We’re three weeks and around four hours removed from the flag dropping to announce the commencement of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Gordon Elliott, who will hope to win it with Abacadabras, is in top form.
It’s an illustration of the strength of what is likely to be a 50-strong team travelling to the Cheltenham Festival that there are a number of higher-profile contenders to augment his tally of 25 winners, even though the six-year-old is strongly fancied.
No less than 80 individual horses have been entered by the Cullentra House operation for the meeting. Delta Work is one of the favourites for the Gold Cup. Envoi Allen will be a very warm order in the Ballymore – although there is a possibility that he might show up in the opener if the going were bottomless – and Tiger Roll is targeting Festival win number five in the Cross-Country Chase.
The most popular racehorse in training pleased his handler on his comeback run in Sunday’s Boyne Hurdle, finishing fifth having travelled like a tank for the majority of the three-mile trip before tiring on the testing ground.
“I was very happy with the way he ran on Sunday, he came out of race very well and did some light work this morning. He’ll be the one horse that we’re all looking forward to running at Cheltenham.
“I didn’t think on the ground that he’d run as well as he did. He’s only back cantering since the first of January but he showed a lot of zest, he jumped very well, and he looked a winner between the third last and the second last. He just got tired.
“He’ll probably go to Cheltenham now for a school and it’ll be all systems go for the Cross-Country race. He showed a lot of his old zest so we’re delighted with him.”
The good news is that not alone will the 10-year-old not be retired after his Grand National three-in-a-row tilt, fitness permitting, but that he may indeed take in a conventional chase at Punchestown before coming back next season.
“We might run him in the Punchestown Gold Cup this year and see but for me if he ran in the (Cheltenham) Gold Cup, I don’t think he’d make it out on the last circuit. I just think he’s that type of horse. I know his rating suggests that he should be bang there in it, hopefully I’ll be wrong, but I just think he loves doing different things and jumping different type of fences.
“He’s only 10 years of age and Michael O’Leary isn’t bringing in any more horses at the moment so we need to keep as many as we can in!
“If he’s in one piece at the end of the season, there’s no reason why he won’t come back next season and have another go at the Cross-Country again, but there’s a lot of water to go under bridges with horses. Speaking about next season is hard to know but if he’s in one piece it would be great to have him.”
Apple’s Jade’s days on the track look to be numbered however.
“If she runs in anything she’ll go for the Stayers’. She was entered in Navan and we worked her the other day, she worked a bit lifeless. We’ll see how she goes. If she runs in anything I’d imagine it will be the Stayers’.
“It’s not my decision to call it but I’d imagine she probably will be covered this year. She’s won 11 Grade Ones, she doesn’t owe anything to anyone. She’s been the horse of a lifetime. I’ve said it all year, I just don’t think she’s working as well as she was.”
Delta Work is a dual Grade One winner to add to his three top-tier prizes as a novice and is a leading contender for the Gold Cup. “I think he’s made for the race, I think his style of racing will suit. Three miles two and the softer the ground the better for him. He probably is a bit of a forgotten horse.”
A broken leg inflicted in the next race after the Irish Gold Cup has ruled Jack Kennedy out (Elliott didn’t shed light on the likely replacement Tuesday morning but later in the day it was confirmed that Mark Walsh will be in the saddle).
“Jack was awesome on him (in Leopardstown). I don’t think he got the credit for the ride he gave the horse. He gave the horse a ride Ruby Walsh at his best… he didn’t panic, he let them race.
“It’s unfortunate we haven’t got Jack but Jack is only 20 years of age and all those horses will be there when he comes back. For me, he’s top notch. He’s been unlucky with a few breaks but there’s not a rider like him in the country for 20 years of age, what he’s done and what he’s doing. He’ll be in Cheltenham. He’ll be in the ring with all the horses and he’ll be part of the team.”
Envoi Allen is many people’s idea of the Irish banker in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. “If it came up heavy I wouldn’t be ruling out that Envoi Allen could switch back (to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle). At the moment he’s going for the Ballymore but he could run in that if it came up soft. There’d have to be heavy in the going description for him to run in the Supreme.
“He’s had three runs over hurdles and I didn’t think there was anything to gain on the ground by going to the Dublin Racing Festival so we decided we’d swerve it. He might have a school over hurdles in the next 10 days just to have another spin over hurdles but he’s in good form and we’re very happy with him.”