All eyes will be firmly ‘planted’ on Cheltenham today hoping that Rachel Blackmore can make history on Honeysuckle

A piece of history could be made today if Rachael Blackmore can get Honeysuckle home in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. 

Blackmore, is chasing Paul Townend to become the champion jockey in Ireland, and would become the first female rider to win the showpiece race on the opening day of the Festival. 

Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle was a winner at the meeting 12 months ago when coming out on top in a titanic battle with Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle, but is in against the boys this time – as well as fellow mare and last year’s winner Epatante. 

“Honeysuckle is incredible,” said Blackmore. 

“She’s never let us down so far, and I’m just hoping we can continue in the Champion Hurdle. 

“She digs deep when she has to, she gets me out of trouble when she has to – she’s just been phenomenal, and I can’t find any fault with her. 

“It’s fantastic to be involved with a horse of her calibre. It’s what any jockey dreams about, getting teamed up with something like her. It’s just a privilege.” 

Honeysuckle is owned by Kenny Alexander, who has a strong band of mares – but none comes close to Honeysuckle. 

“Her owner, Kenny Alexander, his main aim was to win the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – and that was a fantastic achievement for him to be able to do that, with the help of Peter Molony (racing manager),” added Blackmore. 

“We got that done last year, and I think her performance at Leopardstown (in the Irish Champion Hurdle) was ultra-impressive. So why not have a stab at the Champion Hurdle? 

“It’s an extremely competitive race – these championship races are unbelievable. There’s last year’s winner Epatante, Goshen. Hopefully we are on our A game and can produce the goods again.” 

Blackmore has an outstanding book of rides this week – and with A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup, she could even pull off a famous double. 

She said: “I have a massive good book of rides at Cheltenham; the likes of Champagne Gold (County Hurdle or Martin Pipe), if he goes, Captain Guinness (Arkle), Notebook (Queen Mother) and A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup. I’m very much looking forward to riding him as well – I could go on all day. 

“We’ve had a fantastic year so far. This is the important week, so hopefully the success can carry through.”

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Cheltenham Update: Paul Townend hopes to ‘Fly’ home in the Ryanair Chase

Paul Townend has decided to chose Min instead of Allaho for the 14 declared runners in the Ryanair Chase.

Rachel Blackmore will take the reins on Allaho this Thursday, who has been the ante-post favourite since winning a Grade Two at Thurles last time out. However, Townend, opted for the tried and trusted Min.

Melon, also trained by Willie Mullins will be partnered by Bryan Cooper. Melon has finished second at the Festival over the last four years. Danny Mullins will ride a fourth Mullins contender, Tornado Flyer, in the same race.

Gavin Sheehan will ride Saint Calvados for the Harry Whittington yard who was only beaten in a photo by Min, 12 months ago.

Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura won at the meeting last season and began his season in great style, winning at Carlisle and Ascot, but has been absent since an early departure at Kempton.

Dashel Drasher was a popular winner of the Ascot Chase for Jeremy Scott and Matt Griffiths, and will aim to add another Grade One to his tally.

Samcro, a dual Festival winner, needs to bounce back to his best for Denise Foster – while Chris’s Dream represents Henry de Bromhead.

Fakir D’oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), Fanion D’Estruval (Venetia Williams), Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy), Mister Fisher (Nicky Henderson) and Real Steel (Paul Nicholls) have all been declared too.

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Cheltenham Update: Not a big field for Monkfish to land the prize in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase

With a field of just six runners in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, Monkfish will be hoping to maintain his unbeaten status.

Trained by Willie Mullins, the seven-year-old has looked a different class in winning all his three starts over fences.

Including Hurdle’s, he has won his last six races in all, including the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in 2020.

The only other Irish trained rival will be Henry de Bromhead’s Eklat De Rire, who was the winner of a Grade Three at Naas.

Representing the English runners will be the Philip Hobbs-trained Sporting John, who came back to form when winning the Scilly Novices’ Chase at Sandown. The Colin Tizzard duo of Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway with Nicky Henderson’s Dickie Diver, will make up the sextet on Wednesday. Missing on Wednesday though, will be the St. Patrick’s Day ‘Roar’ if Monkfish lands the prize.

Bob Olinger, from the de Bromhead stable, tops another small but select field of seven for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.

He is ante-post favourite on the back of a comfortable victory in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle.

The Mullins-trained Gaillard Du Mesnil is his main market rival after his Grade One success at Leopardstown.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Bravemansgame looks the pick of the UK team, having won the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.

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Going at Cheltenham has now eased to soft

Following the unexpected rainfall of 10 millimetres of rain overnight, the official going has now changed to soft.

Although the weather forecast for the week ahead is dry, the official description is now soft, good to soft in places for the start of the Festival.

The Old Course, which is used on the first two days of the meeting, and the New Course that is used on the Thursday and Friday, both are described the same following the rain.

The Clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, reported on Monday 15th at 8.30am: “It was unexpected, yes. No forecast I’d seen suggested more than one or two millimetres last night, and we ended up with just over 10.

“We’ve now gone soft, good to soft in places on all the courses.

“We’re not forecast particularly warm weather – although having said that, the forecast temperatures have gone up a little during the week to what they were earlier.

“We’ll just have to see how things pan out (whether any watering will take place later in the week). It’s too early to speculate.” 

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Four-month suspension for amateur jockey Rob James over video of dead horse

A 12-month licence suspension was handed out to amateur jockey Rob James. The last eight months of which were suspended, following an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referral hearing into a video posted on social media of him sitting on a dead horse.

The IHRB concluded its investigation into the incident and a hearing took place late on Wednesday evening, 10th March.

The ruling came just days after an image of Grand National-winning trainer, Gordon Elliott, was seen sitting on a dead horse and it was posted on Twitter.

A video of James – who rode the Elliott-trained Milan Native to victory at the Cheltenham Festival last year – emerged on the social media platform.

James had apologised for his “wholly inappropriate and disrespectful” actions, and said he was “heartbroken by the damage” caused by the video, which was taken in 2016.

A tweet on the IHRB’s official account following the hearing read: “Having considered the evidence, the Referrals Committee found Mr James in breach of Rule 272(i) in that he acted in a manner which was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing.

“They imposed a 12-month suspension of his Qualified Riders licence and Handlers Permit with this last eight months of this suspended.”

James also informed the committee that he would not attend a race meeting or a point-to-point for the four-month period of his suspension.

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Denise Foster gets off the mark since taking over the reins from the suspended Gordon Elliott

Defi Bleu gave Denise Foster a definite start by giving her a first winner since taking over at Cullentra Stables. Trainer Gordon Elliott is currently serving a suspension. Defi Bleu took the Tomcoole Farm Ltd. Beginners Chase at Wexford.

Ridden by Jack Kennedy and owned by Gigginstown House Stud, the eight-year-old got the better of the 8-13 favourite Opposites Attract by two and half lengths.

With only her third runner since she officially took charge, Defi Bleu ran out a 4/1 winner in the heavy going at Wexford.

Kennedy said: “His first run over fences was very promising. He fell the second day and disappointed after that. It’s lovely to get off the mark over fences with him.

“That’s a great start for Sneezy (Foster) – and long may it continue. Hopefully we will have plenty of luck together now.”

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Oisin Murphy to return on Friday at Lingfield

Oisin Murphy, the champion jockey, has three mounts scheduled at Lingfield on Friday. The return follows his recent three months ban and the champion will be keen to start riding winners again.

He was banned for three months after a racecourse test, taken at Chantilly in July, found traces of cocaine in his system.

Having always strenuously denied he had taken any drugs, Murphy requested a B sample – and upon receiving the results, France Galop held a hearing where the rider’s defence of environmental contamination from a sexual encounter and scientific hair test evidence was accepted.

Murphy’s suspension took into account his defence, and he will launch his comeback aboard Rain Gauge in the Play Ladbrokes 5-A-Side On Football Novice Stakes at the Surrey venue.

Rain Gauge’s trainer James Tate has also booked Murphy for Sky Commander in the Bombardier British-Hopped Amber Beer Handicap, while the rider will complete his relatively low-key return aboard the Sylvester Kirk-trained He Can Dance in the Get Your Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boost Handicap. 

Cheltenham Update: Lacy keen on Adrimel for the Albert Bartlett

The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle next week is the target for trainer Tom Lacy as he looks to have a first Cheltenham Festival success with Adrimel.

The only defeat the six-year-old has had in six outings under Rules, was in the Champion Bumper 12 months ago.

He earned another bid for the race with a gutsy success in the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in January when conceding a penalty, and Lacey feels a further step up in trip will bring out even more improvement.

“I’d probably be leaning towards the Albert Bartlett (over the Ballymore), because it looks the weaker of the two races, though we will just follow the weather a bit,” he said.

“We will probably confirm him for both races, but I think the Albert Bartlett might be the right race for him. He shouldn’t be taken off his feet going up to three miles, and he should have plenty of time to jump the hurdles.

“I know his win at Haydock was over two miles, but it was only through Richard Johnson’s perseverance that he won.

“He was tenacious last time and he had a 3lb penalty as well, whereas this time he will be meeting them off level weights. You have to earn your right to run in a Grade One, and I think he earned that last time out at Warwick.”

Another runner for the trainer at Cheltenham will be Tea Clipper in the Coral Cup which will be his most likely target.

“I’d imagine he will go for the Coral Cup, because the owners are keen on that,” he said.

“A fast run two (miles) on the New Course in the County Hurdle would suit, but I think he will end up in the Coral Cup.

“He has had a prep run in an all-weather bumper at Newcastle and he hit the line hard there, so two-five in the Coral Cup shouldn’t be a problem. At Newbury he was disappointing because his jumping just went to bits up the straight for whatever reason, but that wasn’t him.

“He is off a good weight. It is just a case of if he is good enough. He wants a nice surface, so if he gets that I’d think he would have a good each way chance.”

Buveur D’Air will ‘not run’ at Cheltenham announces Henderson

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air will not bid to regain his crown next week at Cheltenham following an announcement from Nicky Henderson

Buveur D’Air, who was successful in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece in 2017 and 2018, will now compete for the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles next month.

The 10-year-old, who is owned by JP McManus, made a return from a 420-day injury lay-off to finish second of three runners in the The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock in January this year.

He has remained in the Champion Hurdle reckoning, after his trainer voiced satisfaction with his wellbeing following that comeback.

However, on Monday evening, Henderson posted on his official Twitter account: “Having discussed plans with JP over the weekend, we have decided that Buveur D’Air will NOT run @CheltenhamRaces and instead will wait for @AintreeRaces.

“The extra distance will suit him well. He and Epatante are in very good form, and we are very much looking forward to next week.”

Denise Foster takes over from Gordon Elliott

It was announced on Twitter by Gordon Elliott Racing, that Denise Foster will take over as the licensed trainer at Cullentra Stables while Elliott serves his suspension as a trainer. 

Elliott on Friday 5th March was handed a one-year suspension by the IHRB over the controversial photo which came out on social media, of the trainer sitting on a dead horse. However, the last six months of the suspension was suspended, which in effect means that he will not be able to train horses again until September. 

During the suspension, Foster will take over at his huge operation.

“Gordon Elliott Racing is pleased to confirm the Racing Post story that Denise Foster will take over the licence at Cullentra Stables during the period of Gordon Elliott’s suspension. Denise is vastly experienced and her appointment is great news for staff and owners.

From Enfield, Foster is a noted trainer herself, her most recent winner being Swiss Swoo at Dundalk last month. She has also had winners in Navan and at the Fairyhouse Winter Festival. 

A former riding instructor, she was married to Irish Olympian eventer David Foster, who competed at the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Olympics before suffering a fatal accident in competition in 1998. 

Foster, who is known in racing circles as ‘Sneezy’, said in a statement on Elliott’s Twitter account: 

“I am honoured to take over from Gordon and realise he is a hard act to follow. I am delighted by the contacts I have had with the owners and staff to date. This is a great responsibility but I could not ask for a better set-up. I will take charge from Monday.”

Significantly, the move will allow the horses at Cullentra to race at the Cheltenham Festival. 

Having already imposed an interim suspension on Elliott-trained runners in Britain until the conclusion of the IHRB’s investigation, the British Horseracing Authority immediately confirmed it would reciprocate the ban.

However, the BHA added that Elliott’s horses would be allowed to run at Cheltenham and Aintree if “transferred directly to other licenced trainers prior to March 9.”

A spokesperson for the IHRB said on Saturday: “Anyone that would want to take over the care of horses on a different premises would need to be a licensed trainer.

“If a licensed trainer wanted to move from their own premises to a different premises, they would need to go to the licensing committee.

“That would not generally be a lengthy process.”

On Tuesday, leading owners Cheveley Park Stud moved their horses from Elliott to Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead. Among those was the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who has joined De Bromhead.