The star novice Bob Olinger is being treated for a muscle problem that trainer Henry de Bromhead believes can explain his disappointing display at the Cheltenham festival.
Mixed emotions greeted Bob Olinger’s performance in the Turners Novice Chase as it was a victory secured on the back of a dramatic final-fence fall by his rival, Galopin Des Champs.
Billed as the festival’s most eagerly anticipated head-to-head, the effective match between Ireland’s top two novice chasers failed to live up to expectations. Bob Olinger, who’d made a mistake at the fourth last fence, was struggling before the straight and had no chance with Galopin Des Champs in the closing stages, only for the latter to throw away victory with his spill at the last.
Even then Bob Olinger appeared to labour up the hill to eventually secure a second festival victory after his brilliant success in the Ballymore Novice Hurdle a year previously.
The De Bromhead team immediately announced they would carry out checks on the horse whose jockey, Rachael Blackmore, insisted remains a Gold Cup prospect in her eyes.
“He’d torn a muscle in his near hind quarter so we’re just dealing with that. He’s getting physio at the moment,” De Bromhead said on Tuesday. The Co Waterford trainer said he thinks the issue explains Bob Olinger’s lacklustre performance at Cheltenham and he hasn’t given up hope of the horse reappearing this season.
"He's not definitely out for the season. Obviously we want him back 100 per cent, so we'll just see. That [Fairyhouse Gold Cup Novice Chase on April 17th] will come too soon. If anything, it will be the three-mile at Punchestown, " he added.
That Dooley Insurance Group Novice Chase on the opening day of Punchestown has also been nominated by Willie Mullins as a likely target for Galopin Des Champs. It leaves open the chance of a meaningful head-to-head between the two stars still taking place this season.
De Bromhead enjoyed another memorable Cheltenham festival, with A Plus Tard’s stunning Gold Cup victory putting a seal on a week that began with Honeysuckle successfully defending her Champion Hurdle crown.
She is on course for a possible clash with the highly rated English novice Constitution Hill at Punchestown but De Bromhead confirmed on Tuesday that A Plus Tard is finished for the campaign and won’t travel to Liverpool for the Betway Bowl.
Instead, his Aintree focus is on trying to repeat last year’s Randox Grand National success on Saturday week. Minella Times led home his stable companion Balko Des Flos for a famous De Bromhead one-two last season which completed a “Grand Slam” of jump racing’s biggest prizes for the trainer.
De Bromhead plans to be triple-handed at Aintree this time with Minella Times joined by Court Maid and Poker Party. However, Chris’s Dream, who unseated his rider four out a year ago, will miss the race. “Chris’s Dream had a setback so won’t go,” De Bromhead said.
He also could be double-handed in the Boylesports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday through Plan Of Attack and Full Time Score.
Before that, the trainer's attention may switch to the Flat this weekend with a couple of potential Classic prospects at Leopardstown.
Vina Sena, an impressive Dundalk maiden winner in December, is one of a dozen entries left in Saturday’s PW McGrath Ballysax Stakes. The Group Three contest has a luminous pedigree in terms of identifying Classic talent, including the 2016 winner Harzand , who went on to Derby glory at both Epsom and the Curragh.
Last year's winner Bolshoi Ballet was an 11th win in the race for Aidan O'Brien, who has left in three colts this time, including Bluegrass, who failed to strike at Newmarket last season.
“He was just a bit green at Newmarket. It took a while for the penny to drop. He has a lazy way of going. He didn’t run too bad in the Zetland after never travelling. Newmarket can be like that if you don’t know your job,” O’Brien said.
Ger Lyons could be represented in the Ballysax by the unbeaten Atomic Jones while Duke De Sessa is a possible for Dermot Weld. De Bromhead, whose list of accomplishments on the level included last year's Henry II Stakes with Lismore, could also take on the big guns of the Flat with Star Girls Aalmal in the Group Three Ballylinch 1,000 Guineas Trial.
The Elzaam filly, another Dundalk maiden winner, is one of 17 left in that race after Tuesday’s confirmation stage.
Separately, one major cross-channel prize that has remained stubbornly elusive to Irish stables is the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr. Huntsman in 1869 was the last horse trained here to win, but a number of horses remain in contention to change that statistic on Saturday.
The Pat Fahy-trained pair Stormy Judge and History Of Fashion are prominent in betting with the sponsors, while Emmet Mullins has also left in Rightplacerightime. Hewick tops the weights for the marathon handicap.
Britain’s champion jumps jockey elect Brian Hughes has been snapped up for Innisfree Lad in the Scottish National. “The weights went up 10lbs at the five-day stage so he’s got 10st 11lbs, now which brings him into the handicap nicely,” said Innisfree Lad’s trainer David Dennis. “His third in the Eider puts him hopefully bang in there with a good each-way chance.”