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Cheltenham high hopes as Wexford trainers and jockeys out in force at Festival


Race-goers watch the action unfold during day one of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.

Race-goers watch the action unfold during day one of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.

Race-goers watch the action unfold during day one of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.


WEXFORD TRAINERS and jockeys will be dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory this week as they plan an assault on the annual four-day National Hunt horse racing bonanza.

Powerful yards, like those run by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in Ireland, and Nicky Henderson across the Irish Sea, may garner the lion’s share of the headlines, but smaller operations will also grab some of the limelight.

Among those battling for a piece of the pie will be Model county handlers Colm Murphy and Paul Nolan, trainers who have both tasted success on the big stage in the heart of the Cotswolds in the past, with the former saddling the fancied Impervious in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase on Friday, while the latter has four entries at this year’s festival.

Killenagh trainer Murphy is no stranger to success at Prestbury Park, with the aptly-named Brave Inca winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2004 and the Champion Hurdle in 2006, and Big Zeb powering to victory in the Champion Chase four years later, while he had further joy when Empire of Dirt won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate in 2016.

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The JP McManus-owned seven-year-old Impervious made it three from three over fences when winning in Punchestown in January and Murphy’s star mare is fancied to go well at Cheltenham on Friday, second in the market behind favourite, the Willie Mullins-trained Allegorie De Vassy.

Davidstown trainer Nolan has a four-pronged attack as he attempts to saddle his fourth Cheltenham Festival winner, with Mrs Milner landing The Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle two years ago, adding to his successes with Noble Prince, who won the JLT Novices’ Chase a decade earlier, and Dabiroun, who gave him his first Cheltenham triumph when winning the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in 2005.

Metamorpheus, with Seán Flanagan on board, ran in the Boodle Juvenile Handicap Hurdle yesterday (Tuesday), while HMS Seahorse, who was fourth in that race last year, goes in Wednesday’s Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle this time around and is among the market leaderls for the two-mile five-furlong contest and will be ridden by Seán O’Keeffe.

Nolan’s Western Zara is entered in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup on Thursday, with Tiarnan Power-Roche on board, while the Wexford trainer will fancy the chances of Sandor Clegane in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday.

As usual, the Model county will have more than its fair share of jockeys vying for winners at the Cheltenham Festival, with the likes of Daryl Jacob, Seán O’Keeffe, J.J. Slevin, Jordan Gainford, Jamie Codd and Barry O’Neill in action.

Unfortunately, Tom O’Brien, who rode Third Wind to success last year, misses the festival after dislocating his shoulder in a fall last month.

Jordan Gainford, who rode The Shunter to victory in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase in 2021, looks to have a great chance to get a winner on the board on Wednesday, when he partners the Gordon Elliott-trained hot-pot Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Enniscorthy man Jacob, who already has three Festival winners to his name, will be hoping to add to that tally, with Fun Fun Fun, one of the strong Willie Mullins contingent in the Champion Bumper on Wednesday, among his contenders.

Ten-time Festival winner Jamie Codd and point-to-point maestro Barry O’Neill were both in action in the final race yesterday (Tuesday) on board Chemical Energy and Minella Crooner respectively.

Codd is back in the saddle today on the Gordon Elliott-trained Better Days Ahead in the Champion Bumper, one that certainly looks to have a good chance of being in the frame at the very least.

Jordan Gainford rides another Elliott entry in that race, King of Kingsfield, while Seán O’Keeffe partners Chosen Witness for Willie Mullins.

O’Neill is on board favourite Stumptown for Gavin Cromwell in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup on Thursday, while Jack Hendrick should get a good spin out of the Henry De Bromhead-trained Royal Thief in the same race.

J.J. Slevin rode Fastorslow for Martin Brassil in the Ultima Handicap Chase yesterday, and today (Wednesday) he partners An Epic Song for the same trainer in the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle, one which looks to have a decent chance.

On Thursday he rides a couple of live hopes for trainer Joseph O’Brien.

He’s on board second favourite Banbridge in the Grade 1 Turners Novices’ Chase and partners Home By The Lee, who is among the leading contenders for the feature race of the day, the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

It’s certain to be four days full of thrills and spills and top-quality National Hunt racing, so here’s hoping for a few Wexford winners to make it all the sweeter.