Star mare Golden Ace returns to the scene of her finest hour attempting to remain unbeaten over hurdles in Cheltenham’s Changing Young Lives At Jamie’s Farm Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Jeremy Scott’s six-year-old hinted at her potential when second to Dysart Enos in a Grade Two Aintree bumper at the end of last season and since switching to hurdles has been flawless, giving her handler a maiden success at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

The form of that triumph was franked by the bloodless success of Gordon Elliott’s Brighterdaysahead at Aintree, with Golden Ace missing her own intended engagement on Merseyside due to a bruised foot.

However, she has recovered sufficiently for a step up in trip on her return to the Cotswolds and this Listed event looks the perfect spot for Golden Ace to finish the season on a real high.

Scott said: “I was very cross we weren’t able to run at Aintree but she seems absolutely fine now and we’ll go to Cheltenham and take our chance.

“On ratings she looks the best but who knows what the others have got up their sleeves.

“Gordon’s horse looked very impressive and that was up to two and a half miles and now we are as well. We will see how well, or not, we see the trip out. She won over two-miles-three and a bit at Taunton (earlier in the season), so I have every confidence she will get it, no problems at all.

“She’s a lovely mare and has been outstanding. We’re looking forward to another run, which will be good for experience and then we can hopefully put her away for next year.”

Dysart Enos may be missing from the line-up but Fergal O’Brien is still represented by Lilting Verse, while Henry Daly’s talented Wyenot, Dan Skelton’s Lightening Mahler and Ben Clarke’s consistent Ooh Betty are others arriving with good form to their name.

Meanwhile, it is Nicky Henderson who has won this race the last two years and with his Seven Barrows string back in form after a short spell in the doldrums, the Henry Ponsonby Racing team can look forward to Aston Martini’s outing in the Cotswolds with more optimism.

Aston Martini was last seen finishing fourth in graded action at Sandown and Liz Rutter, racing manager for the syndicate, said: “I think the ground at Sandown turned out to be far more testing than a lot of people were expecting, so she did well to finish fourth there.

“We are all delighted to see Nicky’s horses back on track and she’s in good form at home. But this is a hot race – the competition is very high – but there are not a lot of opportunities for these mares in novice company, so I think it is worth having a crack at.

“She’s not run at Cheltenham before but there is no reason why she won’t handle it and I think the ground will be lovely; it will be nice, beautiful ground. She’s a very good mover and she’s a very long-striding mare and I think she quite enjoys decent ground.

“She’s a lovely mare who we hope will keep improving, but this could be a tough ask.”

There is also Grade Two action on the card in the British EBF Mares’ Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase Final, where Mel Rowley’s Malaita looks to win on the card for the second year in a row.

A winner over hurdles at Prestbury Park’s April meeting 12 months ago, the eight-year-old has been a respectable performer since switching to fences this term and will be suited by drying conditions, having opened her account over the larger obstacles at Ludlow last month.

“She won at this meeting last year over hurdles and now needs to repeat the performance over the bigger obstacles,” said Rowley.

“She ran at Cheltenham earlier in the season and was running an absolute blinder before overjumping at the third last and she fell. It was just one of those where she was just jumping so enthusiastically, she forgot to put the landing gear out.

“We’ve put that to the back of our minds and since then she has gone out and won and is in really good form.

“She looks great and the ground won’t be a problem, as she would prefer a sounder surface anyway. We would be hopeful that would play to her strengths, rather than her weaknesses.”

Gordon Elliott again had to give best to the “thorn in his side” that is Willie Mullins, with Delta Work finding only I Am Maximus too good for Delta Work in the Randox Grand National at Aintree.

The two powerhouse trainers have long matched strides at the top of Irish racing, with Elliott having to settle for second in the Irish trainers’ championship on multiple occasions as well as on some of the biggest of British stages, including when Gerri Colombe chased home Galopin Des Champs in this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Elliott fielded seven in his bid for a fourth Grand National following Silver Birch (2007) and dual hero Tiger Roll (2018 and 2019), with particularly high hopes for Delta Work who was having a third crack at the race having finished third in 2022 and unseated his rider last year.

But as has been the story for much of the season, Mullins was a cut above the rest, with I Am Maximus coming home seven and a half lengths ahead of Delta Work, with fellow Elliott runner Galvin a further length back in fourth.

While disappointed to be denied, Elliott hailed the both the efforts of his runners and the “exceptional” winner.

He said: “It just didn’t happen for us. No one remembers second, I don’t anyway.

“Delta Work was awesome and Galvin is a warrior, I’m so proud of him and I’m so lucky with the horses I have.

“Delta Work was flying come here and I thought this was his year. He ran his race and just got beat by a better horse, that’s it.

“The winner is exceptional and Willie Mullins remains a thorn in my side.”

Jack Kennedy was aboard Delta Work and added: “He ran a cracker, delighted with him. He made a couple of mistakes but travelled well and ran a great race.”

It briefly looked as though Rachael Blackmore was going to add a second National to her historic first win aboard Minella Times three years ago when Minella Indo jumped the last in front, but she was overhauled on the run to the line, eventually coming home third aboard the 2021 Gold Cup winner.

She said: “It was a massive run, he’s some horse. He gave me a great ride around there and I felt for a split second we were going to do it, but then I blinked and I could see the green and gold (colours of owner JP McManus) flash by me in a shot.

“He was in against younger legs, but it was a brilliant run and congratulations to Paul Townend, JP and Willie.”

Minella Indo’s trainer Henry de Bromhead admitted he believed another famous success could be on the cards – but he was nevertheless thrilled in defeat, with future plans for the 11-year-old yet to be discussed.

De Bromhead said: “He’s a warrior, isn’t he? Just brilliant. I’m delighted with him.

“I thought we were going to win it there for a second, he travelled so well for Rachael, she was brilliant and they were both brilliant together.

“To get horses like him is incredible, we’ve had so much fun with him.

“We’ll see about next year, we’ll enjoy today and see – he obviously owes us nothing and all we want to do is look after him. But I tell you what, the way he jumped round there he looked like he loved every minute of it.”

De Bromhead also saddled Ain’t That A Shame to finish sixth for amateur rider and owner David Maxwell, who purchased the horse last month specifically to ride in the National.

He added: “David gave Ain’t That A Shame a super ride, he was brilliant on him the whole way. I’m delighted for him as he got such a thrill from it.”

Kitty’s Light fared best of the numerically limited British-trained challenge among the 32 starters, coming home a 10-and-quarter-length fifth for trainer Christian Williams and jockey Jack Tudor.

Williams said: “He travelled and jumped so well, I thought we were the winners all the way. I’m immensely proud of him and those were graded horses in front of him at the finish, including a Gold Cup winner.

“I’m unsure where he will go, because I really wanted him to win the National, but we will probably look at Sandown (for the bet365 Gold Cup).”

Last year’s National winner Corach Rambler got no further than the first fence this time, with Derek Fox unseated on landing after the Lucinda Russell-trained runner had cleared the obstacle.

The horse carried on running loose with the field and fell at the next fence but was reported to have returned unscathed.

Russell said: “It was obviously disappointing what happened, but I was more worried when I saw him come down at the second. Thankfully he’s fine, no problems and the owners are just delighted that he has come home safe and sound.”

Found A Fifty was the epitome of bravery in a pulsating finish to the My Pension Expert Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Gordon Elliott’s Arkle runner-up had seen the form of that race franked by Cheltenham Festival third Il Etait Temps on Thursday and with Quilixios and Nickle Back leading the field along at a strong pace, the seven-year-old’s stamina was assured to come into play in the closing stages.

Both Jack Kennedy aboard Found A Fifty and Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Master Chewy edged their way into contention and it soon became evident they would fight out the finish of this race, as Quilixios backed out of things after two out.

There was little to separate the pair at the last and it seemed Master Chewy was going to keep on to glory when edging his head in front up the run-in. But Found A Fifty (11-8 favourite) was not for lying down and rallied gamely to get back up after a titanic tussle in the shadow of the post.

Elliott said: “We’ve had a great season, we’ve been hitting the crossbar all week and what’s not winning is running very well.

“I’m thrilled to see this horse win and I’m delighted for Noel and Valerie (Moran, owners). It’s a huge day and he was tough. He’s a good horse.”

Brighterdaysahead proved appropriately named when a bloodless winner of the Turners Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Held in the highest regard by trainer Gordon Elliott, she headed into the Cheltenham Festival as one of the bankers of the week in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned five-year-old suffered a shock defeat at Prestbury Park when second to Golden Ace, but back up in trip and facing some quality opposition, the five-year-old confirmed she is a mare of the highest quality.

Settled in midfield by Jack Kennedy, Brighterdaysahead was always in the perfect position and having travelled menacingly into contention rounding the turn for home, she cruised effortlessly to the lead heading down to the last.

Kennedy could simply sit and savour the moment as the 6-5 favourite sauntered to a facile seven-and-a-half length success over stablemate Staffordshire Knott, who was giving Gigginstown a one-two in the Grade One event.

Sire Du Berlais bids to join the staying hurdling greats when he goes in search of a JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle hat-trick at Aintree.

Gordon Elliott’s evergreen 12-year-old was a shock 16-1 winner when denying Flooring Porter in 2022 and then drew clear of Marie’s Rock when defending his title in style 12 months ago, supplementing the Stayers’ Hurdle success he enjoyed at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.

The JP McManus-owned veteran could only finish fifth at Prestbury Park this time around, but is reported to have bounced out of that race in great order ahead of his quest for more glory in the north west.

“He ran quite well at Cheltenham and has come out of the race really well,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus.

“Gordon is really happy with him and hopefully he will run a big race again on Saturday.

“He was very good when he won here last year, he came from a long way back and he’s sure to run a good race.

“He’s been a great horse – a horse of a lifetime really – and he’s in good form and will give a good account.”

Flooring Porter has twice hit the frame in Liverpool and having also rattled the crossbar behind Teahupoo at the Cheltenham Festival, trainer Gavin Cromwell is hoping his long-time stable star can finally get his moment in the Merseyside spotlight.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham well and he ran a cracker in Cheltenham – hopefully he can go one better here,” said the County Meath handler.

“He enjoys Liverpool and seems in good nick, so hopefully he can have a good chance.”

John ‘Shark’ Hanlon rerouted King George hero Hewick from the Bowl on Thursday to this Grade One equivalent over the smaller obstacles, while also switching to timber is Willie Mullins’ Monkfish, who brought the house down when winning the Galmoy Hurdle in January but was pulled up over fences in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Irish challenge is bolstered Henry de Bromhead’s Boyne Hurdle winner Hiddenvalley Lake, the sole representative of owners Robcour, while Paul Gilligan’s Buddy One ran with real credit when fourth in the Stayers’ Hurdle, with connections eyeing going one better than when second at this meeting in handicap company 12 months ago.

“From his Stayers’ run it puts him there with a chance,” said Gilligan.

“He’s in great form, but I would like the ground to dry out a bit. He’s in good order, we’re here and looking forward to it and please God he will run well.

“He ran so well here last year we said we would come back here after Cheltenham. Hopefully he comes out on top this time. If he does then super, if not but he puts in a good performance, we will be happy as well.”

British hopes could rest on a return to form for the Fergal O’Brien-trained Long Walk Hurdle victor Crambo.

The seven-year-old announced himself as the young gun of the staying hurdles division when downing Paisley Park at Ascot but rather disappointed at the Cheltenham Festival when well held in ninth.

“He was a bit disappointing at Cheltenham, but I thought maybe the track didn’t quite suit him,” said Noel Fehily, racing manager to Crambo’s co-owner Chris Giles.

“He definitely underperformed and we’re hoping he can bounce back on Saturday. He’s in great form and we’re just hoping for a nice run.

“He’s been a super little horse and hopefully he can continue to be on Saturday.”

The John and Yvonne Stone-owned Botox Has was last seen winning Haydock’s Rendlesham Hurdle and following up in this could set the team of Caoilin Quinn and trainer Gary Moore up perfectly for their Grand National tilt with Nassalam less than an hour later.

Olly Murphy’s Strong Leader was third beaten little over a length in his first try at three miles in the Cleeve Hurdle, while Jeremy Scott’s Dashel Drasher is a standing dish in these contests and his team are keen to take advantage of the unseasonably testing conditions.

“It’s a bit of a bonus run with him really as usually we get to Aintree and the ground isn’t suitable for him, but for once it looks like the ground will be okay this year,” said Scott.

“He’s in good form, but as I say it’s more of a bonus run with him really rather than a grand plan.”

Another seasoned campaigner, Nicky Henderson’s Champ, along with Dan Skelton’s Proschema complete the field of 12.

The eyes of the racing world will be focussed on Aintree at 4pm on Saturday for what promises to be another pulsating renewal of the Randox Grand National. Here are the thoughts of some of the connections hoping to strike gold in the world’s most famous steeplechase:

Trainer Emmet Mullins – Noble Yeats (11st 12lb)

“Noble is great, he got the ferry over on Thursday. He’s had a good prep and came out of Cheltenham very well. The ground has to be seen as a bit of a negative as his best form is on nice spring ground, but he’s in good form and hopefully he’ll run a good race.

“He’s got top-weight now but he’s only got 1lb more to carry than if Conflated was running so that’s neither here nor there. He’s got the weight for a good reason and ran a brilliant race with similar last year.

“Hopefully the route we’ve gone this year, Stayers’ Hurdle rather than Gold Cup, will just leave him that little bit fresher.”

Trainer Gordon Elliott – Coko Beach (11st 8lb), Delta Work (11st 4lb), Galvin (11st 2lb), Farouk D’Alene (11st 1lb), Run Wild Fred (10st 10lb), Minella Crooner (10st 10lb), Chemical Energy (10st 9lb), The Goffer (10st 8lb)

“To be honest the ground has gone against a few of then, Galvin would have loved a bit of better ground. Delta Work and Coko Beach are probably the pick of them on the ground.

“Coko Beach loves the mud, he’s probably not that well handicapped but hopefully he’ll run well.

“I’m really happy with Delta, he’s never been working as well and I haven’t had him moving as well in the last two years. I’m looking forward to it.”

Trainer Henry de Bromhead – Minella Indo (11st 6lb), Ain’t That A Shame (10st 13lb), Eklat De Rire (10st 7lb)

“Minella Indo would obviously have a squeak, he has a good chance on his best form.

“Ain’t That A Shame ran well in the race last year, David Maxwell is on him and hopefully he’ll give him a good spin round. He was very good in the Thyestes.

“Eklat De Rire was disappointing at Cheltenham, we felt he was coming back before that. He’s in good form and we’re hoping that type of race will bring him back.

“I think drying ground would suit Indo, probably the other two like a bit of dig in the ground.”

Trainer Dan Skelton – Galia Des Liteaux (10st 7lb)

“She loves the soft ground and I think she’ll stay the trip, you can never absolutely certain until they have but everything about her says she’ll stay it.

“She’s in great form and we’ve trained her specifically for it, just like everyone else in the race has. There are no negatives.

“There’s a lot of water to go under that bridge (trainers’ championship), but having good chances at this meeting with the prize-money on offer there is obviously very important.”

Jockey James Reveley – Roi Mage (10st 8lb)

“He’s a horse I’ve ridden a few times and I know quite well. I’d ridden him in France and I thought he’d be a good National type.

“I think things have gone a bit better for him this year, his last run was good, very solid, and I liked how he stayed on to the line.

“They campaign him quietly, they don’t over-race him and that’s good for an older horse. He enjoys his life with the Griffins in Ireland and I’m quietly confident.”

Trainer Gary Moore – Nassalam (11st 8lb)

“He couldn’t be in a better place at home and I’m really happy with him. Everything has gone to plan except the sun has come out and it’s drying the ground out and I can’t see any rain about.

“The fact he’s got so much weight, it will be easier to carry it on better ground. But he is a stone better horse on heavy ground and it just limits his chances a bit to be honest.

“I would rather have deep ground and he will probably have two things against him now – the weight and the ground.”

Trainer Tom Ellis – Latenightpass (10st 10lb)

“It’s a big day and arguably our biggest, but I’m looking forward to it.

“We’ve had a really good run with him coming into the race to be fair and we’ve had a nice run with him.

“He looks really well and he’s done all his work now and we’ve had this in mind since December. It’s just been a case of following the plan since.

“The fences and the course are not a worry with him, but the ground would be a slight concern. Although it’s the same for them all and at least Latenightpass has won on soft and heavy before anyway. Hopefully he will run well.”

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins – I Am Maximus (11st 6lb), Meetingofthewaters (10st 8lb), Mr Incredible (10st 11lb), Stattler (11st 5lb)

“It’s obviously going to dry up before Saturday and I imagine it will be sticky rather than wet.

“I Am Maximus has a big engine but I’m not sure how his jumping will stand up. In the Irish National he jumped himself out of it in the first two miles then got back into it but that is a lot harder to do over here. His best form seems to be right-handed at Fairyhouse even though he jumps left so he has a few questions to answer.

“Meetingofthewaters I think has a great profile, he is a young horse and unexposed and it was a great run at Cheltenham. He’ll have to settle and that will be a big thing for him – he was a bit keen at Cheltenham. I think he has a lovely racing weight and he’s right down the bottom really.

“Mr Incredible is a bit of a maverick and the standing start is a bit of a concern for him, he doesn’t need any encouragement to stand still for any length of time. If he does jump off, he was running a cracker here last year and this place lights him up a bit so you would have to take him seriously as well.

“I’m riding Stattler and I would have to worry about the ground for him, it will need to dry up. For me the National is the race that counts and if you are not in it you can’t win it. Any chance I get to ride in it, I’ll be taking it ”

Trainer Mouse Morris – Foxy Jacks (11st 4lb)

“It’s been a very lucky place for me, I’ve had a good few winners here and I’ve been lucky enough to win the big one before.

“Foxy Jacks is jumping super and he gave an exhibition at Cheltenham in the cross-country (in November). The handicapper hasn’t been good to him and gave him 8lb for winning the cross-country and I think Hewick only got 2lb for winning the King George so I can’t work out the mathematics.

“It’s a big day and a big race so we will let him take his chance. He’s 10 now and very easy to train now so I’m not worried (about the cross-country being cancelled at the Cheltenham Festival).

“He probably won’t be at his best in the ground and I think it is whoever gets round that will win. We live and dream, there’s no point sleeping if you don’t dream.”

Gerri Colombe battled to victory to take the William Hill Bowl Chase at Aintree.

Gordon Elliott’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up was sent off the 9-4 favourite and travelled competitively throughout under Jack Kennedy.

He was ridden rounding the home turn but as stamina came to the fore up the run in, he locked horns with Ahoy Senor.

While Lucinda Russell’s charge did his best to fight back up the inside, Gerri Colombe was just too strong and came home half a length in front.

Corbetts Cross finished a further two and a quarter lengths back in third.

The well-fancied Kitty’s Light appears almost certain to make the cut for Saturday’s Randox Grand National after Gordon Elliott revealed top-weight Conflated will instead run in the Melling Chase at Aintree on Friday.

Conflated was one of 13 Elliott-trained horses still in contention for Saturday’s main event following the confirmation stage on Monday, but owners Gigginstown House Stud later said the prospect of running under 11st 12lb on testing ground over four and a quarter miles was a major concern.

The 10-year-old was also entered for Thursday’s Aintree Bowl over three miles and a furlong, but was not declared on Tuesday morning and is instead set to run over two and a half miles the following day.

“We had the option of the Aintree Bowl and the Grand National, but with the ground going the way it is we are going to run in the Melling Chase on Friday instead,” Elliott said in a stable tour for

“I thought he ran great in the Ryanair Chase (at Cheltenham, finished third), he hit the line well and I was very happy with his run.”

Conflated’s anticipated defection means all six horses with an allotted weight of 10st 6lb are now set to get into the final field of 34.

As Glengouly, Galia Des Liteaux and Panda Boy are rated 146, all three were already guaranteed a starting berth, but the same could not be said of Eklat De Rire, Chambard and Kitty’s Light.

As that trio have all been dropped 1lb to an official rating of 145 since the weights were unveiled in February, connections faced an anxious wait and a potential random ballot to decide which two of the three would creep in at the bottom if none of the horses above them were taken out.

Christian Williams, trainer of last year’s Scottish Grand National and bet365 Gold Cup hero Kitty’s Light, admitted to being relieved that barring a late change of mind from Elliott, that will no longer be the case.

He said: “It’s great that he’ll get in now, it’s good for the owners. The whole season has been geared towards the Grand National so it’s great that we’ve got in.

“The owners have been looking at it for the last three weeks and had everything upside down. They’ve been thinking about it for the last three weeks and I just stayed out of it.

“I think Gordon declared Conflated for the Bowl this morning, so one of the owners rang me and said ‘brilliant Chris, we’re in’, then Gordon took him back out! Anyway, it sounds like he’s running on Friday hopefully.”

Of Kitty’s Light, he added: “He’s flying, it’s just a shame with the ground because when we had him in a good place last year the ground was good and it looks like it will be heavy on Saturday.

“He might still have won the Scottish National last year if it was soft, you don’t really know do you? You can’t discount him on the ground until he actually goes out there as when we’ve run him on that sort of ground before we didn’t have him in the best of form and it wouldn’t have been his ideal trip.

“When he’s had his ideal trip it’s been in the spring and that’s when the ground has been good. We’ll see how he runs on heavy ground in the spring – there’s only one way to find out.”

Coral make Kitty’s Light a 14-1 shot for the National in their non-runner money back market, with last year’s winner Corach Rambler the 4-1 favourite ahead of I Am Maximus at 7-1.

Gold Cup runner-up Gerri Colombe will meet last year’s winner Shishkin in the Aintree Bowl on Thursday.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, Gerri Colombe put up a game fight in the blue riband at Cheltenham when beating all bar reigning champion Galopin Des Champs.

Gerri Colombe is owned by Brian Acheson’s Robcour operation and the same colours will be sported by the Mouse Morris-trained Gentlemansgame.

Shishkin, winner of the race 12 months ago for Nicky Henderson, will attempt to put a dreadful Cheltenham Festival behind the trainer after he withdrew many of his intended runners due to the form of his string.

Corbetts Cross, so impressive in the National Hunt Chase, will step into open company for the first time while Bravemansgame, Ahoy Senor and Thunder Rock are also running in a field of seven.

Champion Hurdle third Luccia will step up in trip for the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

One of only a few to run well for Henderson at Cheltenham, she will face the likes of Impaire Et Passe and Bob Olinger in a field of eight, with Coral Cup winner Langer Dan stepping up in grade.

Grey Dawning and Ginny’s Destiny will meet again in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase.

The pair served up a real treat in the Turners at Cheltenham, with Dan Skelton’s Grey Dawning coming out on top by two lengths.

Il Etait Temps, third in the Arkle, steps up in trip for Willie Mullins, while Blow Your Wad and Colonel Harry complete the quintet.

Sir Gino, a Cheltenham absentee for Henderson, will get the chance to strut his stuff in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle.

He will take on Mullins’ Kargese, who finished second to stable companion Majborough in the Triumph Hurdle, the Joseph O’Brien-trained pair of Intellotto and Nurburgring, Paul Nicholls’ Kalif Du Berlais and Dirty Den.

There are 22 in the Randox Foxhunters’ Open Hunters’ Chase which include Cheltenham runner-up Its On The Line and Cat Tiger for David Maxwell.

Flooring Porter will attempt to finally get his hands on the Jrl Group Liverpool Hurdle following his brave second in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The dual Prestbury Park champion had been plying his trade over fences prior to reverting to timber at the Festival, where he showed plenty of his old zest to chase home Teahupoo in the day three feature.

He will now continue to operate over the smaller obstacles, with trainer Gavin Cromwell pointing the nine-year-old towards Aintree next month and the three-mile Grade One in which he has finished second and third to Gordon Elliott’s Sire Du Berlais.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham really well and the plan is to go back to Aintree, we’re really happy with him and looking forward to it,” said Cromwell.

“He was good over fences, but is probably better over hurdles, they certainly lit him up again.

“He acts round Aintree and we’re looking forward to it. A similar performance at Aintree should put him very much in the mix.”

Meanwhile, it appears handicaps are off the agenda for highly impressive Kim Muir winner Inothewayurthinkin, who received a significant rise for his easy eight-length Cheltenham Festival success.

Owned by JP McManus, the exciting six-year-old will be forced into trying his hand in graded company if he runs again this season, with top-table targets both at home and in England possible options.

“He’s a nice horse to have going forward, he’s a young horse with hopefully a bright future,” continued Cromwell.

“He’s gone up considerably in the handicap so we will probably just have to look at the graded novice route (if he is to run again). The obvious options are Aintree or Punchestown and there is a race at Limerick as well. He’s not certain to run again before the end of the season, but if he does he will probably go for one of them.

“Hopefully the handicapper is right, and if so, he will be an exciting horse to have.”

Galopin Des Champs was once again welcomed home by an adoring crowd as the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner paraded before locals in the village of Leighlinbridge in County Carlow on Tuesday evening.

Victorious in the pinnacle of National Hunt racing last year, this time the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was able to take his career to the next level when becoming one of a select few to retain the title.

The 11-10 favourite under Paul Townend, Galopin Des Champs never looked threatened by any of his rivals and it was only the loose Fastorslow that ever threatened to thwart a repeat of last year’s triumph.

Victorious by three and a half lengths from Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe, the Audrey Turley-owned eight-year-old has put his name among the greats of the race and next year could join the likes of the mighty Arkle and Best Mate as a three-time winner.

Galopin Des Champs was joined by State Man, winner of the Champion Hurdle in a another memorable meeting for Mullins, with his nine-winner haul including his 100th Festival success when Jasmin De Vaux took the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Having dominated the Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins has set his sights on the Boylesports Irish Grand National on April 1 – with unexposed novice Nick Rockett likely to be all the rage.

The champion trainer is seeking a third win overall in the richest jumps’ race run in Ireland and back-to-back victories after the unlikely success of I Am Maximus 12 months ago.

Nick Rockett has been allotted 10st 13lb in the weights by handicapper Sandy Shaw, with Gordon Elliott’s Galway Plate winner Ash Tree Meadow top of the pile.

Three Cheltenham Festival victors are towards the top in Corbetts Cross (11st 10lb), Inothewayurthinkin (11st 9lb) and Limerick Lace (11st 7lb), but having kept his powder dry, Mullins might just have the ideal candidate.

“Nick Rockett has performed well around Fairyhouse and I love horses for courses,” said Mullins.

“Paul (Townend) was very happy the last day he won around the course and we thought instead of going to Cheltenham that we should maybe aim for Fairyhouse. That’s what we have been doing and we are very happy with how he is.

“He jumps, has won over the track, is a novice coming up the ranks, has a nice weight and Paul is very happy to ride him. That is more than enough and he ticks all the right boxes, I think.

“We have to get him there in the right order and at the moment I am very happy with him.”

Regarding his other entries, Mullins said: “This race comes into play for Stattler now, if he’d run at Cheltenham (Cross Country Chase was abandoned) he would maybe have gone to Aintree, but he’s now in the running to run here.

“Monkfish was disappointing at Cheltenham so wouldn’t come here, Mr Incredible only ran the other day so it’s too close, the same with Adamantly Chosen. Embassy Gardens and James Du Berlais the same.

“Bronn was disappointing in Naas, but if I could get him back right he could go there. Minella Cocooner has run well there, has the credentials, stays all day and has a nice weight as well.

“Ontheropes is 36 (on the ballot) but I think he is more or less in and is our other likely runner.

“It took us a long time to win it. My father had won it four times so it was an itch that needed scratching and then winning it with Burrows Saint for Rich Ricci and with Ruby Walsh, that capped it.

“It gave me as much pleasure as winning any race.”

For Shaw, Mullins’ comments have him “shaking in his boots”.

“An awful lot handicap themselves and it is obviously the novices that we look to as they are the ones that have more improvement in them,” he said.

“The three Cheltenham winners are in but we can reassess them, the difference is that Willie’s Nick Rockett didn’t go – he has me shaking in my boots the way he’s talking!

“He’s been held back and it was certainly the right thing to do, I think. Novices are always hard to rate because you have to rate them on what they have done, not on what we think they might do so there is a chance Nick Rockett could be well handicapped.

“The only thing is he has only run seven times in his life. He’s unexposed as a result, but it will be a question of if he can handle the hurly burly of the race. Other than that he does look the one. He could have a few pounds up his sleeve, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Teahupoo will look to strike when fresh in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle for Gordon Elliott at the Cheltenham Festival.

The seven-year-old was beaten just three-quarters of a length in the same race last year and returned to action this season in good form to take the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle ahead of Impaire Et Passe at Fairyhouse in early December.

He has not run since then and is expected to benefit that as he is proven to go well after a brief break.

“We’re looking forward to Teahupoo in the Stayers’ and he seems in really good form,” said Robbie Power, racing manager to owner Robcour.

“It was a very good performance in the Hatton’s Grace and we’ve changed things up this year coming straight here.

“The big thing for him is he’s a better horse when he’s fresh and all his runs after a 50-odd day break he has won. We think that is the key to him.

“He didn’t get the rub of the green in the race last year and hopefully if things go well this year he will take plenty of beating. He deserves to win a Stayers’ and we’re giving him every chance.”

Elliott also runs reigning champion Sire Du Berlais, who followed up last year’s victory with success in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.

Flooring Porter landed the race in both 2021 and 2022 before finishing fourth last season, after which he switched to jumping fences in the first half of the current campaign.

He was not without success as a chaser but connections ultimately decided to return to the Stayers’ Hurdle in a bid for a third triumph and veto the alternative option of the National Hunt Chase.

“He’s in good shape and we’re looking forward to it. I hope the ground dries out a little bit, I hope it’s not too deep, so we’ll see what happens,” said trainer Gavin Cromwell.

“He’s had a few schooling sessions over hurdles and they’ve gone well, he’s a very intelligent horse so I don’t see it (switching from fences) being a problem.

“When you see what Corbetts Cross (facile National Hunt Chase winner) did on Tuesday I’d say we dodged a bullet there and we’re happy to be running in the Stayers’ again.”

The British challenge is led by Fergal O’Brien’s Crambo, winner of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot when last seen.

The seven-year-old beat Paisley Park, Dashel Drasher and Champ on that occasion and looks to be on an upward trajectory in a career that has already yielded seven wins from 10 starts.

“He’s in great form, I’m very happy with him and he has trained very well,” said O’Brien.

“We’ve had a great preparation, he’s just improved and improved for us.

“He doesn’t show a lot at home, everything he’s shown us is what he’s shown on the track and we couldn’t be more pleased with him.

“He’s won on everything, he won on good ground at Ascot and he’s won on heavy at Sandown last year so I can’t see that as an issue for him.

“We’ve our fingers crossed he can get his head in front.”

Jeremy Scott runs the hugely popular Dashel Drasher, with Emma Lavelle also set to saddle a fan favourite in the 12-year-old Paisley Park.

Winner of the race in 2019, he has run every year since and finished in third place in both 2021 and 2022.

Willie Mullins has three chances, with Sir Gerhard seemingly the leading hope as the mount of Paul Townend, while Asterion Forlonge will be ridden by Patrick Mullins and Janidil by Jody McGarvey.

Emmet Mullins’ Noble Yeats, the 2022 Grand National hero, will be partnered by Harry Cobden again after the duo beat Paisley Park to land the Cleeve Hurdle in January.

Joseph O’Brien runs Home By The Lee, with the field of 12 completed by Paul Gilligan’s Buddy One, three times a winner already this season.

“He seems to like this course and he has travelled over really well,” Gilligan said.

“He seems well in himself and although it is a big step up, I’m very happy with him and I think he will run with a lot of credit. I think he will run very well.”

Dual winner Flooring Porter, Grand National hero Noble Yeats and previous Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle victors Paisley Park and Sire Du Berlais are all set to line up in this year’s race.

Fergal O’Brien’s Long Walk winner Crambo, the Gordon Elliott-trained Teahupoo and the enigmatic duo of Asterion Forlonge and Champ have also been declared for what appears a fascinating renewal of the three-mile contest.

A total of 13 have been declared, with Willie Mullins’ Sir Gerhard another big player along with Dashel Drasher and Home By The Lee.

Janadil and Buddy One have also been declared.

Last year’s winner Envoi Allen leads 11 in the Ryanair Chase for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned 10-year-old has not run since November but has a habit of reserving his best for the Festival.

Paul Nicholls’ Stage Star needs to bounce back from a poor run on New Year’s Day but previously won the Paddy Power Chase under top weight. Stablemate Hitman also runs.

Dan Skelton’s Protektorat drops back in trip having had a crack at the Gold Cup for the last two years, Elliott runs Conflated and Fil Dor while Willie Mullins is represented by Capodanno.

The one horse who will not be suited by Tuesday’s rain is Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge, who was a non-runner at the Festival last year when the ground went soft.

Ahoy Senor, Fugitif and the supplemented Ga Law make up the field.

The third Grade One on the card is the Turners Novices’ Chase in which an open field of 11 has been declared.

Ginny’s Destiny is gaining a reputation as a course specialist while Grey Dawning, Iroko and Gary Moore’s Le Patron all feature in a strong home team.

Facile Vega will be looking to redeem his reputation for Mullins who also runs Sharjah.

Elliott’s Brighterdaysahead carries plenty of stable confidence in the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle where she will face the promising Jade De Grugy and Dysart Enos.

A full field of 24 will go to post in the Pertemps Network Final in which Farouk D’Alene is top weight.

There are 21 in the Trustatrader Plate, in which Jonjo O’Neill’s Crebilly is well fancied while Angels Dawn will bid for back-to-back wins in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase

With Willie Mullins on the verge of an incredible 100 Cheltenham Festival winners, those who face the battle of taking him on could be forgiven for feeling a little resentment.

But there is not a bit of it from Gordon Elliott, perennially the runner-up to Mullins in the Irish championship and who comes up against him more than anyone else.

Rather than feeling hard done by or suggesting that Mullins is making the sport “boring” like many did after all eight Grade Ones at the Dublin Racing Festival went the way of the Closutton maestro, Elliott relishes the challenge and says the pair are pushing each other to new heights.

“I’ve been second to Willie eight or 10 years in a row (in the trainers’ championship). We’re definitely not making him better, we’re making him hungrier and he’s making us better,” said Elliott.

“I can’t have people whinging and giving out about Willie Mullins or whoever. These people giving out have chips on both of their shoulders. Willie sets the standard and we all have to chase him, make yourself better. There’s no excuse for not wanting to be the best.

“A couple of years ago we were the first to train 200 winners in a season and I think a week later he trained 200 and ended up beating us by eight or 10 that season.

“We’re in a great position and we keep training winners. We’re just probably unfortunate that we were born in the same era as probably the greatest trainer of all time. We’ll keep trying.

“The lads that know how hard it is to get to that level are not jumping up and down and shouting. The lads that are jumping up and down and shouting have had it all and let it all slip through their hands.”

Nicky Henderson is Mullins’ closest rival when it comes to Festival winners, but had a huge head start and has been left trailing in his wake somewhat with 73 winners to Mullins’ 94.

“No one would have ever thought that would be possible,” said Henderson of a possible century of winners for his great friend and rival.

“It’s a lot of races and we’ve been very lucky to win so many ourselves. I won’t say he has been luckier, but the ammunition he has these days is unbelievable.

“We are the ones who have to fight off the invasion and we’re outnumbered by Willie three to one at least, often four to one.

“You’ve got to have admiration, of course I do. But we’ve been very lucky ourselves and we have to concentrate on what we’ve got and what we can do. We’ve got a great team of people and horses and owners, and we’ve got to do the best we can.”

At the other end of the scale Fergal O’Brien is still searching for a first ever Festival win, but rather than moan about it, his daughter Fern has been over to Closutton this season as a work rider.

“I wouldn’t say she’s a spy, espionage we call it! Fern loves being there and loves working with those people,” said O’Brien.

“I’m lucky enough to have been and it’s a fantastic set up. People go on about Willie’s dominance, but it didn’t come overnight, he’s got a great system there, they’re great buyers of horses and he’s obviously a fantastic trainer.

“Fern is in a great place and I’m very proud of her.”

Robbie Power won the Gold Cup and Grand National as a jockey and is now attached to Henry de Bromhead’s stable. While he does admit Mullins’ dominance can be a little disheartening, he does at least run his best horses against each other regularly.

“I don’t see it as a problem, it is a little disheartening I suppose for a lot of people that Willie is so dominant but as the old saying goes, if you win in the sales ring then you win on the racetrack and Willie has been able to get all these horses – he has the owners, he has the ammunition,” Power told Boylesports.

“I suppose the one difference to the Flat with Aidan O’Brien for example, it’s all Coolmore whereas Willie’s runners are spread among five or six different owners. At DRF they all had Grade One winners and Willie is never afraid to have his runners take each other on, he often has three, four or five in the Grade Ones so it makes for competitive racing.”

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