Teahupoo on course to defend Hatton’s Grace title

By Sports Desk November 23, 2023

Defending champion Teahupoo will lead a strong Gordon Elliott squad into battle for the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle next month.

The six-year-old became the first horse to lower the colours of Honeysuckle when landing the Fairyhouse Grade One 12 months ago and went on to run a mighty race in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

He had to settle for third on that occasion behind stablemate Sire Du Berlais, but Elliott predicts further improvement this term which could make him one of the leading players in the staying hurdling division.

He said: “He’s in great form, he’s doing really well. He will be in the Hatton’s Grace and Leopardstown (at Christmas) as well.

“If he improved five or six pounds from last year, which with age you would like to think he would have, he would have to be in the mix with all those stayers.

“Even last year he was in the mix and was unlucky in the Stayers’ Hurdle, he ran a great race.”

Elliott holds seven entries for the December 3 event and poised to make his return is stable stalwart and reigning Stayers’ Hurdle champion Sire Du Berlais.

The evergreen 11-year-old got his hands on his third Cheltenham Festival victory when edging out Dashel Drasher for a shock 33-1 success in March and proved that was no fluke when repeating the dose with further Grade One glory at Aintree the following month.

“He’s the horse of a lifetime,” said Elliott. “He’s so unimpressive at home, even to look at, he doesn’t do a stroke.

“He’s not getting any younger, but he’s a great horse and we’re lucky to have him.

“It’s hard to get him fit, it takes a couple of runs to get him fit, he’s so laid back.”

Also in line for an appearance in the two-and-a-half-mile contest is Irish Point, who was a Grade One scorer at the distance at Aintree in the spring.

He made a winning return in the Bottlegreen Hurdle at Down Royal recently and Elliott believes he has the potential to campaign over a variety of distances.

“He’s probably a hard horse to place,” continued Elliott. “He’s in the Hatton’s Grace and I wouldn’t be shocked if I went there with him.

“He could (go over three miles), but I just don’t know if I want to go three miles with him at the moment.

“He’s a good horse, but might just be stuck between a rock and a hard place. He might not have the pace for the really good two-mile races and I think he will stay three miles, but it’s whether I want to be doing it at this stage of his career or not, he’s only a young horse.”

Meanwhile, the Cullentra House handler is already looking ahead to March with Gigginstown’s Brighterdaysahead, who made it two from two over timber when claiming a Grade Three at Down Royal and will be pointed at the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

“If you asked me now, I would say it will be one more run then Cheltenham,” said Elliott.

“She’s had two runs now. She’s got a big engine and she’s looked good.

“She’s not keen, she’s just green. If you look at her in Down Royal, it was like her first run – Thurles was no race. But I was happy with her and how she hit the line.”

He also has high hopes for the owners’ Croke Park who having won the Grade Three Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan on Sunday, could be given the chance to enhance his fine recent record in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle early in the new year.

Elliott added: “He was good, he’s a big horse. He had a few niggly problems last year and I would imagine I would go to Naas now for the Lawlor’s.

“He’s a three-mile chaser (in the making) and when he got there he wasn’t doing anything, he was a bit babyish.”

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    Wingmen was an even-money favourite to provide the latter’s trainer Gordon Elliott with a fifth successive victory in the two-mile contest, but after racing keenly on the front end, he weakened late on and had to make do with minor honours in third.

    William Munny, a short-head winner on his racecourse debut at Navan last month, was a 13-2 shot to double his tally in the hands of Finny Maguire and showed a sharp change of gear to run down both Wingmen and eventual runner-up Fleur In The Park to score by an impressive five lengths.

    Connell said: “I’m astonished the price this horse went off. I thought he should have been even-money favourite on the back of his form.

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    “He’s hardly having a blow there and it was like a piece of work.”

    While Connell has no doubt William Munny has what it takes to make it to the top, he will resist the temptation to run in next month’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, but could go for the corresponding race at the Punchestown Festival later in the spring.

    “He’s very unusual for a Westerner, as they normally don’t win bumpers, they improve when they get a hurdle and a fence,” he said.

    “I’m definitely not taking him to Cheltenham. I don’t like giving them more than two runs in winner’s bumpers but I’m going to bring this lad to Punchestown for the Champion Bumper there, and I think he’s the one to beat in it.

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    One Connell inmate who most definitely has a trip to Cheltenham on his agenda is stable star Marine Nationale, winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the showpiece meeting last season.

    Following a foot-perfect chasing debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, he blotted his copybook for the first time with a disappointing showing in the Irish Arkle at the same track earlier this month, but his trainer is keeping the faith ahead of his return to the Cotswolds.

    Connell added: “Marine Nationale was in Fairyhouse yesterday. We brought the two Cheltenham horses, him and Enniskerry. Enniskerry runs in the Grand Annual.

    “We brought the two of them for an away day. They didn’t do a whole pile, just jumped the four fences up to Ballyhack and they are all set now the two of them.

    “All we need now is a bit of spring ground, and nine times out of 10 we get it in Cheltenham.”

    Connections of Noble Birth also harbour Cheltenham Festival dreams following his 16-1 triumph in the Pertemps Network Group Handicap Hurdle.

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