El Fabiolo is latest Mullins ‘A-Lister’ to return to action in Cork’s Hilly Way renewal

Sandown’s Tingle Creek programme depends on track passing 7.30am inspection

El Fabiolo is the latest Willie Mullins “A-Lister” to return to action when the Champion Chase favourite lines up at Cork on Sunday.

Last season’s outstanding novice is a standout for the €100,000 Bar One Hilly Way Chase although mixed recent fortunes for some of his top-notch stable companions might prompt some uncertainty.

Whereas one of Mullins’s main Champion Hurdle hopes, State Man, successfully started the season at very short odds in the Morgiana, another, Impaire Et Passe, lost his unbeaten record in last weekend’s Hatton’s Grace when noticeably weak in the betting market.

Market moves were hardly encouraging either before Galopin Des Champs failed to fire in the Durkan a fortnight ago.


That, however, was a competitive Grade One whereas it’s hard to make an argument for any of El Fabiolo’s handful of opponents shaking him up if he’s anywhere near his best.

The Hilly Way is due off at 2.15 on Sunday and is live on RTÉ television.

Before that, El Fabiolo’s main rival for the two-mile crown in March, Jonbon, is set to have a second start of the campaign in Sandown’s Grade One Betfair Tingle Creek Chase on Saturday.

It is dependent though on Sandown passing a 7.30am inspection due to forecast significant overnight rainfall.

It all makes for a stressful prospect for Jonbon’s trainer Nicky Henderson who is wrestling, in particular, with the dilemma of bringing the outstanding Champion Hurdle winner Constitution Hill back to action at Sandown.

Freezing conditions meant last weekend’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle had to be transferred from Newcastle and now there’s the prospect of a bog — even if Sandown gets a green light.

Stirred into the Henderson pot is how the enigmatic Shishkin, who refused to race at Ascot, will fare in the Fighting Fifth ahead of a proposed tilt at the King George over Christmas.

“My gut feeling is we will be okay,” predicted Sandown’s clerk of the course, Andrew Cooper, on Friday. Quite what the state of Henderson’s insides will be before the weekend is finished is debatable. He admitted on Friday to being “very concerned” about Constitution Hill lining up.

In contrast, cross-channel weather conditions don’t appear to have impinged on Liverpool as Saturday’s Becher Chase over the famous Aintree National fences should prove quite the spectacle.

Gordon Elliott’s National record is superb, but no Irish trained horse has won the Becher since Vic Venturi scored in 2009. Elliott saddles top-weight Coko Beach who has Danny Gilligan’s valuable 5lb claim to ease the burden.

Gigginstown Stud spokesman Eddie O’Leary pointed to Coko Beach’s eighth in the 2022 National, and the Becher Chase’s shorter trip, as plusses for last month’s Troytown winner.

“He’s going for the Becher because he will enjoy the fences. He’s run in the National the last twice and he just hasn’t quite got home,” O’Leary said.

“There is no point in him running in something like the Savills Chase [at Leopardstown] because he’d get lapped.

“He’s a lovely horse, he’s only eight [and] he was second in a Fred Winter as a juvenile. But, unfortunately, he’s got no chance competing against those good horses and his mark now is very tough in handicaps,” he added.

Co Antrim-based Stuart Crawford will be represented by Now Where Or When and Dorking Cock who will have JJ Slevin the saddle.

Sunday’s Huntingdon fixture features the Grade Two Peterborough Chase which could have a breakthrough Irish success.

Willie Mullins is sending Janidil for the prestigious contest and Jody McGarvey will ride in the JP McManus silks. McGarvey was also on board when the same connections scored with I Am Maximus in last weekend’s Drinmore at Fairyhouse.

McGarvey has a couple of spins at Navan on Saturday where Grade One winning French rider Baptiste Le Clerc is in action for Gordon Elliott in the €100,000 Listed Bective Stud Handicap Hurdle.

Le Clerc teams up with the Cheltenham festival winner Jazzy Matty having joined Elliott for both this month and January.

“I myself took the steps to go abroad, knowing that I would not have much activity in France during the winter,” he told Paris Turf. “The objective for me is to discover another training method and to be able to adapt to the specificities of the country.”

Keith Donoghue has come in for the ride on another of Elliott’s six chances, Maxxum, and the prospect of three miles on testing conditions shouldn’t be an issue for a horse switching back from fences.

Elliott has a pair of hopefuls in the Grade Two novice hurdle and Jack Kennedy’s decision to opt for Stellar Story could prove significant.

Slade Steel is an obvious threat. His maiden defeat of King Of Kingsfield at Naas last month reads impressively on the back of the latter’s Royal Bond effort last weekend although Elliott should know exactly where he stands with that one.

Elliott and champion amateur Patrick Mullins make an eye-catching combination in the bumper for My Trump Card. The €230,000 purchase, a brother to the smart Airlie Beach, was only narrowly beaten on his last start.

Sunday’s Cork action also includes a debut over fences for the Grade One-winning filly Zenta.

The four-year-old goes straight over the bigger obstacles on the back of her top-flight victory at Aintree last Spring, as well as straight into a Grade Two. The weight for age allowance from four rivals could end up proving decisive.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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