Vanillier strikes Florida Pearl gold

Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier claimed his first success over fences when taking the Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown.

The Grade Two contest was only a four-runner affair, with the small field then further diminished as the evens favourite Sixshooter fell at the third from home on his second outing over fences.

Ballyshannon Rose then also fell at the final flight, leaving only two contenders standing at a stage when the Gavin Cromwell-trained Vanillier was well clear of Gordon Elliott’s Fancy Foundations and could canter home 26 lengths to the good under Keith Donoghue.

Vanillier returns victorious
Vanillier returns victorious (PA)

“He jumped well. I would have liked if something had joined him earlier in the race just to force a bit more pace into it,” Cromwell said of the winner, who started at 13-8 having been beaten into third on his chasing debut at Down Royal last month.

“He’s just a dour stayer. With Sixshooter falling we’ll never know, but I suppose jumping is the name of the game.

“I walked the track beforehand and it’s nice safe ground. Hopefully he’s OK in the morning as he’s a big horse and wants to get his toe in.

“There are two staying chases at Christmas, one at Leopardstown and one in Limerick.

“He’ll have an entry in both of them and we’ll see what the ground is like closer to the time.”

It sadly emerged after that race the Noel Meade-trained Sixshooter suffered fatal injuries in his fall.

Vanillier ready for chasing debut at Down Royal

Cheltenham Festival winner Vanillier starts his new career over fences in the Tote Ten To Follow Beginners Chase at Down Royal.

Trained by Gavin Cromwell, the grey bounded clear up the Cheltenham hill to win the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in March.

The two previous winners of that Festival contest, Minella Indo and Monkfish, have gone on to be seen as two of the best chasers in training – albeit the latter is currently sidelined – and Cromwell will be hoping Vanillier can reach similar heights.

He faces far from an easy task on his chasing debut on Friday, however, up against Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge – last season’s Boyne Hurdle hero – and Gordon Elliott’s Grand Paradis, winner of the Michael Purcell Memorial at Thurles.

“It looks a hot race – but it’s to be expected in Ireland at this time of year, especially at this meeting,” said Cromwell.

“We’re looking forward to getting him started off. He jumps well (at home) – and while we’ll step him up in trip as the season goes on, this looks a nice place to get him started.

“It was good to soft when he won at Cheltenham, and it will be something similar again. He doesn’t need it bottomless, (so) the ground should be ideal.

“That day he came up the hill at Cheltenham he looked to be crying out for a fence, so we’re hoping it all goes well.”

Elsewhere on the card, Triumph Hurdle fourth Zanahiyr meets Cask Mate in what looks a match in the Grade Two WKD Hurdle

Cheltenham hero Vanillier eyeing Festival double for Cromwell

Gavin Cromwell expects forecast conditions to prove in Vanillier’s favour at Punchestown as the impressive Cheltenham winner puts his Grade One status on the line in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.

Vanillier was a revelation when he returned to winning form with abundant ease to dominate last month’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

That 11-length success followed an off-colour performance at the Dublin Festival, when Cromwell’s yard was out of form.

The County Meath trainer admits that, although he was hoping for a much-improved showing at Cheltenham, even he was surprised by Vanillier’s 14-1 triumph – on his first attempt at three miles under rules.

The six-year-old faces a new challenge on Wednesday when two fellow Cheltenham winners – Willie Mullins’ handicap victor Galopin Des Champs and Henry de Bromhead’s Grade Two heroine Telmesomethinggirl – will be among the seven-strong opposition.

Cromwell is confident, though, that spring ground will suit Vanillier.

Asked to assess what level of form will be required to follow up, he said: “I don’t really know for sure.

“The ground is probably going to be a little bit livelier again than it was at Cheltenham.

“I hope that’s OK with him. He’s come out of Cheltenham really well, and we’re happy with him going here.

“I’m hoping he can put up a similar performance.”

Vanillier has won and finished a good second on much softer winter ground, but appeared to appreciate the absence of mud at Cheltenham.

“Yes, he did (surprise me),” added Cromwell.

“I fancied him to run a big race, but I didn’t expect him to do what he did on the day.

“We were obviously delighted with it.

“He wears a tongue strap, and that’s obviously for a reason, and I think the better ground probably helps his wind a little bit.

“So as long as it’s not too quick for him – I’m sure Punchestown are going to do a great job – it will be fine.”

There was never any temptation to try to fit in a trip to Aintree with the grey this month.

Galopin Des Champs is back in Grade One company after his handicap success at the Cheltenham Festival
Galopin Des Champs is back in Grade One company after his handicap success at the Cheltenham Festival (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“This was (always) the plan,” said Cromwell.

“We’re happy with him, and he seems in good nick, so we’re looking forward to running him.”

Vanillier’s assignment is one of three Grade Ones on day two of Punchestown’s signature meeting.

As well as the feature Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup, top honours are also up for grabs in the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion INH Flat Race.

There is a score to settle from Cheltenham too, for Mullins’ two protagonists Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit.

Unlike in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper – which saw Sir Gerhard just lead home his stablemate in a Mullins one-two – both must be amateur ridden.

Sir Gerhard (nearside) just got the better of stablemate Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham
Sir Gerhard (nearside) just got the better of stablemate Kilcruit in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Patrick Mullins was unable to take the ride at Cheltenham because of coronavirus restrictions which suspended all amateur jockeys.

He had previously eulogised about the potential of Kilcruit – but in this rematch will be on board Sir Gerhard, with Derek O’Connor riding his main rival in a field of eight.

The yard is also represented by Ramillies, who could manage only eighth at Cheltenham and also finished well adrift of Kilcruit at Leopardstown in February.

Their trainer said: “Ramillies is a horse whose homework is good.

“It might not be as good as the other two – but it is good, and I still think there is a good horse lurking in there somewhere and it has to come out.

Trainer Joseph O’Brien is cautiously optimistic about the return of Eric Bloodax
Trainer Joseph O’Brien is cautiously optimistic about the return of Eric Bloodaxe (PA)

“Maybe a change of track and a flat track like Punchestown might bring it out in him.

“I think the track might suit Kilcruit better (as well), so we’ll see. It’ll be different, and worth watching anyway.”

Among the opposition, Joseph O’Brien’s Eric Bloodaxe is returning from an absence of almost 15 months since losing his unbeaten record at Leopardstown

O’Brien said: “He’s been off the track for an extended period of time, and it’ll be a big ask to go straight into a race like this.

“But he’s been training well, and we’ve targeted this race with him.

“We’re hoping he can run well.”

Punchestown plan for Cromwell’s Cheltenham stars

Gavin Cromwell has identified Punchestown as the next port of call for his two Cheltenham Festival winners, Flooring Porter and Vanillier.

Flooring Porter made all to dominate the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, while Vanillier was an emphatic winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

There are similar races for the pair at the County Kildare track’s big meeting at the end of April.

“The horses have come back good. The plan is Punchestown for both Flooring Porter and Vanillier,” said Cromwell.

“There’s the three-mile novice and the three-mile stayers’. They are the obvious races for them. They’ve come out of Cheltenham good, so that’s the plan.

“It was fantastic.”

Vanillier was a second winner of the week at Cheltenham for Gavin Cromwell
Vanillier was a second winner of the week at Cheltenham for Gavin Cromwell (Michael Steele/PA)

Crowmell felt sorry for his other three runners, who never got the chance to show their best.

“We brought five over. I suppose the other three were unfortunate,” said the County Meath handler.

“Darver Star was going OK (in the Marsh Novices’ Chase) until he got a bit of a fright and ran no race after. Gabynako was hampered by a faller (in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle) and was out at the first, and Wolf Prince (County Hurdle) had a rough old race.

“Thankfully the other two were terrific.”

Vanillier is smooth Albert Bartlett winner

Vanillier made all the running to give Irish trainer Gavin Cromwell his second winner of the meeting in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Flooring Porter led all the way to take the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday and Vanillier (14-1) repeated the trick in the Grade One over three miles.

Both horses should have been ridden by Jonathan Moore, but he declared himself not enough to ride after a fall earlier in the month. Danny Mullins was the beneficiary in the Stayers’ and it was Mark Walsh who deputised this time. Moore led in both winners.

Vanillier proved an able partner as he travelled beautifully throughout the race before scooting up the hill to seal the victory by 11 lengths from Oscar Elite.

Streets Of Doyen was a length and a half back in third, with Stattler fourth.

Cromwell said: “That was fantastic. I wasn’t sure how he’d act on better ground as he’s quite a slow horse, but Mark said he travelled with loads of enthusiasm today.

“He showed an extra gear there he hasn’t shown before and we know he stays well. I’m not surprised he won, but I’m surprised how well he won.

“The ground at Christmas at Limerick was knee deep, but he stayed on well at the finish. He had a small wind op after that, but at the Dublin Racing Festival he ran no race, like all mine there that weekend and he came back a sick horse. He’s bounced back, though.

“He’ll go chasing next season, he’s a proper staying chaser of the future.”

Walsh said: “I was always happy how he was going, he might have been doing too much in front early, but he settled eventually.

“I got a good breather going to the second-last and when I couldn’t hear anyone coming I kicked and he found plenty.

“It’s unfortunate for Jonny, he’s missed out on two Grade Ones but fair play to him for doing it (standing himself down) – it takes a lot of guts to do that.

“I’ve had three seconds here this week so to finally get my head back in front was brilliant.”