Unbeaten Kitten Rock poised to mount bid for Champion Hurdle

JP McManus’s ‘second-string’ to line up with holder Jezki for Tuesday’s highlight

Jezki proved in 2014 the potent Champion Hurdle threat a JP McManus 'second-string' can be and Kitten Rock is set to fill that role at Cheltenham next week.

McManus’s team are busy formulating likely festival running plans but the hugely progressive Kitten Rock looks likely to join the Champion Hurdle title holder Jezki in Tuesday’s Day One highlight.

Unbeaten in four starts this season, with a Grade Two Red Mills Trial success at Gowran last month his latest step up the ladder, the Edward O’Grady -trained star will be another potent string to the McManus championship bow.

"Edward is keen to run him and there isn't too much for him at home until Fairyhouse and Punchestown. Handicaps are definitely out anyway so he is likely to go," McManus's racing manager, Frank Berry, confirmed. "Everyone's very happy with Jezki at the moment too."


Last year My Tent Or Yours carried the McManus first colours in the Champion Hurdle but just failed to Jezki in a memorable finish which secured the owner a record fifth win in the race after Binocular in 2010 and Istabraq’s hat-trick (1998-2000.)

The centrepiece

Kitten Rock is currently a general 25-1 shot for the Champion, the centrepiece of a festival opening day that starts with the Supreme Novices Hurdle in which McManus will be represented by both Alvisio Ville and the Harry Fry-trained Jollyallen.

Alvisio Ville carried a big reputation into last month’s Deloitte at Leopardstown but faded to third behind Nicholls Canyon after appearing to race keenly in the early stages.

The ex-French grey has a number of festival entries but Berry said: “We’re looking at the first race on the first day with Alvisio Ville. Everyone says he was keen the last day but the horse in front (Nicholls Canyon) looked keen too and our horse just didn’t finish out his race for whatever reason.”

With all eyes on Tony McCoy's during what will be his final festival, other championship contenders in McManus's colours next week include Mr Mole in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Uxizandre in the Ryanair, At Fishers Cross in the World Hurdle and Carlingford Lough in the Gold Cup.

Cheltenham’s clerk of the course Simon Claisse is speculating on the possibility of having to water later next week in view of a mostly dry weather outlook, although Berry isn’t convinced the possibility of the ground quickening up will necessarily be a boost to Carlingford Lough’s Gold Cup hopes.

“As he’s got older he is coping with softer ground a lot better so I don’t think ground will be an issue with him, whatever it is,” he said. “Mr Mole goes in the Champion, Uxizandre in the Ryanair and At Fishers Cross has to come back and song and turn things around in the World Hurdle. They seem happy with him though so the plan is to run.”

Three runners

Some of the 100 McManus -owned entries, especially in handicaps, are double and even trebly entered runners.

“We could have two or even three runners in most of the handicap chases but the handicap hurdles aren’t as clear at the moment . . . ,” Berry added.

McManus's Cheltenham stalwart Alderwood has a cross-code choice next week between the Coral Cup over hurdles on Wednesday or the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate over fences on Day Three.

Alderwood famously landed the County Hurdle in 2012 before returning the following year to win the Grand Annual and complete the best ever Irish tally of winners at Cheltenham with 14.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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