Edwulf to make welcome return to action at Leopardstown

Joseph O’Brien says his runner likely to line up in €150,000 Christmas Chase

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are readying powerful teams for the upcoming Christmas action but it is their closest rival, Joseph O'Brien, who could supply one of next week's most heart-warming stories with Edwulf.

The JP McManus runner was a centre of concern at Cheltenham last March after he collapsed following the final fence in the four-mile JT McNamara National Hunt Chase won by Tiger Roll.

He looked to go badly wrong after the obstacle and was pulled up by Derek O’Connor before he collapsed, leaving many to fear the worst.

However Edwulf was eventually moved off the track – after it was established he had suffered oxygen deficit which resulted in him losing co-ordination – and made a full recovery at a nearby equine hospital before later returning to Ireland.


A remarkable return to action is now on the horizon. O’Brien said on Tuesday Edwulf is unlikely to take up an entry at Ascot on Saturday and will instead wait for next week’s €150,000 Leopardstown Christmas Chase, formerly known as the Lexus.

That means a likely clash with Yorkhill and possibly ‘Horse of the Year’ Sizing John and Edwulf’s return to racing will be a welcome sight for many.

“Nothing like what happened at Cheltenham has happened to him again. He’s had a couple of good bits of work recently and taken it very well. If anything he looks better than he ever was. We wouldn’t run him otherwise,” said O’Brien.

Rekindling’s dramatic Melbourne Cup success last month has been the highlight to date of the 24-year-old former champion jockey’s meteoric rise to the top rank of trainers.

The three-year-old colt is still enjoying a break in Australia – “having the sort of holiday I can only dream of!” according to his trainer – before returning to O’Brien next month and being prepared for the Ascot Gold Cup.

However O’Brien has enjoyed major success over jumps as well in 2017 and is the only one bar Mullins and Elliott to have secured over €1 million in prizemoney so far this season.

Forfeit stage

The Piltown-based trainer is preparing his own Christmas team for next week but like everyone he accepts he can’t match his two senior rivals in terms of strength in depth.

“We’ll be busy but not overly so. Most of ours are four year olds so we’ll have some nice horses for bumpers and maiden hurdles,” O’Brien said.

“Early Doors and Le Richebourg are in the Future Champions [Wednesday] and they’re also in the Grade One at Naas [Lawlors Hotel Hurdle in January]. Speak Easy is there too. He might go to Naas but we’ll see how they divide up,” he added.

A total of 14 entries remain for the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle on day two of Leopardstown after Tuesday's latest forfeit stage.

They include Elliott's odds-on ante-post favourite Mengli Khan as well as half a dozen Mullins-trained possibles.

The Mullins hope, Min, tops ten entries for the Rewards Club Chase on the same card while the St Stephen’s Day Grade One feature, the Racing Post Novice Chase, has just eight left in it with Footpad a heavy odds-on favourite already.

The €200,000 Paddy Power Chase is the richest prize on the Christmas programme and the sponsors maintain the Mullins-trained Polidam is the one to beat having initially installed him a 5-1 favourite.

Elliott landed last year’s Paddy Power with Noble Endeavor and has a dozen left in the race this time while three of the 48 entries are trained by Joseph O’Brien.

The sponsors reckon O’Brien’s new French recruit, Vieux Morvan, deserves to be a 14-1 shot although significantly the trainer himself doesn’t seem to be so sure .

“He’s a grand horse but I’m not sure how his French handicap mark translates to here. I suppose we’ll find out. I’m not even sure he’ll get into the race so that sort of price is a bit silly. If he doesn’t get in he’ll run in the Pertemps Hurdle instead,” O’Brien said.

The young trainer saddled a pair of winners during last year’s Christmas action which was otherwise mostly dominated by Mullins and Elliott. Mullins had a remarkable 22 winners during the four days of Leopardstown and Limerick including five victories on Day Two of Leopardstown alone.

The champion trainer has nine St Stephen’s Day entries for the Dublin course next week and 14 at Limerick where the feature will be the Grade Two McMahon Builders Novice Chase.

Elliott has indicated that will be Death Duty’s preferred target instead of taking on Footpad at Leopardstown and overall the season’s leading trainer has 85 entries in Ireland for St Stephen’s Day alone. They include 35 for the Down Royal fixture. Final declarations for St Stephen’s Day will be made on Saturday.

With a dry forecast, ground conditions are expected to improve ahead of Christmas. The going at Leopardstown is currently “yielding.” It is “soft” in Down Royal and “heavy” in Limerick.