Willie Mullins has sounded a cautious note about a potential Stan James Champion Hurdle bid for the exciting Un De Sceaux.
The unbeaten six-year-old has won his five Irish starts by an aggregate of 117 lengths, and made all in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park on Saturday.
Speaking at Navan yesterday Mullins said: “He’s good, he came out of the race fine. It took a fair bit out of him, people think it is easy but galloping two miles in that soft ground still takes a fair bit out of them.”
Asked about Cheltenham, for which Un De Sceaux is as short as 8-1 with bet365 and Ladbrokes, Mullins said: “I just wonder if he needs that at this time in his career, taking on those fantastic horses.
“Obviously he is hugely talented for the future, we were happy to keep him under the radar and that’s where I’d like to keep him.”
Meanwhile connections of Our Conor are hoping a strong pace will help him turn the tables on reigning champion Hurricane Fly.
The Dessie Hughes-trained five-year-old was the most impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle for many a year last season and part of the reason he looked so good was the strong pace throughout, according to his new owner this season, Barry Connell.
Hughes won two Champion Hurdles with Hardy Eustace, and Our Conor is expected to peak on the second Tuesday in March.
Having been beaten by Hurricane Fly in both of his outings this season, Connell feels the way the races in Ireland have been run have been against his star and is eagerly looking forward to Cheltenham having closed the gap from nearly six lengths to just over one in less than a month.
“He looks the one horse who is capable of improving again,” said Connell.
“It turned into a sprint in the Irish Champion and that didn’t really suit him.
“It’s all systems go now, we’re very happy with him and he couldn’t be with a better man in Dessie.
“Last season he improved and improved with every run and that is proving to be the case again, he was much closer to Hurricane Fly second time.
“What we need is a true-run race and, being a Champion Hurdle, 99 times out of 100 you get that.”
Ivan Grozny is not certain to take his chance in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.
The Graham Wylie-owned juvenile was placed in a Group Three in France on the Flat and carried a tall home reputation into his hurdling debut at Leopardstown over Christmas.
He was narrowly beaten by Aidan O’Brien’s Plinth but made no mistake at Naas three weeks later when winning by 12 lengths, and was all the rage for Cheltenham afterwards.
Sent off the odds-on favourite for a Grade One at Leopardstown last week he was a well-beaten fourth, with trainer Mullins unable to offer up any excuses.
“All my horses that ran at Leopardstown came back absolutely fine,” said Mullins.
“Ivan Grozny was perfectly all right when he got home, that’s maybe just as good as he is.
“He ran basically to the same form as his debut when he was just beaten by Plinth yet this time they were third and fourth, well beaten.
“We’ll have to see now if he runs in the Triumph.”
Tony Martin has not ruled out a crack at the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase with Benefficient.
Outright favourite with some firms for the Ryanair Chase, should the ground still be soft or heavy at Cheltenham for the Festival then a tilt at the two-mile championship could be the direction connections decide to take.
Winner of the Jewson Novices’ Chase at the meeting last March (now the JLT), Benefficient has only had two runs this season, when fourth over three miles in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby before winning the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase over an extended two miles at Christmas, beating Hidden Cyclone and Arvika Ligeonniere.
“He’ll go straight to the Festival,” said Martin.
“He’s still in the Champion Chase, but the Ryanair is favourite at this stage.
“We’ll just see what the declarations are like and see what the ground is like nearer the time. If it’s soft I wouldn’t rule out the Champion Chase.
“I suppose a lot depends on Sprinter Sacre and if he runs in the Queen Mother, but if it was soft or heavy we’d have to seriously think about it.
“It was a really good run the last day and he won at the Festival last year, so we know he likes the place.”
Benefficient is 10-1 with the sponsors for the Queen Mother and as low as 4-1 for the Ryanair.
Melodic Rendezvous has been given a clean bill of health after his narrow victory in Saturday’s Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Jeremy Scott’s chestnut is in line to go for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but had to work hard on desperate ground in Somerset to get the better of Zarkandar.
He was greeted enthusiastically by his syndicate Cash For Honours, and Scott said: “He’s absolutely fine today, I think some of the owners might be have had thick heads this morning, though.
“Everyone’s keen to go to Cheltenham now.”
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