TRAINER Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh, who have teamed up to win the Grand National and Champion Hurdle as well as many more top-level prizes, added a Japanese Grade 1 to their cvs when Blackstairmountain landed the Nakayama Grand Jump on Saturday morning.
The eight-year-old, owned by one of Mullins’ biggest supporters Rich and Susannah Ricci, had a prep run at Nakayama last month when finishing ninth under Walsh. That was over 2m1f and the step up to 2m5f was a big advantage according to Mullins “We learned a lot from the last day,” said Mullins “He jumped better and the extra five furlongs was a huge help. His jumping was a lot slicker and he had a better draw to get a better position. The main thing was he handled the track.”
O’Brien: All is well with Kings
Joseph O’Brien has allayed fears about the well-being of leading Investec Derby contender Kingsbarns. The Galileo colt headed ante-post lists for the Epsom Classic throughout the winter following his thoroughly impressive display in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster, but trainer Aidan O’Brien revealed late last month he had suffered a minor setback.
The master of Ballydoyle effectively ruled Kingsbarns out of the Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and he has been a notable drifter in the Derby betting in the last 24 hours, with some bookmakers promoting the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Telescope to outright favouritism. However, the trainer’s son Joseph, reports Kingsbarns to be on course to take in one of the Derby trials.
He said: “I don’t think there’s any change to the situation we were in before. “He’s back cantering and we’re hoping he’ll be ready to run in a Derby trial somewhere.
“He was working very well before he had the setback and he’s an exciting horse for this year.”
Leather pencilled in for Craven
Jim Bolger looks likely to be on a fact-finding mission with Trading Leather in the Novae Bloodstock Insurance Craven Stakes at Newmarket next Thursday. Winner of the Autumn Stakes over the course and distance last year, the three-year-old was in contention to make his return in this weekend’s Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, but could now instead cross the Irish Sea.
Bolger said: “He’s very well, but he didn’t have his ground at Leopardstown (for the Ballysax), so we’ve put him in the Craven. We’re viewing him as a Derby type, but that could change after the Craven, we’ll see.”
Aidan O’Brien has entered Festive Cheer, who got off the mark at Dundalk last August, and Magician, who won his maiden impressively at the Curragh but was squeezed up in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown and trailed in last. Richard Hannon’s star juveniles Toronado and Olympic Glory are among 14 entries for the Newmarket race, which is a leading trial for the 2000 Guineas back at the track on May 4.
Toronado completed a hat-trick in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting, while Olympic Glory won four of his five starts last year, with his only defeat coming at the hands of Dawn Approach in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.
However, he is expected to run in the Greenham on Saturday week. Hannon also has Alhebayeb, Havana Gold and Tamayuz Star entered in Thursday’s Group Three, while also in contention are Roger Charlton’s Dundonnell, Saeed bin Suroor’s Tawhid and the Mark Johnston-trained Heavy Metal.
Punchestown still on Sacre radar
Hopes remain high that Sprinter Sacre could have his final run of the season in theboylesports.com Champion Chase at Punchestown on April 23. Nicky Henderson’s ‘black aeroplane’ took his unbeaten run over fences to nine at Aintree last week with a breathtaking performance in the John Smith’s Melling Chase.
That run came over two and a half miles, giving further options for connections, and he was just as brilliant as in his stroll over two miles in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, all under Barry Geraghty.
Henderson told The Sun: “Sprinter Sacre could go for the Champion Chase at Punchestown on April 23. He still looks absolutely stunning in his coat. “His work rider Nico de Boinville will tell me in a week if the horse is 100 per cent. If he is he will run, anything less and he won’t.
“Going two and a half miles at Aintree was really an afterthought. I always promised Punchestown that he would go there one day.”
Gigginstown up for the Cup
Gigginstown House Stud are planning a powerful three-horse assault on the Bet Online With The Tote.com Punchestown Gold Cup at the County Kildare track on April 24. The Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs, runner-up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, heads the trio, with Aintree’s Betfred Bowl winner First Lieutenant from Mouse Morris’s stable and Colm Murphy’s dual Grade One scorer Quito De La Roque completing the strong team.
Gigginstown’s racing manager Eddie O’Leary said: “All going well, the plan is for Sir Des Champs to run in the Punchestown Gold Cup. We were second at Cheltenham and you can’t change the result but we’ll hope for a good show at Punchestown.”
He added: “There’s a good chance that First Lieutenant will run as well. It’s been all good so far with him after Aintree and the horse will line up as long as he tells us he wants to run. “Quito De La Roque is likely to go for the race as well. We were happy enough with him at Aintree - he ran a very good race at his level and probably just wasn’t quite good enough there.”
Gigginstown House Stud, owned by O’Leary’s brother Michael, are bidding for a first Irish owners’ championship this season and are currently around 200,000 euro ahead of JP McManus in the title race.
Smart prospects set for Punchestown
Gigginstown House Stud’s squad of crack novices will give their owners a strong chance of further success at the Punchestown Festival. Gigginstown aim to send a big team that includes several young recruits who are likely to be spread between the Grade One Herald Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles on April 23, the three-mile Grade One Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle on April 24 and the Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles on April 26.
“The plan is for Un Atout to run and he could go over two or two and a half miles, we’ll keep the options open,” said Gigginstown’s racing manager Eddie O’Leary.
“Rule The World ran very well at Cheltenham and it will be two and a half or three miles for him. Don Cossack will hopefully go for the three-mile Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle. Road To Riches may also run if he is OK after Aintree, while Midnight Oil, who won on Monday, could also line up, as could Cops And Robbers.”
If underfoot conditions are suitable, soft ground-loving Tofino Bay, trained by Dessie Hughes, will go for the Grade One Growise Champion Novice Chase on April 23 after finishing second in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. The Tony Martin-trained Dedigout is another Gigginstown novice chaser with Punchestown in his sights.
“If the ground is right Tofino Bay will run in the Growise Champion Novice Chase and Dedigout is also likely to go there but I’m not sure of his target,” said O’Leary. Gigginstown are also eyeing the meeting’s bumpers, with the Willie Mullins-trained unbeaten Outlander in line for the Grade One Betdaq The Peoples Exchange Champion INH Flat Raceon April 24. The Goffs Land Rover Bumperon April 23 is likely to feature the Gordon Elliott-trained Wrath Of Titans and Metaurus, who scored between the flags for Pat Doyle at Rathmorrissey last month.
“Hopefully, we will run Outlander in the Grade One and although he looks exciting, we will find out next week, and we plan to run Metaurus and Wrath Of Titans in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper,” said O’Leary.
Tea sidesteps Scottish date
Rebecca Curtis is not ruling out a trip to the Punchestown Festival for Teaforthree following his superb run in defeat in the John Smith’s Grand National at Aintree. The nine-year-old looked as though he could become the first Welsh-trained National winner since Kirkland in 1905 when leading two fences from home in last week’s Aintree spectacular, but he weakened from the final obstacle to finish an excellent third behind shock winner Auroras Encore.
Teaforthree holds entries in both the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday week and, more intriguingly, the Bet Online With TheTote.com Punchestown Gold Cup on April 24.
Curtis said: “He’s come out of the race very fresh and well and I wouldn’t rule it out (running again this season). It’s probably more likely we’ll take the shoes off him and give him a break, but we’ll just see how he is in the next week to 10 days and then make a decision.
“He definitely won’t go for the Scottish National, but he is in at Punchestown.
“We were delighted with him at Aintree and I would say the big weight made the difference - he was giving a stone to the winner.
“If he hadn’t hit the last, I don’t think he would have got caught for second, but it was a great run and hopefully he’ll be back there again next year.”
Curtis’ other stable star, At Fishers Cross, enhanced his growing reputation with a sixth successive victory in Aintree’s Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. He also holds a Punchestown entry in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, but the trainer will wait until next week before deciding whether to let him travel to Ireland
“He’s in really good form and I don’t think he had a hard race at Aintree. It was nice to see him perform so well on that better ground and I think we’ve got a really nice horse to look forward to next season,” said the Newport handler.
“He’s entered at Punchestown and, again, we’ll see how is in the next week or so and then decide what we’re going to do.”
Plenty of interest in Legacy
Trainer Stuart Crawford accepts he could lose Legacy Gold after the mare stretched her unbeaten record to three races at Aintree on Friday. The five-year-old added to her gains at Sedgefield and Catterick in the winter with a comprehensive four-length defeat of Cailin Annamh in a Listed bumper on Merseyside.
Legacy Gold is now likely to be roughed off for the season, but owner Chris Johnson is considering offers over her sale, which may lead to her exit from Crawford’s County Antrim stables in Northern Ireland.
“She has come out of Aintree well and took everything in her stride,” said Crawford. “Punchestown might be a small option, but I would imagine that would be it for the season now. “There has been a few inquiries about her, as you’d imagine, so the owner has a big decision to make. “I would hate to lose her, because those are the sort of horses you love to train. “She jumps well and I can see her doing well in those mares’ races next season. “She’s a valuable little commodity.”