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Thursday 14 December 2017

Kelly's heroes chase Cheltenham glory

Davy Russell after winning on Mall Dini at Cheltenham 2016. Photo: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Davy Russell after winning on Mall Dini at Cheltenham 2016. Photo: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE

Siobhán English

With the Cheltenham Festival now just days away, Irish trainers, owners and breeders alike are eagerly looking forward to five days of top-class racing action in the Cotswold Hills.

In addition, up to 60,000 racing fans are also expected to cross the Irish Channel for the biggest and most lucrative National Hunt meeting in the world. Irish visitors are said to have spent up to €22m at the Festival in 2016, between travel, accommodation, tickets and entertainment.

It also proved a good week for Irish punters waging bets on favourites to win, with the betting industry admitting its worst-ever Cheltenham with losses in the region of €70m.

One trainer who had a 2016 Festival to remember was Galway's Patrick Kelly. Last year, he sent just one horse across the water, Mall Dini, who provided him with a 100pc strike rate when he romped home to win the Pertemps Hurdle under Davy Russell.

Next week, Mall Dini returns to Cheltenham, along with stablemate Presenting Percy, who this year will be aimed at the Pertemps, while Mall Dini is likely to head for the Kim Muir on the third day of the festival. However, jockey Davy Russell believes Presenting Percy faces a stiff task.

Favourites

The six-year-old had been one of the favourites for the Pertemps Final after winning at Fairyhouse recently, but he was raised 10lb in the Irish handicap for his win and has also been allotted an extra 6lb in England.

"He's on 146 now, 6lb higher than in Ireland, which is not ideal, obviously," said Russell on At The Races.

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"It looks like he's going to carry plenty of weight and I'd be very surprised if he was capable of winning a Pertemps off that sort of weight. That will fairly stall him, I think.

"It can be frustrating (getting different marks in the UK and Ireland) and I don't understand it myself. I just think there are talented horses in Ireland, races are more competitive and it's less competitive in England - you've more meetings and it's unfortunate you have to suffer at a festival. It doesn't happen on the Flat and English horses don't get penalised in Ireland."

Both Mall Dini and Presenting Percy are owned by Philip Reynolds, son of the late Albert Reynolds.

While Mr Reynolds is among an elite group of owners who will be represented by a small number of horses, top owners such as Gigginstown House Stud, JP McManus, Graham Wylie, Ann and Alan Potts, and Susannah and Rich Ricci will all by vying for the new Leading Owner Award, which will be on offer next week compliments of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing.

The award will be welcomed by such owners who have supported the festival throughout the years in conjunction with various trainers throughout Europe.

McManus holds the record of the most wins at the Festival, with his six winners in 2016 rounding it off to a staggering 50 to date.

Next is Gigginstown House Stud on 15, with Susannah and Rich Ricci close behind on 13.

Among McManus's key winners last year was Ivanovich Gorbatov, winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle for trainer Joseph O'Brien, who has the five-year-old entered for the County Hurdle and Coral Cup this time round.

Draught stallions on show

A total of 33 stallions are expected to line out for the annual Horse Sport Ireland stallion selections at Cavan Equestrian Centre today and tomorrow.

As usual, the selection process includes assessments in conformation, movement and athleticism using linear profiling. Tomorrow afternoon, the sport horse stallions will be assessed jumping under saddle and those going forward to Stage 2 will be ridden by Captain Geoff Curran from the Army Equitation School.

The full list of Irish draught stallions going forward is confirmed as: Castlegar Cool Mist, Claddagh White Smoke, Seacrest Diamond, The Bachelor, Follyglen Grey Cloud, Heatherdale Icon, Inisfree The Iron Cross, Millhollow King, Farmhill Highlander, Grandpas Rebel, Scotsborough Prince, WRS Sun Rise, Barnaview Grosvenors Star and Glencorran Diamond.

The two ponies are Ard Ri Shadow and Jacodi's Anja's Admiral, while the 16 sport horses are named as: Tyson, Ice Man, Mr Lincoln B, Sacre Bleu, Ganesh Hero Z, Calamiro M, Captain Pearl, Castlelawn Captain Junior, Guinness, Colandro, Denzel VDL Z, Jackson VDL, Kings Cornet, Lagans OBOS Quality, Vittorio and Rising Sun. Sadly, only one thoroughbred is to be put forward this year, the former Group 3 winner Primary, by Giant's Causeway.

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