Elliott upbeat on Carlito claims

Gordon Elliott feels Carlito Brigante’s previous experience of Cheltenham will stand him in good stead when he tackles the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival.

Gordon Elliott feels Carlito Brigante’s previous experience of Cheltenham will stand him in good stead when he tackles the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival.

Winner of the Coral Cup in 2011, he also scored over fences there earlier this season as well as running well behind Dynaste in November. Due to the very wet winter and his preference for good ground, the seven-year-old has been limited to one all-weather start at Dundalk, but Elliott believes he is capable of running a big race.

“We’re very happy with him and he’s had two very good runs at Cheltenham this year,” Elliott told At The Races.

“Obviously ground is the key to him, there has to be good in it and he likes Cheltenham. The plan has been the novice handicap chase, we’ll put cheek pieces on him, he’s in good form and we’re looking forward to it.

“We sent him there (Cheltenham) earlier in the season for experience and he ran a very good race against Dynaste and was upsides at the second last, but we didn’t knock him around when it was obvious he would be beat.

“He’s got loads of experience round there, which is important, and he seems to like it. We sent him to Dundalk to wake him up a bit as he’s a bit of an old pet around the place now so we just wanted to open him up.

“We had him as a three-year-old. He’s a Cheltenham winner so if he never did another thing he wouldn’t owe us anything, but I’ll be surprised if he’s not in the money.” Carlito Brigante is the general 8-1 favourite for the race on March 12.

Vent primed for Champion Bumper

Liz Doyle decided against taking Le Vent D’Antan to Leopardstown for a gallop after racing on Sunday. The four-year-old is strongly fancied for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Doyle was expected to fine tune his preparations along with a host of other stars at the weekend.

However, Doyle was slightly concerned about the risk of drying ground at Leopardstown and gave him a spin earlier this week instead. While everything is going to plan, she admits to being relieved at the prospect of rain at Cheltenham in the lead up to the meeting.

Doyle had Bumper runner-up Al Ferof and winner Cheltenian in her care before they ran at Cheltenham and is feeling the pressure a bit more this year as it is now down to her. Doyle said: “He seems very well. I didn’t take him to Leopardstown, I just thought the ground could get a bit quick for him so we took him for a spin on a grass gallop on Tuesday instead.

“He’s bouncing, he has been perfect, but we could just do with a bit of rain before Cheltenham, which it looks like they’ll get. There’s just a question mark over him on good ground and I’d rather run with everything in his favour.

“Mikey Fogarty rode him in the gallop, like he always does. It was over one-mile-six with two others. He looks very healthy. In the last six months we’ve not had a problem, he’s not taken a lame step and he’s very straightforward.

“He’s done a bit of travelling, he came over from France and that didn’t bother him. “I know he’s only four and Cue Card is the only four-year-old to win it but plenty have run well in it. “There’s a bit more pressure this year than when Al Ferof and Cheltenian ran! We only have 30 in training so to have found three horses good enough to run in it, never mind head there with big chances, is amazing.

“He ticks all the boxes and now we’re just hoping the ground isn’t too fast.”

Cossack sidesteps Festival

Don Cossack will not line up at the Cheltenham Festival after finishing only third at Naas last Sunday. The six-year-old was a top bumper horse last term but has won just one of his four starts over hurdles this term, finishing well adrift of Annie Power and Defy Logic in a Grade Two heat most recently.

Trainer Gordon Elliott had entered him for both the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, but he will miss those engagements and wait for targets later in the spring.

Elliott told his Betfair column: “He came out of the race at Naas on Sunday in good shape, and he’s been doing well since then. He was beaten by two improving horses on the day, and the winner looks an exceptional mare.

“In regards to future plans, Cheltenham is now off the agenda and we will look at bringing him to Fairyhouse or Punchestown instead, as there are some nice races there for him too.”

Hamilton plots Moscow route

Brian Hamilton is looking forward to the rest of the season with Moscow Mannon following an encouraging return to action at Naas last weekend. A three-time bumper winner last season and a creditable fourth in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, the seven-year-old made an impressive start to his jumping career when scoring decisively at Navan in early December.

Various training problems led to Hamilton’s stable star missing the Christmas period and the whole of January, but there was a lot to like about the way he travelled in a Grade Two event at Naas last Sunday, before he eventually tired into fourth place. Moscow Mannon does hold entries in both the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but he is set to stay at home as Hamilton plots his route back to full fitness.

“He travelled well during the race and just got very tired, which we expected as he hadn’t had an ideal preparation,” said the Downpatrick-based handler.

“He stayed on all the way to the line, had a very good blow after the race and I think he should improve a lot for the run. I’d say we’ll bypass Cheltenham now as it’s no good going there 95% as he’d end up having a very hard race against the best of the best.

“He could go back to Naas on Sunday week for another race over two miles, which isn’t ideal as I think he really wants a bit further, but it’s a race that fits in well and it should bring him on again and give him some more experience.

“All going well there, we’d look to step him up to two and a half miles at Fairyhouse after that. He didn’t turn a hair after his race the other day so hopefully he’ll have a good end to the season and pick up a bit of prize-money.”

McNamara back for Festival

Leading Irish amateur jockey JT McNamara is due to return to action this weekend after recovering from a dislocated shoulder. McNamara, who suffered the injury at Stonehall point-to-point on February 10, is a go-to man in all the amateur events at the Cheltenham Festival, and is again in demand this season.

“I think I’m riding Drawn N Drank for Enda Bolger in the four-miler (John Oaksey National Hunt Chase), if he gets in,” said McNamara. “Enda quite likes him but he’s not certain to get in just yet.

“If he doesn’t get in I’d imagine I’ll be riding one for Jonjo (O’Neill). “I’m also riding one for Jonjo in the Kim Muir but I’m not sure which. Alan (Berry) will ride one and I’ll ride the other.

“I’ve been out with a dislocated shoulder but I’m riding at a point-to-point this weekend. I didn’t want it to be a race against time before Cheltenham so I’m going back this weekend.”

Opening Batsman a Festival doubt

Harry Fry admits it is “doubtful” last weekend’s Racing Plus Chase hero Opening Batsman will turn up at the Cheltenham Festival in a fortnight’s time. The seven-year-old has gone up eight pounds in the weights after winning one of the most prestigious staying handicap chases of the season at Kempton, a hike his trainer believes is a “fair rise”.

Opening Batsman holds four entries at Prestbury Park but if he is to make the trip, he will contest either the JLT Specialty Chase or the shorter Byrne Group Plate. Fry is not prepared to ask his charge to carry a huge burden in either the Kim Muir or the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Fry said: “I think it’s a fair rise and no decision has been made about whether he’ll go to Cheltenham or not yet.

“We’ll let the horse tell us, see how he is and then make a decision next week. The owners are still on cloud nine and living the dream after last Saturday, so we haven’t had a proper discussion about it yet.

“We were delighted with him last weekend and whether we want to throw him into another really competitive handicap in the space of three weeks, I’m not sure. It’s probably doubtful at this stage, but we’ll see.

“The main thing is he has come out of Kempton in good form and there is always Aintree and Punchestown later on.

“If he is to go to Cheltenham, he definitely won’t be running in the novice handicap or the Kim Muir. He’d have to carry 12st 6lb and 12st 1lb (respectively) in those races and he won’t be doing that.”

Mullins cut to reach 200 winners

Champion trainer Willie Mullins is now a 4-7 chance with Stan James to record an unprecedented 200 winners in an Irish jumps season after he secured a double at Thurles on Thursday.

Having overtaken Aidan O’Brien’s long-standing record of 155 victories, he is now in a prime position to break another landmark with two months of the campaign still to run.

Stan James spokesman Joseph Burke said: “Having recently broken Aidan O’Brien’s record of 155 winners in an Irish National Hunt season with over two months to spare, Willie Mullins’ run of success continues unabated.

“Following a double at Thurles, he is now on the 161-winner mark. Having attracted plenty of support at 4-6, we have had no choice but to cut him to 4-7 to reach the once-unthinkable 200-winner mark.”

Murtagh reflects on Aga Khan split

Johnny Murtagh has described his abrupt split with owner the Aga Khan last season as “a horrible moment” in his career. Murtagh was retained rider for the renowned owner until a shock split last August which was officially due to “differences between the two parties”.

Murtagh, who was sidelined by injury at the time, owns stables on the Curragh from where Tommy Carmody is based, and the split came just days after Carmody’s Ursa Major beat the Aga Khan-owned and John Oxx-trained Hartani in a Curragh Group Three.

“John Oxx’s (Hartani) was hot favourite and ours was seven or 8-1. I thought he might run a place and it just happened that Ursa Major came and pipped the Aga Khan’s horse,” he told RTE 1’s Ear To The Ground programme.

“What made it worse that I was there with him (Ursa Major). I was just delighted that the horse won. Beating John Oxx’s (horse) wasn’t great, but I was out injured at the time and my loyalty was not broken in any way.

“I felt that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I got a call straight away and I was asked to speak to the (stud) manager and that was it. I look back on it now from the other side of the fence and I suppose I was probably naive, but I was only trying to show everybody what I could do.

“I felt very sad. It was a horrible moment in my career, but when I look from the other side, maybe I should have seen it coming a bit earlier.”