Joseph O’Brien’s rise up the training ranks in less than two years with a license has been quite remarkable to witness. Having already sent out the winner of the Moyglare Stud Stakes and the Melbourne Cup on the Flat, he secured his first two Grade 1 victories over jumps at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February with the highlight being the emotional victory of Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup.
In his latest column, Joseph gives us an update on all of his entries for the four days of Cheltenham.
5 b g Soldier Of Fortune – Ymlaen
A 140-rated hurdler, he has won two of his four starts over hurdles including a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Naas.
“He will run in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle on Friday and it looks like JJ Slevin will ride him. I don’t really have an excuse for his last run. We expected him to run a lot better than that and he was just disappointing. If the ground turns up to be decent, it will be a bit of an unknown for him. All of his runs so far have been on testing ground, so we’ll have to wait and see how he handles it. It’s obviously a very competitive race, but he’s in good form and will hopefully run well.”
9 b g Kayf Tara – Valentines Lady
A 164-rated chaser, he came back from a near-death experience at last year’s Cheltenham Festival to secure a dramatic victory in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.
“Everything has gone smoothly with him since Leopardstown and he will run in the Gold Cup on Friday. Derek O’Connor has a great association with him and it’s great that he’ll be able to continue that partnership. We think he stays well and the faster the early pace, the more it will suit him. It’s a wide-open and competitive race, but I think he has a good each-way chance.”
4 gr f Mastercraftsman – Pelican Waters
A 120-rated hurdler, she has won twice over hurdles and most recently finish third in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“The hope is to run her in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Wednesday, but she needs a few to come out if she is to get a run. She might not have too much up her sleeve in terms of her handicap mark, but she’d appreciate a return to better ground and will enjoy the test of stamina, so we’d look forward to seeing how she runs if she gets in. We haven’t thought too much about who will ride her yet, we’ll just see if she gets a run first.”
6 b g Montjeu – Northern Gulch
A 145-rated hurdler, he won the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016, but has been well below his best this season.
“He’ll run in the County Hurdle on Friday. He has been struggling on testing ground all season and it has been hard to take too much encouragement from his runs. He ran well in this race on good ground last year, so hopefully the ground will dry out for him, but the handicapper has been slow to drop him and he probably needs a bit more help in that regard before he gets really competitive again. There won’t be a decision made on his rider until after declarations.”
5 b g Network – Fee Magic
A 140-rated hurdler, he won his first three starts over hurdles during the summer, but has disappointed on softer ground since then.
“The plan is to run him in the County Hurdle on Friday. This will be his first run in handicap and is still relatively inexperienced, so it could be tough for him. I thought he needed the run after a break when he was below form in the Royal Bond, but he’s been a bit disappointing the last twice and was probably struggling on the soft ground more than anything. The better the ground, the better his chance will be. His rider will be decided after declarations.”
5 ch g Dubai Destination – Saabga
A 129-rated hurdler, he has progressed steadily over hurdles this season, most recently running below form in the Coral.ie Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“He’s a very likeable and consistent horse and we gave him a little break after his last run with a view to bringing him to Cheltenham fresh, but it looks like he might struggle to get a run. We have him entered in the County Hurdle, the Martin Pipe and the Coral Cup and he is versatile enough with regard to trip and ground that we would be happy to run in any of them, but getting in will be his main issue.”
5 b g Montjeu – Apticanti
The wide-margin winner of a bumper at Thurles in December, he subsequently finished second to Blackbow in a Grade 2 bumper at Leopardstown in February.
“He’ll run in the Champion Bumper on Wednesday. It looks a very competitive race and I’m hearing some very bullish reports about a few of the leading contenders. All of his runs have been on testing ground so far and while I think he’d handle a sounder surface, I wouldn’t be at all upset if it was soft. It might be tough for him to reverse form with Blackbow if they both get a clean run though the race, but I’d definitely be hopeful we can get closer to him. At the end of the day, an awful lot of this race comes down to what gets a good run on the day and all we can do is hope that Rhinestone gets one. I think he is streetwise enough for a race like this. He will have learned a lot from his last run and should be all the better for it. There hasn’t been a final decision made on his rider yet.”
7 b g Montjeu – Hula Angel
A 146-rated hurdler, he produced a career-best effort when winning the Galway Hurdle in July, but has been below that form since.
“He will run in the County Hurdle. He went up plenty for winning the Galway Hurdle and has just struggled since then. He seems in good form at home and maybe a bit a better ground will help him, but there was plenty of ease in it when he won at Galway and he won a good handicap on soft ground on the Flat last year, so I might be grasping at straws with that hope. We’ll get him there in the best form we can and hopefully he’ll bounce back to form. His rider will be decided after declarations.”
5 b g High Chaparral – Walkamia
A 142-rated hurdler, he broke his maiden over hurdles in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“It looks as though he’ll be supplemented for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday as that looks a more suitable and winnable option for him than the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on Wednesday. I think the trip will be fine for him and the better the ground, the better his chance. He obviously took a very big step forward in form terms last time and I’d be hopeful that he could find more improvement if he gets the trip as well as we hope he will. JJ Slevin is likely to keep the ride on him.”
US AND THEM
5 b g Stowaway – Manorville
A 136-rated hurdler, he has won two of his three starts over hurdles, most recently finishing second to Duca De Thaix in a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Limerick’s Christmas meeting.
“The plan is to run him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday. He looks up against it based on what he’s shown so far, but I do think that less testing ground will definitely suit him, as will a stronger pace in front of him. It was always the plan to freshen him up after he ran at Christmas with a view to running at Cheltenham. He has been leased to the Melbourne 10 for the day and they’ll have a good day out with him regardless, but I’d be hopeful he will represent them well in the race. JJ Slevin is likely to ride him.”