for jumping with a near three-length verdict on his return from a lengthy absence under Paul Townend.

“That was a nice performance. Paul said he jumped well and he took a good blow, so he thinks he will improve again. We will just go up in grade with him now,” said Mullins.

“I’m very happy to see him coming off three runs on the Flat over less than seven furlongs to be able to settle back into jump racing. I thought that might be a big ask for him on his first run over hurdles, but he did it well and Paul was very happy with him.

“He looks a nice, strong type and he will probably be a nice dual-purpose horse.”

Shakeytry justified 7-2 favouritism in the Core Bullion Traders Handicap Hurdle for trainer Edward O’Grady and jockey Phillip Enright.

Shakeytry in action at Tramore
Shakeytry in action at Tramore (PA)

O’Grady said: “It was his first run in a long time at Cork the last day and it was natural for him to come on for that. It wasn’t a particularly strong race today and it all seemed to work out well.

“He has very rarely been out of the first four and that is his third win today. The boys in the yard have done a great job with him because he hasn’t got great legs. They deserve great credit.

“Maybe we will go for another hurdle with him now before he goes back over fences.”

Days after his last-gasp victory aboard A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, jockey Darragh O’Keeffe was once again seen to good effect as he steered Andrew McNamara’s Lessofdnegativity to a narrow victory in the Tramore Medical Clinic Handicap Hurdle.

Robbie McNamara, representing his father, said: “He’s had a little wind operation since his last run. We just rode him a bit different today and gave him more of a chance early. Darragh took his time and gave him a brilliant ride – he is worth his weight in gold.

“He (Lessofdnegativity) is a half-brother to Joe Farrell, who won the Scottish National. He has a good, staying Irish pedigree and chasing will be his game.”

John McConnell’s Itsalonglongroad (7-2) landed the VS Direct No Limits Marketing Rated Novice Chase under 5lb claimer Simon Torrens.

The concluding Tom Carroll Memorial Handicap Chase went to Whoyakodding (14-1), trained by Garrett Ahern and ridden by James O’Sullivan.

Al Boum Photo claims Tramore hat-trick on seasonal bow

All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March for Al Boum Photo after the dual Gold Cup hero registered a third successive victory in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old lined up for the extended two-mile-five-furlong contest almost by accident two years ago, after sidestepping the Savills Chase at Leopardstown and subsequently the Irish Gold Cup on account of unsuitably fast ground.

With Al Boum Photo finally ending his trainer’s long wait for a Gold Cup winner in the Cotswolds a couple months later, Mullins followed the same route again last season, and his charge again produced the goods on the biggest stage of all.

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Making his first competitive appearance since his latest triumph in the blue riband last March, Paul Townend’s mount appeared to face a relatively straightforward task, with just four inferior rivals in opposition.

Djingle set a sound gallop from flag-fall, before giving best with a circuit to run, after which last year’s runner-up Acapella Bourgeois and his stable companion Al Boum Photo were the only two that counted.

Townend never looked entirely happy in the saddle aboard the 2-9 favourite, but he took over the lead from his tiring stablemate rounding the home turn and ultimately passed the post 19 with lengths in hand.

Paddy Power make Al Boum Photo the 100-30 favourite from 9-2 to become the first triple Gold Cup winner since Best Mate – and Mullins confirmed his intention to once again head to Prestbury Park without another run.

He said: “It’s a big relief. It was nerve-wracking watching him going around there. The sun was a worry and it probably cost Brahma Bull (unseated rider at second fence).

“He jumped very well and Paul said he was just so idle on his own in the middle of the race, he didn’t even think he was in race. He had to roust him up down the back, but once he got racing he was fine. Lack of company was a bigger worry for Paul than anything else.

“The ground is very, very testing out there. We are happy with his performance, he did what he was asked to do. We just hope now that he comes out of it sound and well and we will plan for the Festival. That’s the first hurdle jumped anyway.

“Halfway around today I was thinking it would have been easier to go to Leopardstown because there would be less focus on him. When you come here, you have to win and you have to win nicely and he did all those things.

“I usually like to do what has worked before and hopefully it will work again. A lot of ours are improving for their first run of the year and I’m expecting him to do the same.”

Al Boum all set for Tramore hat-trick bid

Willie Mullins is looking forward to seeing his dual Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo bid for a hat-trick in the Savills New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore.

The Buck’s Boum gelding ended up running in the two-mile-five-furlong contest almost by accident two seasons ago, after sidestepping the Savills Chase at Leopardstown the previous week on account of unsuitably quick ground.

With the same issue ruling him out of a subsequent run in the Irish Gold Cup, Al Boum Photo lined up at Cheltenham as no more than a lively outsider but finally provided his trainer with an elusive first victory in the blue riband under Paul Townend.

Mullins’ decision to follow the same route last season again paid off in the Cotswolds in March – and Al Boum Photo will be a red-hot favourite once more to make a successful comeback at the seaside venue on Friday.

Mullins said: “It’s a good preparation. I brought him down there for the proper winter jumping ground, which he enjoys, and it worked two years running. Hopefully it will work again this year.

“We’ve started off plenty of horses that have won at Cheltenham and other big venues in Tramore. We always get very nice jumping ground down there. We get safe jumping ground, and that’s key.

Acapella Bourgeois also represents Mullins
Acapella Bourgeois also represents Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think that’s key to the preparation of any any jumping horse, and they learn a lot at Tramore. You’re up and down and round – it’s no different from Cheltenham. You’re either turning or jumping – and they learn a good bit there that they might not learn on big, flat tracks.”

Al Boum Photo faces just four rivals in the Grade Three contest, with Mullins also fielding last year’s runner-up Acapella Bourgeois and Brahma Bull – who was last seen chasing home leading Gold Cup hope Minella Indo at Navan.

John Queally’s Djingle and the Andrew McNamara-trained I’m A Game Changer complete the quintet.

Al Boum Photo faces four in Tramore hat-trick bid

Al Boum Photo will face four rivals as he bids to win the Savills New Year’s Day Chase for the third year running at Tramore.

Willie Mullins’ dual Gold Cup winner has taken this Grade Three prize over two miles five and a half furlongs on his way to Cheltenham glory for the past two seasons.

He has not been in action since retaining his crown in March, and jockey Paul Townend is looking forward to getting back on board his Gold Cup partner at this familiar staging post.

“I suppose it’s tried and tested now, so why change it? At that time of year you’re guaranteed a bit of safe ground down there,” said Townend.

“It’s worked the last two years, and we’d be hoping it works a third time.

“If it’s working, why change it? He was pulled out of Leopardstown (two seasons ago) because of the ground and he went down to Tramore, and it suited.

“The race was there, and he got his ground. It was fine and it suited me he went to the Gold Cup under the radar.

“There was a little more pressure last year – but it’s working, and please God it will come off again.”

Among the opposition is Acapella Bourgeois, who was the six-length runner-up to his stable companion in this race last winter.

Mullins has a third string in Brahma Bull – while John Queally’s Djingle and I’m A Game Changer, from Andrew McNamara’s stable, complete the quintet.