Great Field could bid for Queen Mother Champion Chase for McManus
Defi Du Seuil on track for Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown
Great Field: the Willie Mullins-trained Grade One winner remains as short as 7-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The JP McManus team concede it is a “big ask” but they aren’t ruling out Great Field’s chances of making it to Cheltenham in March and an attempt to fill in a rare festival blank for the legendary owner in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.
McManus has seen his famous colours first past the post in practically every festival race over the years and all the major championship events bar the two-mile crown.
Great Field made a major impression during his novice campaign, winning his four starts over fences by an aggregate of almost 60 lengths, although he hasn’t been seen in action this season.
However with uncertainty over many of the leading Champion Chase players like Douvan and Yorkhill, and with the short-priced favourite, Altior, also still to run this term, the Willie Mullins-trained Grade One winner remains as short as 7-1 for the big race with Powers.
Great Field’s flamboyant front-running style captured a lot of attention as a novice in a campaign that culminated in an impressive top-flight success at the Punchestown festival.
“He had a setback but is coming along nicely and going the right way. We’re a little bit short of time but we’re getting there,” said McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry on Monday. “It’s a big ask to come back that quick. But he’s there in the race and we’ll see.”
Time has certainly run out for Great Field in terms of the upcoming ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ for which McManus boasts half a dozen victories in the Day One feature, the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle.
Istabraq famously won four-in-a-row in the race between 1998 and 2001 while Foreman was McManus’s last winner in 2004.
His latest hurdling superstar Buveur D’air is still an entry in the Leopardstown race but Berry confirmed it is last season’s Triumph Hurdle hero Defi Du Seuil who will fly the McManus flag in the €150,000 highlight in less than a fortnight.
“Buveur D’air goes to Sandown. He’s in at Leopardstown just in case something happens with the weather. If everything goes to plan Defi Du Seuil is the one for the Irish Champion. As long as his work is good he goes there,” he said.
Defi Du Seuil captured all before him during a spectacular juvenile career, winning all seven of his starts, including following up an impressive Triumph victory with success at Aintree.
He started odds-on for his comeback appearance in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November but the Philip Hobbs runner flopped in fourth behind Lil Rockfeller.
Defi Du Seuil is 14-1 in some lists for the Irish Champion Hurdle which is another race with an unclear outlook given the uncertainty over the hot favourite Faugheen after his shock Christmas defeat at Leopardstown.
“Philip’s horses were going through a bad run then and the horse performed badly [at Ascot]. It wasn’t like the horse to run like that. But Philip’s horses are back on track. He’s having a few winners again and hopefully that’s behind him,” Berry said.
The €200,000 Unibet Irish Gold Cup will be the Grade One climax of Leopardstown’s new two-day festival and McManus is set to be triple-handed in the race.
Coney Island remains an entry in the three mile event. But Berry has indicated the Grade One-winning novice is likely to wait a week and run instead in the Ascot Chase over two miles and five furlongs. Then a decision on his potential Cheltenham festival target will be made.
“At the moment Anibale Fly, Minella Rocco and Edwulf will run at Leopardstown and while there’s nothing written in stone Coney Island is likely to go to Ascot,” Berry said.
Anibale Fly is as low as 7-1 for the Leopardstown contest after his impressive Paddy Power Chase victory over the course and distance at Christmas.
Anibale Fly has been raised 11lbs by the handicapper for that success and Berry said: “He’s in with the big boys now and has to take his chance. He’s had a few hiccups in his career and was in no-man’s land there for a while. But he bounced back at Leopardstown, put up a good performance. We hope he can build on that.
“We had to be pleased with Minella Rocco’s last run [fourth in the Leopardstown Chase]. He jumped and stayed on well. You can’t get too excited about it. But it was his best run of the year.”
Minella Rocco made the frame in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup but it is the relatively unexposed Coney Island who is as low as 8-1 in some lists for ‘Blue Riband’ glory this time. The horse is also prominent in ante-post lists for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
“All options are open to him if he does well at Ascot,” Berry declared. “He is playing catch-up a little bit so we have to play it by ear and see how he performs at Ascot.”