Enda Bolger has small Cheltenham team but has hope

Trainer has mixed feelings as Festival looms

Trainer Enda Bolger takes a small-but-select team to the Cheltenham Festival next week.  Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Trainer Enda Bolger takes a small-but-select team to the Cheltenham Festival next week. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 01:00

Enda Bolger is familiar with the thrill of festival success and takes a small-but-select team to Cheltenham next week where, however, any victory will be bittersweet for the Co Limerick trainer.

Less than two weeks ago, 17-year-old trainee jockey Ryan Cusack, who had been working for Bolger for 18 months, was killed in a tragic accident that has left everyone at the Bruree yard stunned.

On the back of the injury to Bolger’s great friend and ally John Thomas McNamara which left him paralysed at Cheltenham 2013, it has been a torrid 12 months for the popular trainer who could take up to half-a-dozen horses to Prestbury Park next week including On The Fringe who is favourite for the GGA Foxhunters.

That is a race Bolger won in 1996 on Elegant Lord, a horse he both trained and rode, while he famously also won four of the first five runnings of the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase. Bolger could have up to four runners in the marathon contest this time but he will also have a significant interest on hurdles this time with the Boylesports winner Gilgamboa entered in two major contests.

“A dreadful year,” was how the trainer summed things up yesterday as he put the finishing touches to his Cheltenham team that sees On The Fringe on track for another attempt at the Foxhunters, a race in which he was fourth to Zemsky in 2011 under JT McNamara.

5/2 favourite
The JP McManus horse is as low as 5/2 favourite in some ante-post lists to land the big amateur contest next week despite having been narrowly beaten by Tammys Hill on his last run at Leopardstown.

“I blame myself for that because after he won at Down Royal I was a little easy on him and I think the last day he just got tired from the last. But he is in good form now,” said Bolger. “I wouldn’t want the ground to be too fast for him.”

The going at Cheltenham continues to be on the soft side which will hardly be an inconvenience for Gilgamboa who overcame inexperience to win the €100,000 Boylesports at Leopardstown at the start of January and has a choice of festival entries in the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Day One or the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle on the final day.

“JP (McManus) has a lot of horses to sort out so I would imagine it would be the weekend before a decision is made. But he’s definitely going to go and he’s well,” said Bolger who will always be synonymous with the cross-country field.

Spotthedifference (2005), Heads Onthe Ground (2007) and Garde Champetre (2008-09) copper-fastened that reputation even further at Cheltenham but Bolger admits it is the current title-holder, Big Shu, who will set the standard next Wednesday.

“He’s won last year, he’s won the La Touche, and I would imagine he’s been trained for Cheltenham and will improve again. We’ve got Love Rory who’s in good form and Quantitiveeasing who’s having his first cross-country race. Star Neuville is number five on the ballot so it’s in the lap of the Gods if he’ll get in, and there’s Quiscover Fontaine as well,” he said.

Cheltenham stalwart
JP McManus’s festival team will be without a Cheltenham stalwart this time though as Alderwood, as low as 8/1 in some ante-post betting lists for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, won’t get the chance to score a third festival success in a row next week. The winner of the 2012 County Hurdle and last year’s Grand Annual has failed to recover from an injury in time to go back to Prestbury Park and trainer Tom Mullins will instead hope to get him back for Fairyhouse.

“It’s a pity for everyone but he seems to be on the mend and if he’s ready in time we could think about Fairyhouse and Punchestown,” Mullins said yesterday.