A changing of the seasons as Minella Indo lines up at Wexford

This week will see a number of Gold Cup contenders make their seasonal bows

Minella Indo is set to line up at Wexford on Bank Holiday Monday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

The rug will be taken off the first major Cheltenham Gold Cup contender to emerge this season when Minella Indo lines up at Wexford on Bank Holiday Monday.

Henry De Bromhead's star is a general 14-1 shot to dethrone Al Boum Photo in jump racing's 'Blue Riband' in March.

He will have just his fourth start over fences when he takes on a trio of opponents in the Grade 3 MW Hickey Memorial Chase.

Later this week Gordon Elliott aims to return other Gold Cup hopefuls Delta Work and Presenting Percy to action in the first Grade 1 of the new campaign, Down Royal's Ladbrokes Chase.


Although the defending champion Al Boum Photo is likely to follow his tried and trusted method of not being seen in action until New Years Day at Tramore, Minella Indo's appearance indicates how the jump season is cranking into gear with a vengeance.

The 2019 Albert Bartlett winner was 'mugged' by Champ's spectacular late rally in the RSA last March and considering his inexperience on that occasion looks a genuine prospect for Gold Cup glory.

Rachael Blackmore's mount has 6lbs in hand of the Kim Muir winner Milan Native on official figures but the latter has the benefit of a winning reappearance at Galway under his belt.

Cheltenham’s return to weekend action, including Frodon’s impressive weight-carrying performance on Saturday, underlined a sense of the changing of the seasons which will continue at Down Royal’s two-day festival starting on Friday.

The hugely exciting Envoi Allen is expected to make his novice chase debut while Samcro is also likely to return to action.

A current list of 18 entries for Saturday’s Grade 1 feature will be whittled down at Tuesday’s declaration stage including the removal of the sole cross-channel hopeful, Cyrname.

Presenting Percy is now trained by Gordon Elliott. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The unique circumstances provoked by the coronavirus pandemic means Paul Nicholls has decided instead to switch his star chaser to Wetherby on the same day instead.

"The horse could go to Northern Ireland but we couldn't send any staff over there, (so) we decided to re-route to Wetherby," the English trainer reported.

Gordon Elliott currently has 10 of the 18 hopefuls in the big race but has already indicated Delta Work will lead his attempt to gain a fourth victory in the €125,000 highlight.

Elliott's three previous winners are part of a remarkable run of success for Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud with the Ryanair boss winning it for the last seven years in a row.

Delta Work could finish only fourth to Road To Respect at Down Royal a year ago but progressed from that to subsequently land both the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

He was fifth to Al Boum Photo at Cheltenham, a race in which his new stable companion, Presenting Percy, exited in at the second last.

Minella Indo’s stable companion Chris’s Dream was 10th in that Gold Cup and may also take his place in Saturday’s big race.

A successful Group One weekend for Irish trainers on the flat failed to get a perfect outcome on Sunday when Tony Mullins's star mare Princess Zoe could finish only fourth in the Prix Royal-Oak at Longchamp.

The popular grey was in trouble from some way out as the Mark Johnston trained Subjectivist made all the running under Co Wicklow born jockey Joe Fanning.

On Saturday Jim Bolger's Mac Swiney put himself into the classic frame for 2021 with victory in Doncaster's Vertem Futurity.

Aidan O'Brien had earlier secured a fifth success in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud as Van Gogh ran out an impressive winner under top French rider Pierre-Charles Boudot.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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