Fakir D’oudairies bids to end long barren run for Irish runners in Ascot Cup

Joseph O’Brien-trained star the sole Irish challenger for final Grade One before Cheltenham

The final Grade One race before Cheltenham could see Fakir D'oudairies signal what's to come at the festival.

The Joseph O'Brien-trained star is one of eight hopefuls left in Saturday's Betfair Ascot Chase after the latest acceptance stage. No Irish-trained horse has won the contest since Edward O'Grady's Sound Man in 1996.

But should Fakir D’oudairies bridge that long gap it will strike a tone ahead of the most important week of the jump racing year.

Irish raiders delivered a historic 23-5 drubbing to the home team at the 2021 Cheltenham festival and one spread betting firm is 7-4 about the visitors racking up between 22 and 25 winners this time.

Sky Bet is only 16-1 about Irish-based runners going even better and striking on more than 25 occasions.

The odds-on Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite Shishkin looks like being the bulwark of the home defence in preventing any such potential 'green-wash'.

In terms of cross-channel morale then, this weekend’s Grade One feature looks like being significant in the face of a single Irish challenger.

Last year's winner Dashel Drasher will try to become just the second horse to score back-to-back in the Ascot Chase while the market is headed by Saint Calvados from Paul Nicholls's yard.

Saint Calvados finished third to Tornado Flyer in the King George on his first start for Nicholls during Christmas and the trainer made no secret of how he felt jockey Gavin Sheehan had made his move too early in the race.

He drops back to an extended 2½ miles for Saturday's contest in which Mister Fisher, pulled up in the King George but subsequently a Grade Two winner over Eldorado Allen, lines up for Nicky Henderson.

Bookmakers generally rate Fakir D’oudairies a 9-2 shot to continue the red-hot form being enjoyed by owner JP McManus.

He and No. 1 jockey Mark Walsh combined for half a dozen weekend winners spread evenly between Naas on Saturday and Punchestown a day later.

Fakir D’oudairies is a dual-Grade One winner including in last season’s Melling Chase at Aintree.

He chased home Allaho at Thurles last month and was fourth to his old rival in the Durkan at Punchestown prior to that.

“He was well beaten by Allaho last time but I thought it was a good run. He made a bad mistake early and still ran home very well. He had a very good run before that at Punchestown in a very strong race and hopefully he can be competitive again.

“Fakir D’oudairies is a Grade One winner and when you are meeting those Grade One horses you bump into the best of the best every time. He has been a fantastic servant for us over the last few years and every year has performed at the top level.

Top horses

“I suppose he is at a rating where he is just below the real top horses, but he is still a top horse in his own right and a young horse as well.

“It would be fantastic to give JP his first win in this race. It is great to be taking part and have a horse of this calibre that means we can go to a race like this with a live chance,” Joseph O’Brien said on Monday.

Mark Walsh is set to again team up with the McManus runner and the rider could hardly be in better form. His brace of weekend hat-tricks came from nine rides while he can boast a 28 per cent strike overall during the last three weeks.

The Ascot going is good to soft at present which shouldn’t be a problem to Fakir D’oudairies.

"I think it is fair to say that he is pretty versatile regarding ground. He doesn't want it too good but other than that he is pretty versatile. It was quite heavy in Clonmel [where he won in November] whereas it was better ground at Aintree last season," O'Brien said.

“I think we would be game to give three miles another rattle at some stage but this race looks suitable because we know he is well able to perform at this distance,” he added.

Separately, the McManus team is searching for a suitable festival warm-up for its highly regarded French recruit Prengarde.

The six year old tops the betting for Cheltenham's Cross-Country but trainer Enda Bolger is eager to give him a run before that.

Asked if Prengarde could go straight to Cheltenham, and a likely clash with Tiger Roll, Bolger replied: "No definitely not, he'd get too tired.

"He was only five when he had everything done in France, we don't have to teach him to jump or anything as he's very professional about that.

“We’ll see what’s going to happen in the next ten days or so.”

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