JP McManus’ big hopes for Cheltenham glory

The foundations have been laid as we approach the business end of the season. The mighty Green and Gold silks of JP McManus look to be building a formidable army to go to battle at Cheltenham and the big festivals beyond. Here we take a look at some of the leading contenders.

SIR EREC

Triumph Hurdle

This son of Camelot is one of the classiest horses in training. A transfer from the formidable Aidan O’Brien Ballydoyle stable to son Joseph at his Owning Hill base is a statement of how seriously the Green & Gold are taking the Triumph Hurdle again this year. Sir Erec was a Listed winner on the Flat before running the all conquering Stradivarius to  three lengths at Ascot in the Long Distance Cup on his final start for Aidan O’Brien.

A 28-runner maiden hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas was the scene for his eagerly-awaited stable debut and Sir Erec didn’t disappoint, always holding the Willie Mullins- trained Tiger Tap Tap to win by a convincing neck. The front two pulled eight lengths clear that day and currently sit first and second in the Triumph Hurdle betting.

Sir Erec will certainly come on for this run and looks to have plenty of scope to dominate the novice hurdles division this term. Trainer Joseph O’Brien won the Triumph in 2016 with Ivanovich Gorbatov and a similar route will most likely be taken with Sir Erec. Triumph with the assistance of BetStars Pennsylvania very own bonus code offers.

GARDENS OF BABYLON

Fred Winter Novice Hurdle

Another horse from the Joseph O’Brien stables who is on the Cheltenham trail is Gardens Of Babylon. This stablemate of Sir Erec and a fellow Ballydoyle recruit was only a couple of lengths down when the pair met on the Flat early last season. Gardens Of Babylon didn’t run for Aidan O’Brien again and was sent to son Joseph. A hurdle debut victory at Leopardstown over Christmas proved the horse retains plenty of ability. A nose defeat at Fairyhouse last time out was a run full of positives and this talented youngster is looking ready to mix it in some good novice hurdle races over the next few months. The Fred Winter Juvenile Novices Hurdle is most likely to be the prime target, where he is currently among the more fancied runners.

LE RICHEBOURG

RSA Novices Chase

A runner in multiple Grade One hurdles without looking likely to win last season, Le Richebourg has really kicked on this season with three wins from four starts over fences. In the process he has transformed himself into a serious contender for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, where he is currently second favourite. The only blot on his copy book was a half-length defeat in early December to the Gigginstown trained Delta Work (who is developing into a serious Cheltenham horse too.) Winning impressively at Leopardstown over Christmas confirmed that was only a blip and progress looks set to continue for this Joseph O’Brien inmate. The Dublin Racing Festival looks set to be the next step on the road to Cheltenham and the big festivals beyond.

STAND UP AND FIGHT

Foxhunter Chase

Not the most glamorous of races at the Cheltenham Festival but the Green and Gold have had plenty of legendary winners of the Foxhunter Chase. Stand Up And Fight will be hoping to join the likes of multiple winners On The Fringe and Elegant Lord. Like them, this seven-year-old is trained by The Foxhunter and specialist race maestro, Enda Bolger. He made a pleasing debut in this sphere at Down Royal winning by five lengths from a good field. The Hunters Chase at Leopardstown is most likely the next step before an assault of all the big Hunter Chasers at the festivals. Enda will certainly have him in peak condition and with top amateur jockey Derek

O’Connor onboard we could be looking at the next star of the Foxhunter division for years to come.

CHAMP

Ballymore Novices Hurdle

Described as “a big, good-looking fella” by jockey Barry Geraghty, the current Ballymore Novices Hurdle favourite is improving with every run and looking the real deal. The Green and Gold haven’t won the Day Two opener since the immortal Istabraq spread-eagled the field over 20 years ago. Yanworth came closest in 2016, claiming the runners up spot, but the strong pulling Champ looks a lively contender to end the drought. Five wins from seven career starts including the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury last time out shows an abundance of talent in the locker. A strong pace is guaranteed in the Ballymore with the excitement of Cheltenham getting to horses and jockeys alike. This should help Champ settle better than in previous races and a bold bid with top jockey Barry Geraghty onboard is certainly expected. Other festivals will be high on the agenda given a good performance in March.

CHAMPAGNE PLATINUM

Supreme Novices Hurdle

Bought at the Goffs Aintree sale after just one previous P2P run, a six-length victory in a three miler at Quakerstown, Champagne Platinum has taken to rules like a duck to water. Sent to Nicky Henderson, the Sevenbarrows trainer immediately sent him up to Newcastle on Fighting Fifth day for a Maiden Hurdle.

After racing keenly early on, the youngster settled into a nice rhythm and coming to the last was in contention and looking likely to get into a hard-fought duel, but a couple of nudges from Barry soon put the race to bed and a comfortable one length gap had emerged by the time he hit the finish line.

The Betway Introductory Hurdle at Newbury was the next assignment for Champagne Platinum. This time there was no racing keenly or greenness. Barry Geraghty simply tracked the leaders on the youngster, cruised into contention in the home straight, let a little bit of rein out before the last and the race was over with little more than a push from the jockey after the final hurdle. Currently around 16/1 for both the Supreme and the Ballymore, Champagne Platinum certainly has a couple of viable options but preference must be the Festival opener. With such a high cruising speed Barry can have him well placed off the always frantic pace of the Supreme and kick for glory after the last. Stamina should see this gelding prevail up the Cheltenham hill.

Buveur D’Air

BUVEUR D’AIR

Champion Hurdle

Just a few weeks ago Buveur D’Air looked a safe bet to collect a third Champion Hurdle in a row at Cheltenham. After a ridiculously easy seasonal reappearance in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, beating last year’s top novices, Samcro and Summerville Boy without breaking sweat, no one could have foreseen the shock defeat at Kempton on Boxing Day to stablemate Verdana Blue.

Buveur D’Air didn’t seem himself that day, leading to questions being asked after his first reversal since 2016. However, trainer Nicky Henderson will ensure he will absolutely spot on by flag fall come Champion Hurdle day and we can expect Buveur D’Air and Barry Geraghty to cruise up the Cheltenham Hill and put any doubts to bed. Becoming the first horse since the Green & Gold legend Istabraq to win three Champion Hurdles in a row will be an extra incentive for connections. The current 6/4 price available looks like the perfect start to any Cheltenham accumulator. Regaining the Aintree Hurdle in April would also be high on this champions list following a Festival success.

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