Saturday 9 February 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2006

The 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Totesport, was run on St. Patrick’s Day and featured 22 runners, including four trained in Ireland and one trained in France. In fact, Beef Or Salmon, trained in Co. Limerick by Michael Hourigan and ridden by Paul Carberry, started a well-backed 4/1 favourite, despite having been beaten in the three previous renewals. However, having been held up early on, Beef Or Salmon made progress into midfield after halfway, but couldn’t make any further impression from the fifth last fence and eventually finished eleventh, beaten 19 lengths.

Meanwhile, War Of Attrition, trained in Co. Tipperary by Mouse Morris and ridden by Conor O’Dwyer, raced prominently on the outside of the field and took the lead from compatriot Forget The Past, trained by Michael O’Brien and ridden by Barry Geraghty, at the bypassed third last. Although pursued all the way to the line by 2005 Grand National winner Hedgehunter, War Of Attrition stayed on strongly up the hill to win by 2½ lengths. Forget The Past faded to finish third, a further 7 lengths away.

Hedgehunter had been well beaten by Beef Or Salmon, in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown on his previous start in February. Indeed, War Of Attrition, Forget The Past and Hedgehunter had all finished 4 lengths, and further, behind Michael Hourigan’s 7-year-old in the Lexus Chase at the Co. Dublin course the previous December, so there is every reason to believe that the favourite ran well below par. In fact, trainer Michael Hourigan said afterwards, “I have to believe people now when they say that he just doesn’t like it here. I've just spoken to his owners and said maybe we shouldn't bring him back here any more.”

In any event, War Of Attrition was a second Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Conor O’Dwyer after Imperial Call a decade earlier. Furthermore, the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup was the first in which Irish-trained horses filled the first three places.

Saturday 2 February 2019

Why Biggest Threat to Buveur D’Air Champion Hurdle Hat-Trick at Cheltenham Festival Comes from Mares


Only the Cheltenham Gold Cup carries more prize money at the Festival than the Champion Hurdle, yet – despite a big pot on offer for winning it – there isn’t great strength-in-depth to this year’s renewal.

That may be one of the reasons why dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air is a best-price 7/4 favourite with Betfair to complete a hat-trick on Tuesday, 12 March. Some six weeks out from the Cheltenham Festival, it is still double figure prices bar the first two in the market and an unusually high number of mares are leading contenders for this championship contest.

Willie Mullins, who has trained the winner four times in the last eight runnings, is naturally well-represented in the Champion Hurdle through the likes of Melon and the improving Sharjah with both 10/1 ante post punts. Of those in behind Buveur D’Air, however, the eye isn’t drawn to these geldings but to the ladies.

Only four mares in Champion Hurdle history have won the race, yet they receive a 7lb sex allowance and that weight can be the difference between winning and losing. Buveur D’Air backers know this only too well, as he was beaten a short-head by Nicky Henderson stablemate Verdana Blue when touched off in the shadows of the post during the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

If the pair re-oppose in the Champion Hurdle, then they will do so off exactly the same terms. Verdana Blue thus looks great value and a solid each-way wager minimum at a best-price 12/1 with William Hill, while you can get your Cheltenham betting information now, as well as top offers at Free Bets UK.

Irish mares may be better than boys

Annie Power from Mullins’ yard was the last mare to capture the Champion Hurdle in 2016. Laurina looks to have similar potential and has won all five starts including at the Cheltenham Festival for the Irish champion trainer in facile fashion.

While all those have been against her own sex, it is the wide-margin nature of Listed and graded victories that suggest Laurina could be something special. The six-year-old is 4/1 second-favourite with Betway for the Champion Hurdle as a result, yet Mullins and owners Sullivan Bloodstock retain the option of keeping her against fellow mares.

Gigginstown House Stud are another of Ireland’s biggest supporters of National Hunt horse racing, and the plan was for them to have a serious tilt at one of the few races that have eluded them over the years with Samcro. That hasn’t worked out due to a lung infection; however, Apple’s Jade remains an alternative Champion Hurdle contender.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, the seven-year-old has been awesome this season winning three graded races against the geldings by increasing margins. Apple’s Jade tends to contest the Mares’ Hurdle over 2m 4f at Cheltenham and got turned over by Benie Des Dieux when found to be in season during the Festival last year.

While connections are unlikely to alter their plan, the temptation must surely be there – especially if she were to demonstrate the turn of foot needed to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Apple’s Jade is as big as 14/1 with William Hill, but as short as 9/2 elsewhere and should she switch Cheltenham targets would have a huge shout.

Friday 1 February 2019

Cheltenham Week: Willie Mullins comments on Laurina’s chances in the Champion Hurdle


It was easily the most resounding victory of Laurina’s career to date, but trainer Willie Mullins is hopeful the six-year-old will be primed for the Champion Hurdle during Cheltenham week.

Cruising to a 48 length victory over her only opponent at Sandown on Saturday, Laurina is now second favourite for the Champion Hurdle after winning all her races since Mullins became her trainer.

Mullins’ comments

“Cheltenham is the plan and we’ll see if we get another race in between,” Mullins told The Guardian.

“We would have liked more competition, but winning races is what racing is about. We could possibly get another run and more practice into her but I’m happy. She’s a natural jumper and a good jumper and getting to Cheltenham sound is my priority now,” Mullins continued.

The legendary trainer will certainly be confident of Laurina making her mark when Cheltenham Festival comes round in eight weeks or so. Her main rival will be Buveur D’Air – who has won back-to-back Champion Hurdles – so it makes for an enticing and intriguing battle.

Saturday’s victory at Sandown will certainly have generated further interest in Laurina amongst punters and racing fans, and Mullins’ words suggest the foal will make quite the impression at Prestbury Park.

As exciting as Laurina’s expected battle with Buveur D’Air will be, Mullins confirmed he is quietly confident that the sky’s the limit for his newest project: “At this stage of her career she must be as good as, if not better than, any of them (previous winners Mullins has trained).”


Ruby Walsh thoughts

It was the first time jockey Ruby Walsh had ridden Laurina and as emphatic as the victory at Sandown was, the Irishman confirmed he expects more of the same in future races: “She’s unbeaten, so you don’t know where the ceiling is,” Walsh told The Guardian. “That’s what draws people to racing, that’s what the dream is about.”

Walsh’s victory was his first in the British season since May, and all eyes will be on the 39-year-old when the festival comes round in March. The two-horse race was almost farcical as Walsh cruised to victory but he was mightily impressed with Laurina’s performance, nonetheless.
“She galloped along a bit fresh probably,” Walsh said, “and she was entitled to be [fresh] but I couldn’t slow her down. I realised a long way out that Barry [Geraghty, on his sole opponent] was struggling but the more I tried to slow her down, the keener she was to go faster.

“How far she can go, you’ll never know until she’s beaten. If what seems to be there is there, she could be very good but we won’t know until I give her a kick in the belly. You never know but she leaves the impression that there’s a hell of a lot of horse under there.”

Buveur D’Air is the current favourite, priced at 13/8 with Laurina second (9/2) and Melon joint third alongside Sharjah (12/1). You can check out the rest of the field right here, with all ante-post markets available:


Cheltenham Gold Cup 2005

The 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Totesport, featured 15 runners and had the distinction of being run, for the first time, on a Friday after a fourth day was added to the Cheltenham Festival. The original ante post favourite, Best Mate, who’d won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, 2003 and 2005, was withdrawn a week before the 2005 renewal after breaking a blood vessel during his final gallop at home in Oxfordshire.

In his absence, Kicking King, trained in Co. Kildare by Tom Taafe and ridden by Barry Geraghty, was sent off a well-backed 4/1 favourite to become the first Irish-trained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup since Imperial Call in 1996. Kicking King, himself, had originally been withdrawn from the race two weeks earlier, only to be reinstated by Taafe after recovering from illness.

In the race itself, Grey Abbey, ridden by Graham Lee, and Sir Rembrandt, ridden by Andrew Thornton, led the field a merry dance for much of the way, but the race began in earnest when Kicking King took the lead at the third last. The one question mark over Kicking King, the King George VI Chase winner, was whether or not he’d stay the extra 2½ furlongs of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but his supporters never really had a moment’s worry. The 7-year-old was challenged, briefly, by Take The Stand, ridden by Tony Dobbin, at the second last fence, but ran on strongly on the run-in to win by 5 lengths. Sir Rembrandt plugged on to finish third, a further 8 lengths away.

Winning jockey Barry Geraghty said afterwards, “I was running away all the time, jumping brilliantly over the last three. Unbelievable – and he is only seven years old.”

Winning trainer Tom Taaffe, whose father Pat, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, including three consecutive wins on the legendary Arkle in 1964, 1965 and 1966, said, tongue-in-cheek, “My son Pat was born the day this horse won at Leopardstown and I said that now we had the new Pat Taaffe, we just needed the new Arkle.”