Michael O’Sullivan bids to continue big-race winning streak in Cheltenham feature

Programme has to pass 7.30 inspection with freezing overnight temperatures forecast

Jockey Michael O’Sullivan scooped the first Grade One of his career last weekend and has a shot at significant Cheltenham success when teaming up with Sole Pretender in Saturday’s big handicap prize.

The rising star of the Irish jockey’s room was unable to use his 5lb claim on Marine Nationale in Sunday’s Royal Bond at Fairyhouse’s Winter Festival but it looks a major plus for Sole Pretender’s chances.

The Norman Lee-trained runner is the single Irish hope lining up for the AIS December Gold Cup, a race won in 2020 by Chatham Street Lad for Mick Winters.

That shot, however, depends on Cheltenham passing a 7.30 morning inspection with temperatures forecast to again dip overnight to as low as minus four.


A Herculean effort saw racing go ahead at Cheltenham on Friday where O’Sullivan had a spin in the last on Brazos, even as work continued preparing the track for the following day.

“The covers will go down straight after racing, in fact we’ll actually start the process in the two-and-a-half mile chute during racing as we don’t race on that chute after the fourth race,” clerk of the course Jon Pullin explained.

“The forecast is for another minus three/minus four frost tonight and again temperatures are slow to rise on Saturday morning,” he added.

Doncaster will hold a 9.30 inspection ahead of its card and the fluid weather outlook means Joseph O’Brien has kept his options open by entering his juvenile Nusret for races at both Doncaster and Cheltenham.

Given a green light, O’Sullivan’s rapid progress through the ranks could get a singular boost around steeplechasing’s spiritual home.

The 22-year-old, a graduate in agricultural science from University College Dublin, cut his teeth on the point-to-point circuit and only joined the professional ranks after completing his degree.

Marine Nationale’s last-gasp victory indicated an ice-cool temperament which could be apt given the prevailing conditions.

Sole Pretender, a Grade Three winner over flights and a stalwart of Lee’s Co Galway yard, has won twice over fences and has picked up vital course experience at Cheltenham having had his last two starts there.

Cheltenham’s other big race on Saturday is the five-runner Unibet International Hurdle which stars the 2020 Champion Hurdle winner Epatante.

She proved no match for her exceptional looking stable companion Constitution Hill in the Fighting Fifth but is the one to beat at her best against Knappers Hill and I Like To Move It.

Temperatures will be very different on the other side of the world on Sunday morning when Sha Tin hosts Hong Kong’s international carnival.

Irish hopes revolve around Aidan O’Brien’s three runners, with both Stone Age (Ryan Moore) and Broome (Yutaka Take) taking their chance in the €2.4 million Vase over a mile and a half due off at 6.10 Irish-time and live on Sky Sports Racing.

O’Brien and Moore have won the Vase on three occasions previously, twice with Highland Reel and in 2020 with Mogul.

The Japanese star Glory Vase was successful in the race both in 2019 and last year when too good for Pyledriver.

O’Brien’s 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Order Of Australia takes his chance in Hong Kong racing’s most coveted prize, the mile and a quarter Cup worth over €4 million, which is off at 8.40.

Golden Sixty, the top local horse, will bid for three in a row in the Mile contest off at 8.0, a race that also includes the ex-Ken Condon trained Group One winner Laws Of Indices. There are a trio of Japanese hopefuls in the race.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column