All The Glitters Is Green And Gold

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JP McManus chats with Barry Geraghty in those famous silks | Racing Post

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CHELTENHAM, UK—The green and gold hooped colours of JP McManus have become over the last three decades the silks most readily associated with the Cheltenham Festival and, on top of a ninth Champion Hurdle victory on Tuesday, the owner enjoyed another four wins to cap a memorable birthday week.

With 64 Festival victories, McManus has accrued more than double the number of Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud, his nearest rival on the owners' roll of honour. Involved with him in his first two winners of the day—Champ (Ire) (King's Theatre {Ire}) in the G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase and the mare Dame De Compagnie (Fr) (Lucarno) in the G3 Coral Cup—were his fellow leaders in their respective divisions, jockey Barry Geraghty and trainer Nicky Henderson.

But it has long been a feature of McManus's strategy that he spreads his horses far and wide, usually in his native Ireland and in Britain, often leaving a high-profile purchase with the horse's existing trainer. And so it is that his sole horse in training in France currently provided a first Cheltenham success for young trainer David Cottin, the former French champion jump jockey.

Cottin's Easysland (Fr) (Gentlewave {Ire}) broke many a heart when leading the darling of National Hunt racing, Tiger Roll (Ire) (Authorized {Ire}), a merry dance in posting a 17-length win under Jonathan Plouganou in the long and winding Glenfarclas Chase.

The four-time Festival winner Tiger Roll failed to sparkle in his usual manner in ground much softer than he enjoys and against a rival four years his junior who has won his last six races, including over this specialist course in December. Six years after he made his Festival debut, finishing second, 18 lengths clear of the rest, is no disgrace, however, and if Tiger Roll's trainer Gordon Elliott was ruing his luck then that soon turned back in his favour. He provided the fourth winner of the McManus quartet, Aramax (Ger) (Maxios {GB}), in the next race, the G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

Champ Lives Up To His Name
During his riding days, multiple champion jockey AP McCoy was the master of the driving finish and the horse named in his honour by his former boss JP McManus delivered a determined late surge for glory of which McCoy would have been proud. Champ burst from a seemingly untenable position to snatch victory from long-time leader Allaho (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}) and challenger Minella Indo (Ire) (Beat Hollow {GB}) as the testing ground took its toll on tired legs at the end of the three-mile RSA Chase.

Beaten here this day last year when second to City Island (Ire) in the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, Champ had been faultless in three starts since then until falling on his return to Cheltenham on New Year's Day. He has a major ally in Barry Geraghty, who succeeded McCoy as the retained jockey for McManus and is the leading jockey this week and overall at the Festival, his 41 victories including four Champion Hurdles, five Champions Chases and two Gold Cups.

He said: “I knew I still had a chance on Champ turning in but after jumping the second-last, I wasn't making up any ground and was still struggling. I knew when I committed to pop the last fence that the two in front of me had not jumped brilliantly at that fence. As soon as he picked up, I was about three lengths down by then and I knew it was over. It's very tacky ground and hard work. It was all about finding a rhythm and helping him travel, so I didn't have to ask too many questions.”

Trainer Nicky Henderson added, “This is the first time he has been back to three miles since Aintree last year—I purposely went two and a half all season, and then we had that fall. That really upset plans a bit. But we've done a lot of schooling at home—Barry has been over a few times and Nico [de Boinville] has done a lot of work; he's a wonderful schooling jockey.”

Champ's victory also brought a broad smile to the face of Philip Myerscough, who bred the 8-year-old with his wife Jane. Watching the presentation to the winning connections from the enclosure, he said, “I was proud of him before today and I'm even more proud now.”

The son of the late champion sire King's Theatre has close ties to another champ, the treble Gold Cup winner Best Mate (Ire) (Un Desperado {Fr}), who was a half-brother to his dam China Sky (Ire) (Definite Article {Ire}). The 15-year-old mare, who was also trained by Henderson in her earlier days, is one of three National Hunt broodmares at the Myerscough family's Colbinstown Stud. Younger offspring of China Sky will be gracing the store sales later this year, with her 4-year-old gelding by Fame And Glory (GB) set to go to the Goffs Land Rover Sale and his year-younger brother by Presenting (GB) slated for the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale. China Sky also has a 2-year-old gelding by Walk In The Park (Ire).

Myerscough added, “Best Mate's dam Katday lived with us for many years so it's a family we've known for a long time. You could dream of a Gold Cup the way he won that.”

Flying The Flag
It was a day for patriotic silks. Not only did McManus's Irish-themed silks grace the winner's enclosure on four occasions, but the red, white and blue of British-based Cheveley Park Stud were carried by the winners of the first and last races of the day—though both are trained in Ireland.

Gordon Elliott's Envoi Allen (Fr) (Muhtahtir {GB}) won the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper here last year and on his return to Cheltenham he was considered one of the bankers of the week ahead of the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, which he duly won under Davy Russell. The bumper baton was then passed to another member of Cheveley Park Stud's select National Hunt string, Ferny Hollow (Ire) (Westerner {GB}), who led home a one-two for what is likely a very relieved Willie Mullins, who had saddled five placed runners up until then.

David and Patricia Thompson are of course better known as top-class Flat owner/breeders, with their extensive Newmarket stud standing the redoubtable homebred Pivotal (GB) at the head of its stallion roster. But David Thompson and his son Richard have long had a passion for jump racing and in recent seasons they have invested heavily in some exciting National Hunt prospects. That outlay has now been rewarded with two winners at each of the last two Cheltenham Festivals—which is easier said than done—and an extra interest on the racecourse during the winter months while their Flat horses are out of action.

Envoi Allen had been bought for the Thompsons at Cheltenham two years ago when agent Tom Malone went to £400,000 for the winning point-to-pointer on their behalf at one of a number of Tattersalls Ireland boutique sales conducted at the venue throughout the season. Now a dual Festival winner and one of the most exciting young horses in training, the 6-year-old keeps his trainer on his toes, particularly when it came to the selection of this race over Tuesday's G1 Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

A relieved Elliott said post-race, “I was nervous the whole way through the race—I watched it with Colin [Bowe], who trained him to win a point-to-point. I was asking him the whole way 'Will he stay? Will he stay?' and he said that he would definitely stay no bother. If I had picked the wrong race, I was going to blame him.”

He added, “This was the big one for the week. He is the people's horse and everyone wanted him to win. He is eight from eight now. I thought Davy had given them too much lead coming down the hill but he knew the horse well—he does what he has to.

“He stays, he jumps and was bought to be a three-mile chaser. I think that is what he is going to be, but we will have to discuss next season with his owners.”

Grey Has His Day
The G1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase may be the feature of Wednesday's card, but the high-profile scratchings of Altior (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) on Tuesday and Chacun Pour Soi (Fr) (Policy Maker {Ire}) on Wednesday morning, followed by a disappointingly flat run from favourite Defi Du Seuil (Fr) (Voix Du Nord {Fr}) took some of the lustre from what is usually one of the most thrilling races of the meeting.

The grey Politologue (Fr) (Poliglote {GB}) is an extremely likeable character, however, and one who has lined up for this race in the last three seasons, finishing fourth in 2018 and runner-up last year to Altior. Off the track since early December, the 9-year-old came to Cheltenham a fresh horse was given a determinedly positive ride from Harry Skelton, who sent him to the head of proceedings as the tape flipped back and kept him out in front throughout a flawless round of jumping. With stablemate Dynamite Dollars (Fr) (Buck's Boum {Fr}) almost ten lengths back in second, Politiologue led home a one-two for trainer Paul Nicholls and brought his veteran owner John Hales close to tears.

“Politologue is best fresh and he is brilliant when he is fresh. He is not the easiest to train—he bled in the Tingle Creek and we had to change what we do with him, but he was very, very ready today,” said the champion trainer. “There was no other way to ride him. The other horse [Dynamite Dollars] made a mistake at the top of the hill—he wants two and a half miles—but they were two very good runs.”

Nicholls added, “I am pleased because it shows we were right about coming here fresh. I just can't wait for Clan Des Obeaux (Fr) on Friday now. It shows that, when they are very fit and very fresh, they are brilliant.”

Bred at Haras du Mesnil by Henri and Antonia Devin, Politologue, now an 11-time winner, including three at the highest level, maintained a clean sweep of French-breds in the championship races so far this week following the Champion Hurdle victory of Epatante (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}).

Post-racing sale
The Tattersalls Ireland Festival Sale will take place in the parade ring at Cheltenham after racing on Thursday. Twenty-four young horses in training have been entered for the select sale, including Gerri Colombe (Fr), a 4-year-old son of Saddler Maker (Ire) trained by Envoi Allen's former trainer Colin Bowe. He is one of ten horses in the catalogue to have won at point-to-point meetings last weekend.

 

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