Trainer Peter Bowen expressed himself delighted with the prep run of Scottish National winner Al Co after he was third at Bangor-on-Dee last weekend.
The ten-year-old gelding is on course for the Aintree Grand National next month where he is set to carry 10st 8lb. Al Co stunned punters when winning the Scottish National at odds of 40-1 last April, holding off 2013 winner Godsmejudge by a length and a half. Jamie Moore gave the son of Dom Alco a brilliant ride and narrowly avoided being unseated when the horse swerved approaching the finishing line.
Bowen had been very hopeful of a big run despite his huge starting price, advising everyone to back him each-way. Ayr had been the target all season for the fast ground loving horse and attentions were immediately turned to Aintree this year.
Bowen is no stranger to preparing a horse for Aintree having trained Always Waining to a remarkable hat-trick of victories in the Topham Chase. The gelding became the first horse in history to win the race three times when successful in 2012, a fourth win in the race for Bowen after Dunbrody Millar in 2007. Always Waining returned to Aintree the following year for the Grand National but faded in the closing stages to finish tenth. He was retired in good health to his owner’s retreat in the Midlands.
Al Co did not feature on his final two starts last year but both were on softer ground. He contested the Becher Chase in December to familiarise himself with the Aintree fences but was pulled up before the last. He did not reappear until late February when finishing third in a handicap hurdle behind subsequent Cheltenham winner Call The Cops. Last week’s third to Binge Drinker was just to add the finishing touches to his preparation.
Alan King’s Godsmejudge trailed in at the back of the field but remains a 20-1 shot for the Grand National. He was a late withdrawal from the race last year and was re-routed to Ayr where he narrowly failed to repeat his 2013 victory. He had shown signs of a return to form when fifth behind Rocky Creek at Kempton in February but King was disappointed with his lack-lustre display at Bangor. He plans to run a few tests on the horse before making a decision about his Aintree participation.
The Druids Nephew emerged as a leading candidate for next month’s Aintree Grand National with an impressive victory at the Cheltenham festival. The last horse to win the Festival Handicap Chase and the Grand National in the same year was Seagram in 1991, although Rough Quest (1995) won the race and was successful at Aintree the following season.
Trainer Neil Mulholland had aimed the eight-year-old gelding at the Cheltenham race all season and the plan worked out beautifully as Barry Geraghty steered the horse to a three and three-quarter length victory. It was a fourth win in eighteen starts for the son of King’s Theatre who was winning off his highest ever handicap mark of 146. He was cut to 14-1 from 33-1 for the Grand National immediately after the race.
Mulholland is enjoying his best season to date with fifteen winners already on the board and The Druids Nephew supplied him with his first festival success. His biggest previous win came with Midnight Chase in the Grade 2 Argento Chase in 2012 who went on to finish seventh in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Druids Nephew began his racing career with Andy Turnell and finished sixth to the ill-fated Brindisi Breeze in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in 2012. He was sent chasing the following season and won at Wincanton after being narrowly beaten by the useful Hadrian’s Approach at Ascot. He won at Huntingdon in October last year under Tony McCoy before finishing a fine second to Sam Winner in a Grade 3 at Cheltenham in November.
He was fancied for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury but faded in the closing stages when seventh behind Many Clouds. Mulholland still felt that the horse was on a winning handicap mark and a plan was hatched for the Cheltenham, having a prep race over hurdles in January. The Festival Chase form could be tested in the Irish National on April 6th with Cheltenham second and third, Grand Jesture and Gallant Oscar, both set to line up.
One horse that will not be starting at Aintree is Gold Cup disappointment Carlingford Lough. John Kiely’s gelding was only ninth at the festival under Tony McCoy and will not be asked to carry top weight in the Grand National. Connections have not ruled out a run in the Punchestown Gold Cup where he could clash with Djakadam and Road To Riches. Carlingford Lough races in the colours of JP McManus who still has the favourite Shutthefrontdoor and National Hunt Chase winner Cause Of Causes on target for Liverpool.
Trainer Gordon Elliot, successful in the Grand National with Silver Birch in 2007, looks to have another leading chance with Cheltenham winner Cause Of Causes.
The seven-year-old gelding provided leading Irish owner JP McManus with a winner on his 64th birthday when winning the National Hunt Chase under Jamie Codd. The son of Dynaformer was tucked in behind the leaders all the way before being driven ahead on the run-in. He held off the late flourish of Katie Walsh aboard Broadway Buffalo to win by a length and a half and earn a 20-1 quote for Aintree.
Codd was later fined £400 and suspended for ten days for using his whip above the permitted level and marking the horse. Cause Of Causes was a smart performer over hurdles, winning the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot in 2012. It has taken him a long time to get off the mark over fences but he was not winning out of turn.
Last year he finished runner-up in three of the most competitive handicap chases of the season. After just failing to catch Sraid Padraig at Fairyhouse, he was beaten a short-head by Rockaboya in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown. Tony McCoy was in the saddle that day and not even his famous power-packed finish could get him past a determined Ruby Walsh.
Nina Carberry then took over for the Kim Muir at last year’s Cheltenham festival and a last flight blunder cost valuable ground in chasing home Spring Heeled. Cause Of Causes was probably feeling the effects of a long season when only twelfth behind Shutthefrontdoor in the Irish National in April.
National Hunt Chase runner-up Broadway Buffalo also ran a fine trial for Aintree but looks unlikely to get a run in the big race. He is currently down at 65 in the entries for David Pipe who trained Comply Or Die to win in 2008. Pipe and Codd teamed up to win the Kim Muir last week with the 12-year-old The Package, a veteran of two previous Grand Nationals.
The son of Kayf Tara was in mid-division when unseating Graham Lee in Don’t Push It’s National in 2010 and finished twelfth last year behind Pineau De Re. He disappointed when pulled up in the Becher Chase in December but Pipe was confident that he was back to his best for the festival and told Codd that he would win before the race. He also has little chance of making the National field this year as he is currently only number 68 of the remaining 98 entries.
Bookmakers have been hit by well-fancied runners in two of this week’s big handicap hurdles and Tony Martin’s Quick Jack could deliver another blow in Friday’s County Hurdle.
Aux Ptit Soins landed a gamble for the Paul Nicholls stable in Wednesday’s Coral Cup while Call The Cops was very popular in the Pertemps Final after a recent victory at Doncaster. Both horses attracted plenty of ante-post support and returned at 9-1.
Many punters have been holding fire on Quick Jack who was entered for several races this week. He first hit the headlines when landing a huge gamble at Cheltenham in November 2013. Ruby Walsh was on board the son of 2000 Guineas winner Footstepsinthesand as he swept clear to win off a handicap mark of 113.
Tony Martin considered running him in a number of big races that season but felt that the handicapper had been harsh in giving him a rating of 136. The gelding was beaten off a mark of 119 in Ireland when third to Gilgamboa at Leopardstown. Cheltenham was ruled out that season and he did not reappear until winning comfortably on the flat at Galway in July last year.
That set him up nicely for a tilt at the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket where he again attracted heavy support. Sent off the 5-1 favourite, Richard Hughes took him to the front with a furlong to travel but he could not quite hold off Big Easy and De Rigueur. This will be his first race since but there is still a suspicion that he is better than his current handicap mark suggests.
Joining him in the field is Dr Richard Newland’s Ebony Express who is chasing a £100,000 bonus after winning the Imperial Cup at Sandown last Saturday. The six-year-old put up a brave performance to pull off a 33-1 shock when beating Rayvin Black and Gassin Golf in a thrilling finish. He picks up a 5lbs penalty for that victory as he goes in pursuit of an elusive bonus last paid out in 2007.
On that occasion it was David Pipe’s Gaspara who followed up victory in the Imperial Cup by taking the Fred Winter Hurdle. Pipe’s father, Martin, trained the winner of the bonus twice with Olympian (1993) and Blowing Wind (1998). Dr Newland will have taken great encouragement from the run of Grand National winner Pineau De Re who finished eleventh in the Pertemps Final and now heads to Aintree for a second time.
Champion jockey Tony McCoy rode a brilliant race to make all the running on Uxizandre and win Thursday’s Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. The 16-1 winner was wearing a visor for the first time after a couple of disappointing efforts and was certainly lit up by the new headgear. He jumped superbly to hold off Ma Filleule and the favourite Don Cossack.
The victory was greeted with as much enthusiasm as an odds-on favourite as McCoy saluted the crowd in the winner’s enclosure. It ended a long wait for McCoy’s first winner of the week but he is hoping that it won’t be his last.
He is optimistic of a good ride on Hargam in the opening Triumph Hurdle on Friday for Nicky Henderson, the training have earlier broken his festival duck for the week with Call The Cops in the Pertemps Final. Hargam was impressive when winning at Musselburgh last month and is one of three strongly-fancied runners for the Lambourn trainer in the race.
McCoy then partners Princely Conn for Thomas Mullins in the competitive County Hurdle. The six-year-old has been running consistently in Ireland and was a close second at Leopardstown last month. Fletchers Flyer looks up against it in a top quality renewal of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle but he could have each-way claims on his Wincanton victory over Aqalim in January. The runner-up ran well when finishing fifth on Thursday’s card.
There will be plenty of sentimental support for McCoy’s Gold Cup mount, Carlingford Lough. He booked his place in the field when winning the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown under a typically strong McCoy ride. The gelding did not jump well here last year in the RSA Chase but plenty of punters will put their faith in the champion jockey in his last Gold Cup.
McCoy had a choice of mounts in the finale but has decided to partner last year’s runner-up Ned Buntline for Noel Meade. The son of Refuse To Bend has only raced twice since, most recently finishing down the field in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown.
Ned Buntline has already been the subject of strong support this week and bookmakers will be bracing themselves for a big pay-out if McCoy can deliver the perfect end to the festival meeting. Uxizandre was McCoy’s 31st winner at the Cheltenham festival but it may not necessarily have been his last.
It has already been a great week for Trainer Willie Mullins with an opening day four-timer, a 1-2-3 in the Champion Hurdle and Don Poli’s impressive RSA Chase victory. The County Carlow handler will be looking to add to his tally in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, the penultimate race at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
The race was introduced in 2009 and Mullins has already won it twice with Sir Des Champs and Don Poli. He has several entries again this year with Roi Des Francs the clear favourite after winning well at Clonmel last month.
The six-year-old son of Poliglote was beaten by Drumacoo on his hurdling debut at Punchestown in October but made amends at Thurles next time. He races in the familiar colours of Gigginstown House Stud, as did his previous two winners of the two and a half mile contest.
He could be joined in the race by McKinley, a son of Kheleyf out of a Montjeu mare. He sprang a 33-1 shock when winning a Grade 1 hurdle at Naas in January and does not look harshly treated off a mark of 136. He was no match for stable companion Nichols Canyon in the Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown last month but has been the subject of each-way support at long odds.
David Pipe would dearly love to win the race named in honour of his father, Martin. He still had eleven entries ahead of the final declaration stage and will be hoping that some of them make the cut. Vieux Lion Rouge was heavily backed in this race last year but faded badly over the closing hurdles to finish in the rear.
He has not raced since Haydock in November while Balgarry, a beaten favourite in the Coral Cup in 2012, needs several to come out above him. The same applies to Dr Richard Newland’s Imperial Cup winner Ebony Express despite a 5lbs penalty.
Paul Nicholls landed one major handicap on Wednesday when Aux Ptit Soins won the Coral Cup. There has plenty of support for the stable’s Le Mercurey here, another French import with very little form in this country.
The son of Nickname was a remote seventh at Newbury on his debut for his new yard but improved to finish third to Baradari in a Grade 2 handicap at Ascot in January. He seemed to hit a flat spot three out that day before running on again at the finish. Sean Bowen has been booked to ride on Friday with the race due off at 4.40.
Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and Pearl Bloodstock are better known for their flat racing interests but their colours will be carried in Friday’s Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.
Sheikh Fahad’s most successful horse to date has been Just The Judge who won the Irish 1000 Guineas and the Grade 1 EP Taylor Stakes. He was part-owner along with the Sangster family when she won the Irish classic but has now bought out his co-owners and joined with The China Horse Club to purchase the four-year-old for a British auction record of £4.7million. It is all a far cry from the world of hunter chasers and the Cheltenham festival.
The Sheikh has purchased the eight-year-old gelding Current Event, trained by Rose Loxton and due to be partnered by Bryony Frost in the race that follows the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is currently second favourite in the betting behind Paint The Clouds as he bids to follow up his six-length win at Musselburgh last month.
The son of Muhtathir began his racing career in France before joining Paul Nicholls in 2010. He won a novice hurdle at Newbury and three novice chases the following season. He went on to win handicaps at Kempton and Perth and finished sixth behind stable companion Rebel Rebellion in the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree in 2013.
Bryony Frost is the daughter of Grand National winning jockey Jimmy, successful on Little Polveir in 1989. He was also associated with the Champion Hurdler Morley Street who won two Breeders’ Cup races in America.
Sheikh Fahad has only had one previous runner at the festival meeting when Vulcanite finished tenth in the 2012 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He was later sold to JP McManus and could also be in action on Friday in the County Hurdle for Charlie Longsdon.
Paint The Clouds heads the market after an impressive ten-length win at Doncaster last month for Warren Greatrex. He won the Stratford Champion Hunters’ Chase last May while McManus will rely on Enda Bolger’s On The Fringe. The ten-year-old finished fourth behind Zemsky in this race in 2011 and was third to Tammys Hill last year.
Also due to line up is two-time winner Salsify who made a satisfactory return from injury when fourth at Leopardstown last month. He won the race in 2012 and 2013 but knocked a joint on Boxing Day that year and was forced to miss his hat-trick bid. His last victory here is best remembered for Jane Mangan being unseated from Oscar Delta when four lengths clear of Salsify on the run-in. The Foxhunter Chase is due off at 4.00 on Friday.
Trainer Robert Stephens is only in his second season but is already dreaming of a Cheltenham festival winner.
The recent victory by Beltor in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton resulted in his price being slashed from 33-1 to 12-1 for the Triumph Hurdle. The gelding is now as short as 6-1 despite a strong field that includes three smart hurdlers trained by Nicky Henderson.
Stephens was in a similar position a year ago when the highly-rated Modus contested the Champion Bumper but that ultimately ended in disappointment. The gelding could never get any cover in a large field and Tom O’Brien was forced to race wide throughout, eventually finishing eighth of the 22 runners.
Stephens learned his trade with Sir Mark Prescott who trained Beltor on the flat, winning a minor handicap at Redcar last September over a mile and a quarter. He was only rated 76 on the level but looks a much better animal over a few flights of hurdles.
He made his hurdling debut at Ludlow in January where he readily accounted for the well-backed Arabian Revolution and Sebastian Beach. He was 16-1 that day but was backed into 3-1 at Kempton and never gave his supporters a moment of anxiety. Jockey Tom O’Brien was still restraining him with three to jump and allowed him to bowl into the lead before pulling five lengths away from All Clear.
O’Brien felt that they did not go quick enough for him at Kempton and believes that the son of Authorized will be even better with a stronger pace. He will certainly get that at Cheltenham as the Triumph Hurdle is always well contested.
Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham did not get off to a great start on the opening day but he saddles Peace And Co, Hargam and Top Notch in the Juvenile championship race. All three can be given an excellent chance while Willie Mullins may be also run three. Petite Parisienne and Kalkir, first and second at Leopardstown last month, could be joined in the line-up by Gowran Park winner Dicosimo.
Alan King also has a fine record in the race and is doubly represented with Pain Au Chocolat and Karezak. The former was an impressive winner at Sandown off a very slow pace while Karezak has finished runner-up on his last four starts. The Triumph Hurdle is the opening race on Gold Cup day and is due off at 1.30.
Leading novice chaser Coneygree will take his chance in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup after trainer Mark Bradstock withdrew him from the RSA Chase.
The eight-year-old son of Karinga Bay has won all three starts over fences since returning from a long-term injury in November. He was bred by the late Lord Oaksey and enjoyed a successful season as a novice hurdler, winning four races and finishing a creditable third to At Fishers Cross at the 2013 festival meeting. He races in the colours of The Max Partnership which includes Oaksey’s widow, Lady Chicky Oaksey.
He was due to make his return at Plumpton after 660 days off the track but was withdrawn on veterinary advice in controversial circumstances. He was re-routed to Newbury where he beat Dell’Arca after the favourite Saphir Du Rheu had unseated Sam Twiston-Davies at the seventh fence. There was more drama on his next outing in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton where four of the seven runners failed to complete, Coneygree eventually being allowed to coast home 40 lengths clear of Warden Hill.
Connections decided to take a further step up in class for the Denman Chase against seasoned chasers at Newbury last month. He made all the running to win by seven lengths and that made the Gold Cup a realistic target. His nearest pursuers were Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste, both rated around the 160 mark in the official ratings. Gold Cup favourite Silviniaco Conti is currently rated 174 so Coneygree is certainly entitled to an each-way chance.
Coneygree is a half-brother to former Hennessy Gold Cup winner Carruthers and is a natural jumper and dour stayer. Carruthers is due to contest the Midlands National at Uttoxeter on Saturday in the same colours.
Coneygree will be having only the tenth race of his career when he lines up in the Gold Cup but he seems better than ever after his enforced break. No novice has won the Gold Cup since Captain Christy in 1974 so Bradstock and his team will be under no illusions about the task facing their stable star.
Nico De Boinville, successful on the horse for his first two starts this season, has been booked for the ride on Friday. He enjoyed his first festival victory on Whisper for Nicky Henderson in last year’s Coral Cup, holding off a power-packed finish from Tony McCoy and Get Me Out Of Here by a short-head.
Trainer David Bridgwater is convinced that stable star The Giant Bolster can finish in the money for a remarkable fourth consecutive season in Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The ten-year-old son of Black Sam Bellamy reserves his best for the big race every season but is freely available at 33-1. He has won five of his 33 races but it has been his performances in defeat which have made him one of the most popular chasers in training.
Bridgwater has always believed that The Giant Bolster was a real talent and has run him at every Cheltenham festival since 2010. He first appeared as a 200-1 outsider in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle where he ran on into sixth place behind Peddlers Cross. The following year he was back for the RSA Chase but unseated Rodi Greene at the fifth fence.
Undeterred, Bridgwater brought him back in 2012 for the Gold Cup where he started a 50-1 chance with Tom Scudamore in the saddle. He moved to the front with two to jump and only Tony McCoy on Synchronised was able to deny him a shock victory. The following season he finished fourth to Bobs Worth, after which he became increasingly disappointing.
He was finally fitted with a hood and visor for the Argento Chase last year and bounced back to form to beat Rocky Creek by seven lengths. That set him up perfectly for last year’s Gold Cup where he appeared to run in snatches, eventually running on strongly up the hill to be beaten less than a length in third behind Lord Windermere.
Bridgwater dispensed with the visor at Wetherby in November but he didn’t show any sparkle before running in only a visor at Haydock later that month. He was in contention until losing his place four out behind Gold Cup favourite Silviniaco Conti. His final Cheltenham prep race was in January where he was seven and a half lengths away in fourth behind Many Clouds. Bridgwater is adamant that he can reverse the form with a stronger pace on Friday and reward each-way support.
Jockey Tom Cannon has struck up a good partnership with the horse although Tom Scudamore has ridden him in the last three Gold Cups. Scudamore believes that he may well have won last year had he not received a hefty bump at the second last fence. Bridgwater is also yet to decide on whether or not the horse will be wearing any headgear this year. The Giant Bolster may have been running mostly for the bookmakers in the past but there will be plenty of punters cheering him up the Cheltenham hill this year.
Jockey Richie McLernon was delighted to be given the ride on Jonjo O’Neill’s Gold Cup hope Holywell last week but he is equally excited about another big-race ride. He partners Johns Spirit in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday, a solid 10-1 shot with a fine track record.
The son of Gold Well has been partnered by McLernon to five of his seven victories with champion jockey Tony McCoy the only other rider to score on the eight-year-old. He first ran at the festival in 2013 as a novice where a bad mistake four out cost him any chance behind Rajdhani Express.
He was then tried over three miles on a couple of occasions but failed to get home and was dropped back to two and a half miles in October the same year. He was confidently ridden by McLernon and quickened through the field to lead with two to jump, going on to win comfortably by three and a half lengths.
O’Neill then sent him back to Cheltenham for the Paddy Power Gold Cup where he defied a 10lbs rise in the handicap to hold Colour Squadron by three-quarters of a length. The handicapper pushed him up a further 9lbs for the Stewart Family Gold Cup where he finished a respectable fifth. He ran well to finish fourth off the same mark at last year’s festival behind the well-handicapped Ballynagour.
Johns Spirit again showed his liking for Cheltenham when winning first time out in October and put up a career-best effort when narrowly failing to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup for a second year running. He led over the last but was beaten a head by Caid Du Berlais in a driving finish.
The gelding’s most recent start was in the three-mile King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day but he weakened from the third last fence to finish sixth. He reverts to his best trip for the Ryanair Chase and looks set to get his favoured good ground.
Johns Spirit could be joined in the Ryanair by stable companion Taquin Du Seuil, winner of last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase. He was being trained for the Gold Cup this year but has failed to convince his trainer that he truly stay three miles. If he gets the go-ahead, he will be the mount of Tony McCoy who has ridden him to all seven victories since arriving from France in 2012.
Each-way punters have been keen on the chances of Djakadam in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent days with his price cut to 9-1 from 16-1. If Trainer Willie Mullins has a good week, the lightly-raced gelding could start second favourite to Silviniaco Conti on Friday.
The French-bred six-year-old will be having only his sixth race over the larger obstacles when he lines up against the best chasers in Britain and Ireland. He won twice at Leopardstown last season to earn a trip to the Cheltenham festival where he ran in the JLT Novices’ Chase. Paul Townend was in the saddle with Ruby Walsh preferring the chances of Felix Yonger. Djakadam made a couple of minor mistakes but was still travelling well when falling four from home.
Despite his inexperience, the son of Saint Des Saints was aimed at the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November. He was backed down to 5-1 favourite off a handicap mark of 142 and Walsh moved him into contention on the second circuit. He came under pressure with four to jump and weakened into eighth place behind Many Clouds. He looks to have a difficult task on that evidence as he was receiving plenty of weight from both the winner and Smad Place in fifth place.
He did not reappear until January in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park where he put up his most impressive performance to date. Visibility was poor but he emerged from the mist going strongly for Walsh before drawing clear to win by eight lengths. The going was heavy that day so there can be no stamina concerns.
Mullins also has On His Own and Boston Bob entered for the Gold Cup. The former was runner-up to Lord Windermere last year but has not shown the same sparkle this season. His best run was when chasing home Road To Riches in the Lexus Chase in December but he was only sixth behind Carlingford Lough last time out.
Boston Bob finished ahead of him in fourth place, staying on past beaten rivals in the home straight. The son of Bob Back looked set to win the RSA Chase at the festival in 2013 only to fall at the final fence. He was only sixth in the Ryanair Chase last season but made amends with a victory at Aintree in April. Silviniaco Conti remains favourite at 100-30 with Holywell and Many Clouds next best at 8-1.