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Alan King anticipating Triumph ‘battle’ for Tritonic

Alan King is confident he has Tritonic in top form as he prepares for a “proper battle” against a clutch of fellow prospective stars in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Even before embarking on his so far unbeaten hurdles career, which includes a highly-impressive Grade Two win in Kempton’s Adonis on just his second start under three weeks ago, Tritonic took King to centre stage on the Flat as a Royal Ascot runner-up last summer.

The Barbury Castle trainer therefore has every right to consider him a leading light at the top level – but he has great respect for Friday’s opposition from either side of the Irish Sea.

Zanahiyr, like Tritonic unbeaten over jumps, has spent most of the winter as ante-post favourite.

He will represent Denise Foster, as he bids for a fourth successive victory – while his Irish compatriot Quilixios, transferred this month from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead’s stable, is already a four-time winner after his Grade One success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

The home contingent has a second strong contender too, in David Pipe’s Adagio – who won both the Triumph Trial over course and distance in December and the rescheduled Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow a month later.

Tritonic was yet to race over hurdles at that point, but has since surged towards the top of the market, and King is delighted with his preparation.

“He’s absolutely A1,” he said.

“I don’t think the track (at Cheltenham) will be any different to him, but the opposition is a lot stronger.

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“I’ve got great respect for David Pipe’s horse and the Irish horses – so it’s going to be a proper battle.”

Tritonic’s eyecatching Flat rating of 99 is an obvious indication that he could go right to the top over jumps.

“I hope so,” added King.

“But if he can do the talking on Friday now, we’ll see what happens.”

Quilixios, who has won his races by an aggregate of more than 50 lengths, also boasts fine credentials for the Champion Hurdle-winning partnership of De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, echoes King’s respect for the opposition – albeit in a select field of eight.

“It looks a very good race,” he said.

“The fields might be a little bit smaller at Cheltenham this year, but all the top horses are there.”

Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival
Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Quilixios could yet be one of them, and Richardson added: “He’s done nothing wrong – he’s four from four.

“He was most impressive when well clear at Leopardstown last time.”

Adagio has done plenty to fuel Pipe’s dreams of victory in a race which launched his father Martin’s great training career when Baron Blakeney won it as an unconsidered 66-1 shot 40 years ago.

In his three wins from four starts over hurdles, he has proved all conditions come alike to him.

“The great thing about Adagio is that it doesn’t really matter what the ground is and he’s got Cheltenham form,” said Pipe, who reports Tom Scudamore’s mount back in rude health after being briefly laid low in mid-winter.

“He had a little colic after his last run and was a bit quiet in himself.

“(Normally) he’s a real character who loves his food and he was just off games for the week.

“He’s been in very good form since, and jumps and travels.

“It’s a red-hot Triumph Hurdle. Is he good enough? We’ll find out at Cheltenham.”

There are also two Willie Mullins’ hopefuls – Haut En Couleurs, a narrow winner on his only French start but unraced for current connections – and Tax For Max.

Completing the eight are Nigel Hawke’s Historic Heart – runner-up to Adagio in the Triumph Trial – and Sean Curran’s filly Talking About You, who is the most experienced hurdler in the field with four wins from her 10 starts.

Zanahiyr and Tritonic clash in Triumph Hurdle

Tritonic and Zanahiyr are among eight juveniles declared for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday.

Zanahiyr is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles this season and edges favouritism for Denise Foster, who recently took over the training licence at Cullentra House from the suspended Gordon Elliott.

The Alan King-trained Tritonic, who was runner-up on the Flat at Royal Ascot last summer, is the clear pick of the home team after successive jumping wins at Ascot and Kempton.

Next in the betting is Quilixios, who is three from three since arriving in Ireland and impressed in Grade One company at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned four-year-old will make his debut for Henry de Bromhead under Rachael Blackmore after being moved from Elliott’s yard earlier in the month.

David Pipe has high hopes for course-and-distance winner Adagio, while Willie Mullins runs Tax For Max and Haut En Couleurs, who was a narrow winner on his only previous start in France.

Historic Heart (Nigel Hawke) and Talking About You (Sean Curran) complete the octet.

A much larger field of 17 runners have been declared for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Barbados Buck’s runs in the Albert Bartlett
Barbados Buck’s runs in the Albert Bartlett (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Leading Irish hopes for the three-mile contest include the Mullins-trained Stattler and Foster’s pair of Fakiera and Torygraph.

Paul Nicholls is responsible for two of the big British-trained contenders in Barbados Buck’s and Threeunderthrufive.

Fergal O’Brien’s Alaphilippe and Adrimel from Tom Lacey’s yard are others to consider in a competitive heat.

Elimay is part of a strong Mullins team in the Mares' Chase
Elimay is part of a strong Mullins team in the Mares’ Chase (Brian Lawless/PA)

Petit Mouchoir heads a maximum field of 26 runners for the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle, while likely favourite Billaway heads 18 declared for the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup.

Mullins appears to hold the aces in the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, with market principals Elimay and Colreevy, as well as Salsaretta and Cabaret Queen, part of an 11-strong line-up.

Ireland’s champion trainer is also responsible for the likely favourite in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle in the form of the JP McManus-owned Gentleman De Mee.

Zanahiyr and Tritonic in contention for Cheltenham Triumph

Zanahiyr and Tritonic head 12 confirmations for Friday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Zanahiyr has been impressive in Ireland this season winning all his three starts and tops the ante-post market, although Alan King’s Tritonic is hot on his heels.

A Royal Ascot runner-up in June, he has won both his outings over hurdles, most recently taking the Adonis at Kempton by 10 lengths.

Quilixios, who raced for Gordon Elliott but is now with Henry de Bromhead, is another unbeaten runner in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud.

Willie Mullins can chose from Haut En Couleurs – unraced since joining the champion trainer having won in France – Saint Sam, Tax For Max and Youmdor.

David Pipe’s Adagio, a Grade One winner already, and Jospeh O’Brien’s Busselton are others in the mix.

Ben Pauling’s The Cob has been supplemented for the Albert Bartlett on the strength of his victory in the River Don at Doncaster.

He is one of 18 possibles with Fakiera, Torygraph and Stattler heading the Irish challenge.

Paul Nicholls has Barbados Buck’s and Threeunderthrufive, Fergal O’Brien also has two likely runners in Alaphilippe and Ask A Honey Bee, while Tom Lacey’s Adrimel is still in.

There are 13 left in the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, with Mullins holding a strong hand through Elimay, Colreevy and Salsaretta.

Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light, previous Festival winner Shattered Love along and Jonjo O’Neill’s Annie Mc are also in contention.

There are 45 confirmations for the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle with Saldier at the head of the weights, while the likes of Cayd Boy, Edwardstone, Drop The Anchor and Third Time Lucki all left in.

A massive 70 horses have been left in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, with Nicky Henderson’s Monte Cristo and Janika at the head of the weights.

Last year’s hero It Came To Pass tops 19 in the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.

Elliott loses yard sponsor

Prominent owners Noel and Valerie Moran’s company eCOMM Merchant Solutions has terminated its contract as Gordon Elliott’s yard sponsor.

The Morans, founders of eCOMM, also have a powerful string at Elliott’s County Meath stables – including JCB Triumph Hurdle market leader Zanahiyr.

It was confirmed on Tuesday night that the company’s sponsorship association with Elliott has ended.

The statement cited the reason as “recent events”, as Elliott faces an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board investigation on Friday after an image of him sat on a dead horse was posted on Twitter last weekend.

As a result of the photograph, owners Cheveley Park Stud announced on Tuesday they have moved their horses – including the unbeaten Envoi Allen, and favourite to win again at this month’s Festival – away from Elliott.

The hugely successful Irish trainer is also currently banned from running any of his horses in Britain, after the British Horseracing Authority announced the interim measure on Monday.

Gigginstown House Stud, owners of dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll, have decided to keep many of their horses at Elliott’s Cullentra yard – despite what they described as an “unacceptable” photograph.

A Twitter post on eCOMM 365 read: “eCOMM Merchant Solutions has terminated its sponsorship contract with Gordon Elliott due to recent events.”

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James Given has criticised Elliott's actions
James Given has criticised Elliott’s actions (Simon Cooper/PA)

Former trainer James Given, who is now the BHA’s Director of Equine Health and Welfare, believes the ruling body made the correct decision in deciding to temporarily suspend Elliott from making entries in Britain.

“These are unprecedent times,” Given told Sky Sports Racing.

“Gordon, at the moment, holds more entries in Britain than almost any other trainer – and so we felt it was appropriate to take the action that we have, while we wait for the Irish to complete their process.”

When asked if Elliott-trained horses would be allowed to run in Britain if the IHRB concludes his actions do not merit a suspension, Given added: “I think the thing to do is let the Irish process work its way through – I don’t want to be speculating what they may come up with.

“We’ll let them carry out their due process and we’ll then react to that.”

While Cheveley Park have already removed the horses they have in training with Elliott to ensure they can run at the Cheltenham Festival, it remains unclear as to whether other owners will follow suit.

There have been suggestions another person could take over Elliott’s licence at Cullentra Stables, allowing the remaining horses to stay in the yard and potentially run at the Festival.

Given did not want to be drawn on whether such a plan was appropriate or feasible, but hopes a solution can be found which allows the equine stars currently at Cullentra to line up.

He said: “Our intention isn’t to stop the horses running – we want to see the best horses turn up at Cheltenham.

“I think we will judge each situation when we’re faced with it.”

From a personal point of view, Given spoke of his anger and frustration – describing Elliott’s actions as “selfish” and “callous”.

Punchestown Races – January 17th
Cheveley Park Stud’s Cheltenham favourite Envoi Allen has already left Gordon Elliott’s yard (PA)

“I was shocked, like I’m sure everyone else was, but then anger and frustration were the emotions that took over for me,” said Given.

“So many people work so hard in this sport, to project a good image of the sport, and we were thoroughly let down by a selfish, callous action like that.

“I really feel like I’ve got a foot in two camps still. One thing that has struck me since coming to the BHA is just how many people absolutely love racing, love the horses and want the best for racing.

“I was a consumer of the BHA for a couple of decades or more and didn’t come across these people. But that sense of anger and frustration is just rife across the BHA, as it is across all the training communities, and everyone who loves their horses.

“I’ve had friends from Ireland calling me, expressing their frustration. It’s not just a British thing.

“We’ve all been let down by these stupid actions.”

Zanahiyr puts down Triumph marker at Leopardstown

Zanahiyr took his unbeaten jumping record to three when landing Grade Two honours in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, with trainer Gordon Elliott absent after testing positive for coronavirus.

A maiden winner on the Flat when with Michael Halford, the son of Nathaniel has done little wrong over the smaller obstacles since joining Elliott and boosted his claims for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham with an authoritative success.

Carrying a 3lb penalty for a Grade Three victory at Fairyhouse, the 1-2 favourite justified his prohibitive odds in the manner his supporters would have hoped.

Joseph O’Brien’s pair of Druid’s Altar and Busselton made the early running and while the former started to weaken, Busselton made a brave effort to go with Zanahiyr, who had made smooth progress under Jack Kennedy to come into contention and ultimately swept the O’Brien newcomer aside to score by three and three-quarter lengths.

Zanahiyr and Jack Kennedy at Leopardstown
Zanahiyr and Jack Kennedy at Leopardstown (Gary Carson/PA)

“That was a great performance,” said Kennedy.

“It was a complete opposite sort of race than the last day. We went very steady and he still won, so it just shows that he can do it any way.

“He only did what he had to. Quilixios (unbeaten stablemate) is very good as well, but I think he might edge him.”

Zanahiyr was cut to 100-30 favourite from 4-1 for the Triumph by Betfair.

The victory completed a quick double for Elliott and Kennedy after Wide Receiver’s win in the preceding race.

Gordon Elliott has tested positive for coronavirus
Gordon Elliott has tested positive for coronavirus (Simon Cooper/PA)

Elliott revealed he was self isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

In a statement read out by Brian Gleeson on RTE Racing, Elliott said: “As part of the recommended return from travel Day 5 test, I have tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s come as a big surprise as I’ve been asymptomatic, and I will now continue to self-isolate for a further 10 days.

“Since the test result has come back, we have had all the staff here at Cullentra tested, and thankfully all tests have come back negative.”

Zanahiyr is Triumph favourite after Fairyhouse romp

Gordon Elliott’s Zanahiyr was catapulted into Triumph Hurdle favouritism following a stunning display in the Bar One Racing Price Boost Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The Grade Three contest was arguably the strongest race of its type run this season, with Willie Mullins’ Saint Sam and Joseph O’Brien’s Druid’s Altar also representing strong form.

Approaching the second last, Druid’s Altar was left behind, and it soon became apparent that Jack Kennedy on Zanahiyr was travelling much better than the odds-on favourite.

He was soon sent clear, and Paul Townend quickly accepted the result on Saint Sam, as Zanahiyr (16-5) pulled 14 lengths clear.

The ex-Mick Halford-trained winner is 10-1 favourite for the Triumph with Coral.

“We thought he was nice at home,” said Elliott.

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“He did it well in Ballinrobe, and I thought he came on a lot from the race.

“I thought it was a good performance. Jack said he travelled and jumped. He did it all very easily.

“He’s a big horse and is going to get stronger. He’s not just a juvenile and could be a nice horse for those good staying Flat races as well.

“He’ll probably want another run before the Triumph, so he could go to Leopardstown at Christmas or February. We’ll try and keep him and Quilixios apart as long as we can.

“That’s Noel and Valerie Moran’s first Graded winner, so that’s very important as well. They are big investors in the game.”

The Tom Mullins-trained Court Maid (17-2) has thrived for the switch to fences and took her record to three from four in the valuable BARONERACING.COM Porterstown Handicap Chase.

The three-mile-five trip proved no obstacle, and the seven-year-old looks a natural for all the top staying handicaps after pulling 13 lengths clear of the favourite Brace Yourself under David Mullins.

“We’ve always thought the Irish National was her target, but she went ahead of us and won today!” said the successful trainer.

“The prize money was bumped up today, so we’ll see what happens. She has the class. She disappointed at Punchestown in the Florida Pearl – but everything went wrong, so I just put a line through it.”

Advanced Virgo was a 14-1 winner of the Bar One Racing Extra Places Handicap Hurdle, for Charles Byrnes and Kevin Brouder.

Byrnes said: “I’m very happy. He looked to be on a nice mark, because he’d shown improved form on the Flat.

“We’re not having too many winners, which might explain his price – Leopardstown in February might be an option.

“He jumped out to his left early on but then he warmed up.”

Grand Paradis (6-5 favourite) ensured it was a day Elliott would not forget in a hurry, bringing up a four-time for the stable when taking the closing bumper.

Elliott also won the Royal Bond with Ballyadam and the Drinmore Novice Chase with Envoi Allen.