National Hunt season in County Meath was offically launched today ahead of some exciting dates in the Irish National Hunt calendar.
This weekend at Navan the Grade 2 thetote.com Fortria Chase will take centre stage, while on the 25th November, Navan will host the prestigious Ladbrokes Troytown Chase ahead of Fairyhouse’s Bar One Winter Racing Festival on the 1st/2nd December.
A panel of top trainers and jockeys based in Meath featured Gordon Elliott, Noel Meade, Barry Geraghty, Sean Flanagan and Brían Kane looked ahead to a terrific feast of jump racing in the county over the coming weeks.
Apple’s Jade, who will be chasing a hat-trick of victories in the Grade 1 BarOneRacing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, was among a host of star names unveiled amongst the entries for the trio of upcoming Grade 1’s at Fairyhouse.
Local trainer Gordon Elliott has enjoyed tremendous success at his local tracks in recent years and he has high hopes of a big few days within the next month. The trainer's team for two of the showpiece days in the National Hunt calendar at Fairyhouse is headed by the extremely talented Apple’s Jade who is on course to start off in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan this weekend before looking to join Limestone Lad and Solerina as the only horses to have won three renewals of the Hatton’s Grace.
“The Winter Festival has been very lucky for us in the past and we were fortunate enough to win the three Grade 1s last year which was a day we’ll never forget. It will be a big ask to do as well this year but we’ll give it a go and I’d hope that we have some nice horses for each of the big races,” said Elliott.
WATCH: The launch of the NH Season in Meath took place at Fairyhouse on Wednesday 7th November
Peter Killeen, Navan Racecourse Manager and Peter Roe, Racecourse Manager
“The plan is for Apple’s Jade to head for the Hatton’s Grace and I’m very happy with her. She’s come back from the summer in great shape and she’s been going well at home and we’re looking forward to getting her started in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on Sunday.
“She does tend to improve a good bit from her first run of the season and our horses are needing their comeback runs this year so whatever she does on Sunday I know there will be more to come from her.
"Obviously we've got Samcro in there as well but the plan is for him to head for Morgiana next weekend and then we'll see where we go after that," he added.
Willie Mullins has made typically strong entries for the Hattons Grace Hurdle with Faugheen appearing in the 2m4f contest alongside exciting mares Benie Des Dieux and Laurina.
In the BarOneRacing.com Drinmore Novices Chase Elliott has ten hopefuls headed by the Cheltenham Festival winners Delta Work and Blow By Blow, both of whom recently made a winning start over fences.
“I was delighted with both of them. Blow By Blow did it well at Galway and you’d have to be thinking in terms of the Drinmore for him and Delta Work. I thought Delta Work did it nicely the other day and he’ll come forward a good bit for the run and also the experience,” reported Elliott.
Curragh-based trainer Aidan Howard may seek a first ever success in Grade 1 company as he has included two-time winner Winter Escape in the Drinmore Novice Chase for owner JP McManus.
Last year Gordon Elliott broke the Willie Mullins stranglehold on the BarOneRacing.com Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and both trainers are once again well represented. This weekend’s Grade 3 For Auction Novice Hurdle could play a part in determining Elliott’s plans for the race.
“At the moment Felix Desjy would look a likely candidate for the race but he’s got to come through Navan at the weekend, it’s the intention to run him in the For Auction. He was a very good bumper horse last season but was just a shade too keen so I was delighted to see him settle as he did when he won on his hurdling debut at Galway last month. Sunday will tell us more but I’m hoping to see him progress into a high class novice hurdle,” commented the trainer.
Willie Mullins has included the highly touted Annamix among his 16 entries for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle alongside Cheltenham's Champion Bumper heroine Relegate, while jockey Sean Flanagan spoke of his excitement if recent Down Royal maiden hurdle winner Brace Yourself was to line up in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
“Noel Meade has a stack of horses ready to go but we are just waiting for the ground to change,” Flanagan said. “Brace Yourself looks like he is probably a very good horse going forward and when he steps up in trip he could be very exciting.”
Looking towards this Sunday at Navan and Barry Geraghty was excited by the prospect of being reunited with the Enda Bolger-trained Ballyoisin in the Fortria Chase.
“It is an exciting time of year and there is a common theme with everyone just waiting for a bit of rain to fall. If Ballyoisin lines up I’d be very happy to be with him in the Fortria. He still needs to step, especially if Footpad was to run, but he is a horse going the right way,” Geraghty said.
Ahead of the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase at Navan later this month Gordon Elliott, who ran 11 in the race last year added; “Troytown day is always a big one for us and the race itself is one that we always like to target. I’d hope that we have some decent chances this year and it’s a likely target for Out Sam who was good when winning the Cork Grand National on Sunday. We bought him in the hope that he could develop into a good handicap chaser and he looked the part last weekend.
“It could also be a race that we will start off General Principle for the season. He’ll be aimed at all those goo staying handicaps and this looks an obvious race to go for. We’ve entered 15 in the race and if all 15 get in I’d want to run all of them.”
Peter Roe, Manager of Fairyhouse said: “We are delighted today to launch the 2018/2019 Meath National Hunt season. Last season saw many of the stars of the jumping scene run at these tracks including Sizing John, Footpad and Apples Jade to name just a few. This season promises to be another fantastic jumps season at both tracks. We are particularly delighted with the quality of entries for the Bar One Winter Festival at Fairyhouse on Saturday 1st & Sunday 2nd December 2018, a highlight in the pre-Christmas racing calendar building up to the highlight of the National Hunt Season, the BoyleSports Irish Grand National.”
Peter Killeen Manager of Navan Racecourse said: “The Meath Racing Launch has become an annual event and it really helps highlight the quality of the National Hunt Fare on display at Navan and Fairyhouse over the winter. We are really excited at Navan as we approach our busiest period of the year with our Thetote.Com Fortria Chase Day next Sunday closely followed by our biggest day of the year being The Ladbrokes Troytown Chase day on 25th of November. We finish the year with the two December fixtures which include two graded races on each of the days with our last race of the being the Listed Winners Bumper. The fixtures always attract the best of our trainers and horses and are sure to whet the appetite of all National Hunt racing fans.”