Vauban further enhanced his tall reputation with a runaway victory in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown.
Narrowly beaten by Pied Piper on his Irish debut, the Willie Mullins-trained juvenile had since notched successive Grade One wins in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Triumph at Cheltenham.
The runner-up on both occasions was Pied Piper’s stablemate Fil Dor, who was once again in opposition and provided most resistance.
The pair had it between them from a long way out, with Fil Dor’s rider Davy Russell doing his level best to draw the sting out of Vauban by making it a strong test.
But the 4-11 favourite cruised up alongside the pacesetter still full of running on the approach to the final flight and only had to be pushed out hands and heels on the run-in by Paul Townend to score by four lengths.
“He did very well and Paul said he’s only learning, he has very few races under his belt,” said Mullins.
“Paul said he’s starting to get down and hurdle properly now. He settled in and changed gear when he wanted to.
“It was an automatic change of gear and he looks hugely exciting. He has serious gears and he’s only learning to race.
“He only had a few races on the Flat and he’s getting it together over hurdles now.
“We bought him before he won the Listed race in France, it’s a thing we never do but we spotted him and asked the price and they gave it to us. They wanted to run him in the Listed race, we said OK and kept our fingers crossed.
“He got into awful trouble in the race and there was huge interest after that, I’m sure Rich (Ricci) could have turned over a neat profit.
“The Australians wanted him and he looked ideal for down there, maybe he’ll end up down there some day. Maybe we’ll have a tilt at the Melbourne Cup, not this year.
“He’s got a nice rating on the Flat and I think he has got lots of room to improve on the Flat as well.”
When it was put to him that he was a Champion Hurdle horse, he added: “He shaping up to be one.”
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Nicky Henderson reports Epatante in “fantastic form” ahead of her bid for a seventh Grade One victory in the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday.
The JP McManus-owed eight-year-old can count a Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, two Christmas Hurdles at Kempton and two Fighting Fifths at Newcastle on her illustrious CV.
She was ultimately no match for Honeysuckle when bidding to regain her Champion Hurdle crown in March, but was best of the rest and got back on the winning trail in the Aintree Hurdle three weeks ago.
With that latest success on Merseyside proving she has the stamina to win over two and a half miles, Henderson is hopeful she can crown her campaign with another top-level triumph in Ireland.
He said: “She has had a fantastic season and is in fantastic form – I don’t think I have ever known her in better form.
“She has won three Grade Ones and been second in a Champion Hurdle, so has had a brilliant year and it would be nice to top it off with another win.
“She has been an absolute star and we’re looking forward to seeing what she does at Punchestown.”
Epatante may have most to fear from a fellow Seven Barrows inmate in the form of Marie’s Rock.
The seven-year-old was last seen carrying the Middleham Park Racing colours to Cheltenham Festival glory in the Mares’ Hurdle and connections are anticipating another bold showing.
Middleham Park’s National Hunt racing manager, Tom Palin, said: “She’s won over two and a half miles and she’s a Grade One mare. It’s the right race for Epatante and it’s the right race for Marie’s Rock.
“Not too many of them have run since Cheltenham. Obviously Epatante went to Aintree and we have seen this week those who did that have slightly underachieved as a result of having a busy spring campaign.
“We think Marie’s Rock is in better form than she was going into Cheltenham, actually. She did a piece of work at the weekend and worked great and Nico (de Boinville) is very excited to ride her.
“She only cost €35,000 and she’s the mare of a lifetime really.”
Marie’s Rock renews rivalry with several she faced at Cheltenham, including the third home Mrs Milner, the fourth Stormy Ireland and Telmesomethinggirl, who was still in contention when she was brought down two flights from home.
The latter’s trainer, Henry de Bromhead, said: “Telmesomethinggirl was travelling well and just beginning to make her move when brought down in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham at the second-last.
“Rachael (Blackmore) had nowhere to go and it was a nasty enough fall, but there wasn’t a bother on her after and she’s been good since so we’re looking forward to Saturday and just hoping for a clear run.”
Mrs Milner’s trainer Paul Nolan feels his charge was unfortunate not to make more of a race of it in the Cotswolds after in the same incident.
He said: “She ran a stormer at Cheltenham, where I thought she was unlucky.
“The two mares that fell in that race, Indefatigable and Telmesomethinggirl, were going OK so we don’t know, but she was nearly brought to a standstill and brought out wide as well and I thought that the way she came home, she’d have definitely been fighting out the finish anyway.
“With Epatante running she will definitely have to improve again, but she’s in good form.”
Stormy Ireland is one of four runners for Willie Mullins along with Burning Victory, Shewearsitwell and Dysart Diamond, with Lorna Fowler’s Politesse completing the field.
The other Grade One on the final day of the Punchestown Festival is the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, for which the Mullins-trained Vauban will be a warm order following an impressive display in the Triumph at Cheltenham.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “The good ground will help and he is a horse with a lot of speed. It turned into a bit of a sprint in the Triumph Hurdle and that probably played to his strengths, but for him to be able to miss the last and be able to pick up and run away from the other two, I think he is better than your average Triumph Hurdle winner.
“Hopefully he can back that up, I can’t see any reason why the track or the ground wouldn’t play to his strengths. ”
Gordon Elliott’s Fil Dor has finished second to Vauban on his last two starts and takes him on again.
Joey Logan, racing manager for owners Caldwell Construction Ltd, said: “Fil Dor is very well in himself and in good form.
“A bit of rain would be a help. Of course Willie’s horse is the one they all have to beat, but they have to jump and everything, so we’ll see.
“After Mighty Potter won the Grade One for Andy and Gemma (Brown, owners) on Tuesday, it’s already been a great week for them, but Fil Dor will hopefully run his usual race and if he does, he’ll be in there boxing.”
Nolan is looking forward to saddling HMS Seahorse, who was fourth in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“The false start didn’t help him in the Boodles as a colt and he actually jumped the first hurdle,” the trainer said.
“He has a lot of improving to do though to be competitive in this race. He’s rated 128, so he has more than a stone to find, but he seems to be a consistent sort of a horse.
“He’s after giving his owners a right few days out, been competitive every day so I’m hoping that he’ll improve enough to run a decent race. But to be in with a shout of being in the first three, he’ll have to improve a stone.
“I do think he’ll like the better ground. That means they’re jumping at a faster pace as well so you’d like to feel that he’d be getting away from the back of his hurdles a bit quicker and that will help too.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/2.66268065-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2022-04-29 12:43:402022-04-29 13:35:10Epatante aiming to end fine campaign in style
There was a clean sweep for the Irish in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Vauban powering to victory at Cheltenham and leading home four of his compatriots in the Grade One that turned into a speed test.
Paul Townend was always well placed, hunting the relatively sedate pace set by Porticello and Fil Dor before being produced wide off the final bend.
The Willie Mullins-trained Vauban was still on the bridle as he eased a length clear approaching the last and while he made a hash of it, landing on all fours, he soon regained his momentum.
Townend still had plenty up his sleeve and the 6-4 favourite drew readily clear up the stands rail to score by two and a half lengths from Fil Dor, trained by Gordon Elliott, whose Pied Piper ran on a further neck back third.
Townend said: “We always said he was a work in progress and he’s improved every day and he can improve again.
“We hadn’t planned to be in front at the last, but that is just the way it turned out. He had a look around and I knew there was loads there when I got to the back of it.
“He’s a bit to learn, but he’s improving with every run. He’s got a very big engine.
“He’ll have to jump a bit slicker for a Champion Hurdle, but that can be worked out at home. He’s definitely going the right way.”
Mullins said of the Rich Ricci-owned winner: “I’m delighted with that. He was able to win even without having the experience that he should have going into that sort of race.
“You could see that when he hit the front. Paul said he was looking at everything and probably all the cameras on the landing side of the last hurdle and he just lost his impetus. But he picked up quickly again and went on like a good horse.
“You’d have to think he could be a Champion Hurdle horse and he has a great Flat rating. I think he’ll improve with age and experience and with the Flat rating he has, he’ll be good enough to contest those cup races, I think.
“I’ll have a word with Rich, but I’d imagine we’ll give him his summer off and then maybe hurdle next season and go Flat racing after that.”
He went on: “Champion Hurdle winners over the years have gone back on the Flat. The Easterbys over the years have gone to Chester and places like that.
“Champion Hurdle winners in the previous generation went back Flat racing because they were top-class Flat horses. Those horses are not bought now because they’re bought to go to Australia and Dubai and places like that.
“I’ve got a bit of unfinished down in Australia (in the Melbourne Cup), but I don’t think it will be this year. After Punchestown I think we’ll give him a break.
“The Melbourne Cup is a particular itch we’d love to scratch. We’ve finished second, third and fourth in it over the years and it’s a race I’d love to win.
“He has the credentials for it every day of the week. He’d be as good as any of those horses (we have run in the Melbourne Cup before).”
Ricci added: “Certainly with that performance the Champion Hurdle has to be in our plans.
“We’ll have a chat, but I wouldn’t mind keeping him on the go a little bit. He’s lightly-raced. He’s a Listed winner on the Flat in France and he’d be a lot of fun on the Flat.”
Elliott said of his pair: “Both horses ran very well. We found it hard to split them at home and there was only a head between them at the line.
“The winner was very good and he beat us fair and square, we’ve no excuses. Both horses jumped and travelled, they had the run of the race they just got beat by a better horse on the day.
“They are two nice horses. Pied Piper could be a horse for Ascot on the Flat, we bought him with that in mind. Fil Dor could jump a fence.
“I’m very proud of both, they both got great rides. We are hitting the bar a lot, but we’ve two on the board so I’m not going to complain.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/2.65916528-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2022-03-18 13:50:272022-03-18 14:15:07Vauban storms to classy success in Triumph Hurdle
Fil Dor and Pied Piper give trainer Gordon Elliott a formidable hand in his bid for a third victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
It is eight years since the Cullentra handler first landed the juvenile championship with the great Tiger Roll and he doubled his tally with Farclas in 2018.
This year’s two challengers both carry Andrew and Gemma Brown’s Caldwell Construction colours – and both line up with strong claims.
Joey Logan, racing manager to the owners, said: “It’s very exciting to have the two of them running in the Triumph Hurdle, obviously.”
Pied Piper was bred by the Queen and initially trained on the Flat by John Gosden before changing hands in the autumn.
On his hurdling debut at Punchestown, he narrowly defeated the Willie Mullins-trained Vauban before registering a runaway victory in a Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in late January.
Fil Dor has also locked horns with Vauban already, with the Mullins runner ending his three-race winning streak at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.
The trio will again do battle in Friday’s opener and Logan has high hopes for the Caldwell pair.
“Willie is talking up his horse a lot, which you have to respect, but I think the course on Friday is going to suit Fil Dor fantastically well,” he added.
“He worked in Leopardstown last week and worked very well under Davy (Russell).
“Pied Piper has won over the course and distance and also seems in great nick, so it’s hard to split them to be honest.
“Everyone is saying Willie’s horse has improved, but I know for a fact Pied Piper has improved phenomenally since that run (when he beat Vauban).
“I think it’s going to be a very good race and I’m expecting a big run from both of our horses.”
Vauban won twice on the Flat in France before joining Mullins’ stable last year.
He was odds-on for his Irish debut when touched off by Pied Piper, but readily accounted for Fil Dor in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
“He did everything right the last day. He jumps well and everything has gone well since, so he’s going to be a major player,” Mullins said.
“He obviously met a good one the first day.”
The Closutton handler also saddles Icare Allen and Il Etait Temps, both of whom finished behind Vauban at Leopardstown in early February, although Icare Allen has won since.
Among the leading hopes for the home team is the Milton Harris-trained Knight Salute, who is five from five since being sent hurdling, including a Cheltenham victory in November.
Harris said: “He’s in a good place and worked well last Saturday, so we’re looking forward to it.
“The Irish are either too good for us or they’re not as good as they think they are. There doesn’t seem to be much between them, so we’ll see.
“Our horse is very adaptable and if he goes there, he goes there as a contender. Win, lose or draw he’s had a great season, but this would obviously be the icing on the cake.
“We’re under no illusions, it’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think he’ll make it easy for the others either.
But he cautioned: “We will keep our eye on the ground, though, after Wednesday’s rain. I am of the view that he is a better horse on better ground.
“We will have a chat with the owner after racing on Thursday. The ground could end up being quite sticky if it starts to dry up.”
Dan Skelton’s Doctor Parnassus, another ex-Flat performer, has won by 10 lengths at Ascot and nine at Taunton since being sent hurdling.
“He’s a half-brother to Metier and we all know what he’s done over hurdles,” said Skelton.
“This horse won at Ascot and we then ran him over two miles and three (furlongs) at Taunton deliberately, as you can’t be frightened of stamina if you’re going to run in a Triumph Hurdle.
“I was stood down at the last that day and I was amazed by how well he picked up and powered through the line.
“He doesn’t do anything flashy, but he’s a grafter and I think you need a grafter for a Triumph.”
Gary Moore runs the high-class Grade One winner Porticello and the maiden Teddy Blue, who was runner-up to Knight Salute in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton three weeks ago.
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/2.65002036-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2022-03-17 13:19:532022-03-17 13:19:53Pied Piper and Fil Dor in top form for Vauban showdown
Ante-post favourite Vauban heads 12 declarations for Friday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Trained by Willie Mullins, Vauban finished second to the reopposing Pied Piper on his racecourse bow before stepping up on that to win a Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival last month.
Fil Dor was back in second that day and he is in opposition again as one of two runners for Gordon Elliott along with the aforementioned Pied Piper.
That one was a Cheltenham winner on Trials Day in January.
Mullins also fields Icare Allen and Il Etait Temps, with Ages Of Man for Anthony McCann and Noel Meade’s Lunar Power completing a strong Irish challenge.
Gary Moore’s Porticello heads the home defence and he also fields Teddy Blue in the two-mile Grade One, with Knight Salute aiming to extend his winning streak to six as he lines up for Milton Harris.
Dan Skelton’s Doctor Parnassus and the David Pipe-trained Koi Dodville are the other contenders.
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle has drawn 19 contenders, with Elliott’s Ginto leading the way after winning each of his three hurdles starts.
The trainer also fields Where It All Began while Mullins has four runners in Classic Getaway, Minella Cocooner, Ramillies and The Nice Guy.
Hillcrest is the leading British hope for Henry Daly following his recent Haydock success with Archie Watson’s Stag Horn and the Dermot Weld-trained Falcon Eight other eyecatching names in the line up.
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His team will not have the star names heading to Cheltenham that it has in the past, but in a period of rebuilding top owner Rich Ricci can still look forward to some serious chances at the Festival next week.
Among them is Vauban, who is as short as 6-4 favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Gold Cup day.
A winner in his native France, the Galiway gelding made a most promising start for Willie Mullins at Punchestown in December, going down by half a length to Pied Piper.
That form has been shown to be rock solid, with Pied Piper winning in real style at Cheltenham and Vauban taking Grade One honours at the Dublin Racing Festival when beating Pied Piper’s Gordon Elliott-trained stablemate Fil Dor by three lengths.
The three are set to clash again, and Ricci told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s a Listed winner on the Flat in France and I think he’s got the potential to be a dual-purpose horse, but he can also jump.
“He’s got a bit of class about him, I know Willie likes him. He didn’t want to run him this year and save him for next year’s Supreme, but because my team was low on stars I wanted to run the horse.
“It was great he won at Leopardstown and in time he could be a Melbourne Cup horse. I’d love to have a runner again and I think this guy could be that calibre.”
Gaelic Warrior has yet to see the track since his move to Ireland but has been all the rage for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on the opening afternoon.
“I’ve never seen him in the flesh or work or run, this whole plot is really down to Joe Chambers (racing manager) who had been following the French form after we bought him and saw what the horses around him did,” Ricci said.
“Some were rated in the 150s and I think one might have been in the 160s.
“We entered him on Trials weekend at Cheltenham to see what mark he would get, I was hoping he would keep his French mark of 139 and the English handicapper gave him 129, much to our delight.
“He’s become a talking horse, but he’s not my first talking horse and probably won’t be my first talking to lose if he does lose.
“Willie wouldn’t tell me what the horse was, but a week ago he said he worked well with a really, really good horse. He was very, very pleased with his work. He thought if he got him to Cheltenham in that shape he’d be hard to beat, so we’ll see.
“I’m excited about it. We’ll give it a go, I can’t believe the price he is.”
Day two for the Ricci team is all about Chacun Pour Soi and his clash with Shishkin and Energumene in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Connections have long felt he has not yet shown his true self outside of Ireland, but retain maximum faith in his ability.
Ricci said: “If Irish Chac turns up he’s got a great chance – if English Chac turns up we’ve got no chance.
“He’s 10 now. We thought we’d give it another go. I’m not sure who Paul(Townend) is going to ride, I’m happy if Paul rides or Patrick (Mullins), or any of Willie’s other jockeys. But I’d imagine they would be the two.
“If Irish Chac shows up he’s got a great chance, I thought he looked really well at Leopardstown. We’ve changed tactics this year, Willie has left a little bit to work on because maybe he had him too right (last year) and he lost a little bit travelling and wasn’t fully fit on the day.
“It’s a fantastic race, Willie would love to win the race and I’d love this lad to win it. He’s been a horse who has had some bad luck and it would be great if he won.
“Willie thinks the world about him, you’ve heard him rave about the horse. On his day I think he’s every bit as good as Shishkin – I’m not expecting us to get lapped.”
A few hours after Vauban has strutted his stuff, Ricci can look forward to the Gold Cup with Royale Pagaille
Venetia Williams’ charge was a creditable sixth to Minella Indo last year and returned this season to finish second to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, before producing a fine weight-carrying performance to win the Tommy Whittle Chase for the second time.
He was last seen taking the runner-up sport behind Eldorado Allen in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Ricci said: “Last year he ran an extraordinary race, he was outpaced and lost three shoes in the race and did some really bad damage to his right front hoof. We were really worried about him after the race. Venetia and the vets did a fantastic job.
“I was really hoping we’d get the rain, I think he’s a different animal on soft ground. On that (quicker ground) I would worry about running into a place with the exception of the last day at Newbury as I thought that was the best he’s jumped since he’s been in this country.
“That gave me some hope. I think If he jumps like he did at Newbury he’s got a chance of running into a place. Hopefully he’ll run a big race.”
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/2.65106391-scaled.jpg12802560Geegeez Newshttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngGeegeez News2022-03-11 19:19:592022-03-11 19:19:59Rich Ricci excited as ever as another Cheltenham Festival looms
Vauban paid a handsome compliment to Pied Piper with a smooth success in the Racing TV Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Beaten on his only previous start by Gordon Elliott’s Pied Piper, who has subsequently bolted up at Cheltenham, this time Elliott took him on with Fil Dor.
Fil Dor had done nothing wrong over hurdles prior to this Grade One assignment, winning all three starts including a Grade Two over Christmas.
Understandably he was sent off the 6-5 favourite with Willie Mullins’ Vauban a 9-4 chance on just his second start.
Vauban’s jumping could have been slicker, but when Paul Townend moved him into contention on the turn from home, he made Fil Dor looked decidedly one-paced.
The Rich Ricci-owned Vauban pulled three lengths clear and is now 11-4 second-favourite for the Triumph Hurdle with Betfair behind 5-2 market leader Pied Piper. Fil Dor was pushed out to 6-1.
A jubilant Ricci said: “When I saw what Pied Piper did I was hoping he’d come on and there’s more to come, I think. That was very impressive for a four-year-old.”
Mullins – who was on the mark in the opening race of the Dublin Racing Festival with Minella Cocooner – said: “His form, after his run in Punchestown, was looking very good. I thought if Paul got him jumping today he could improve hugely on his Punchestown form, which he did.
“It’s tremendous to win another Grade One. We’re delighted he won today, put it all together and he learned and got his experience today. It’s a nice way to break your maiden.
“I don’t know if many horses have broken their maiden in a Grade One, but it’s a nice achievement for him anyhow.
“We thought he was a nice horse when we bought him. We just had to teach him how to jump and we eventually got around to that.
“It’s tremendous for Rich and Paul and all connections.”
Townend added: “He’s a horse we like. I was disappointed I got beaten on him the first day – we might have made up for that today.”
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