The front-running First Conquest narrowly denied the promising Lead Artist in a thrilling renewal of the bet365 Wood Ditton Maiden Stakes at Newmarket.

The one-mile contest for unraced three-year-olds has been won by a whole host of high-class performers over the years, including 12 months ago when subsequent Dante third and Derby runner Passenger made a winning debut for Sir Michael Stoute.

Representing the formidable combination of Charlie Appleby and William Buick, First Conquest was unsurprisingly prominent in the market for this year’s renewal at 4-1 and having dictated affairs from the off, had most of his rivals in trouble racing out of the dip.

Lead Artist and Earl Of Rochester, two sons of Dubawi trained by John and Thady Gosden, came from the chasing pack to throw down a challenge with the former emerging as the biggest threat in the Juddmonte silks, but First Conquest dug in to prevail by a nose.

As a gelding this year’s Wood Ditton winner does not have Classic aspirations, with Appleby eyeing a more low-key campaign.

He said: “He’s been schooled up there at home and is from a family we have known. He worked with a nicer horse that ran well earlier in the week as well so we were confident, barring greenness. He hit the lids and was very professional throughout.

“At the moment I hope he will be a nice, progressive handicapper and stepping up in trip in time he can be a proper mile-and-a-quarter type of horse.

“The thing about the Wood Ditton is years ago when you’d win it you would have to throw them in at the deep end, but now with the change of the programme we can give these horses a chance and let them develop in their own manner.”

Charlie Hills’ highly-regarded Cicero’s Gift is back in training with his handler confident he can make his mark at the highest level.

A winner of his first three starts, the son of Muhaarar impressed when bringing up his hat-trick in a Goodwood conditions event – a performance which earned the colt a shot at the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

A finishing position of seventh belies the true tale of that outing, with Cicero’s Gift catching the eye when having his passage repeatedly blocked in the closing stages of the Group One contest.

That was the final time he was seen last season with a setback curtailing his progress, but his trainer now has high hopes as he prepares to recommence his career at four.

Hills said: “He will have his first canter back this week and he’s a horse who had a problem last year so we threw him into a paddock for five months and gave him some time off. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we can get him back on track.

“We’ll go nice and gentle and keep him off fast ground.

“He ran a really nice race in the St James’s Palace last year, he was a bit unlucky in running and I think he can be a Group One horse. It will probably be over a mile, but the stallion is getting them to stay.”

Willie Mullins will saddle six runners in the the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday as he looks to extend his lead in the race to be crowned champion trainer in Britain.

The Grand National success of I Am Maximus at Aintree saw Mullins sweep past perennial champion Paul Nicholls and his former pupil Dan Skelton and he is now a hot favourite to become the first Irish-based trainer to claim the British title since Vincent O’Brien did so in successive seasons in the 1950s.

The Closutton handler is represented in each of the eight races on Saturday’s Ayr card and is responsible for six of the 26 declared for the £200,000 feature.

The trainer’s two leading contenders appear to be recent Fairyhouse scorer Macdermott and Mr Incredible, who turns out just seven days after unseating his rider at The Chair. Ontheropes, Spanish Harlem, Klarc Kent and We’llhavewan complete the sextet.

Mullins is unlikely to have things all his own way, however, with Nicholls represented by the high-class top-weight Stay Away Fay and Broken Halo, while Skelton will be hoping Ballygrifincottage can put him back on top of the table.

Brian Ellison’s Eider Chase winner Anglers Crag and the Jamie Snowden-trained Git Maker also feature.

The title-chasing trio all fire major bullets at the £100,000 Coral Scottish Champion Hurdle, with Mullins running Westport Cove, Bialystok and Alvaniy, Nicholls saddling last year’s winner Rubaud and his stablemate and Afadil with Skelton relying upon County Hurdle runner-up L’Eau du Sud.

Also among a total of 18 runners on the afternoon for Mullins are Uncle Phil in the opening Scotty Brand Handicap Chase, popular veteran Sharjah in the CPMS Novices’ Champion Handicap Chase and impressive Punchestown winner Billericay Dickie in the Tennent’s Novices’ Hurdle.

Lucinda Russell will consider a tilt at the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup with Corach Rambler following his first fence exit in the Grand National last weekend.

Following a highly creditable third place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 10-year-old was well fancied by many to claim back-to-back victories in the Aintree spectacular, but parted company with Derek Fox at the first obstacle and then fell riderless at the second.

Thankfully Corach Rambler returned to Scotland unscathed and having pleased in a midweek schooling session, Russell is not ruling out an end of season trip across the Irish Sea.

“When Corach Rambler unseated Derek at the first in Saturday’s Grand National, it certainly wasn’t the fairytale result the team and I had dreamt about for our pride and joy! It was naturally very disappointing, but I’m delighted to report that he came home safe and sound,” she told William Hill.

“We schooled him on Wednesday morning to make sure he hadn’t lost any confidence after Aintree, and he seems really happy. He’s very pleased to be back in work and there are no ill-effects from Liverpool, which is fantastic.

“Regarding future plans this season, he’s still got an entry in the Punchestown Gold Cup. Immediately after the Grand National, I wasn’t that keen to run him again this term, but if he’s very fresh and feels good, we’ll think about taking him to Ireland.

“We’ll see what each day brings and decide nearer the time, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”

Michael Owen is dreaming of bigger days having seen his homebred It Ain’t Two get on the scoresheet in the bet365 EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stakes at Newmarket.

Trained by Hugo Palmer, her half-brother Balon D’Or hit the target at the first attempt last season, but odds of 18-1 perhaps told the true tale of expectation as the daughter of Calyx showed plenty of ability in the five-furlong event.

Balon D’Or would go on to run at the former England international’s beloved Chester May Festival and It Ain’t Two could now follow suit.

Owen said: “Her brother won first time out at this time last year and we’ve obviously come to a trickier place in terms of quality, but you would have to be delighted with that, it’s a nice surprise.

“Lots of horses were fancied before the race, so we weren’t that confident, just because of what people were saying about theirs, but she’s a homebred filly and you have to start thinking of black type now. It will be interesting and a nice surprise and it will have us thinking in a different way.

“Normally with one of mine, I’m thinking maiden, Lily Agnes and Ascot. That’s the dream passage but we’ll see and, as she is a homebred and I have the mare at home, we may have to think of something else. It’s nice problems to have.”

The “something else” the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker references could be the Marygate Stakes at York, with It Ain’t Two’s trainer eyeing an immediate step up into Listed company.

“We took her for a racecourse gallop at Wolverhampton about a month ago and she got lapped, so I thought I best run her as soon as possible,” said Palmer.

“We came here for some nice ground, as it was going to get called off at Redcar!

“Now she’s a winner, I guess we will go to York and try and finish in the top three in the Marygate.”

The Each Way Extra At bet365 EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stakes has been won by some useful operators over the years and Kevin Ryan’s Bolsena could have more to come after opening her account at the fourth attempt in the hands of Ryan Moore.

Moore was also in the saddle aboard Juddmonte’s Kalpana, who showed a clean pair of heels to surge clear of her rivals in the Price Promise At bet365 Handicap.

The Andrew Balding-trained 11-2 winner could now have a return to the Rowley Mile on her agenda, before connections consider even bigger assignments in the future.

“She has had two very good runs and the horse who beat her the last day of Kevin Ryan’s (Inisherin) could be potentially a very, very good horse,” explained Barry Mahon, European racing manager for the owners.

“We were a bit disappointed that day, but today’s performance shows we probably bumped into a very good horse.

“Andrew has liked her all the time and we thought a step up to 10 furlongs (next time) might bring about improvement and Ryan just said there, she might be a filly who could get 12 furlongs later in the season. We were hopeful of a good run and she definitely did well.

“We will maybe look at the Pretty Polly. She handled the track well and Ryan thought she would be versatile enough ground-wise, so we will look at that if she comes out of this one well.

“We’ll take small steps and if she showed up well in the Pretty Polly, we could consider the Oaks, but we’ll go small steps and see how we go.”

The opening race of the day went the way of Richard Hannon’s Dark Thirty, with the versatile operator proving as consistent as ever when notching up his fourth career success.

“He’s a genuine Saturday horse and one that is very useful. He will win us races every year and it gives us a lot of pleasure.” said Hannon.

Dan Skelton edged further ahead of Paul Nicholls in pursuit of Willie Mullins, as the battle for the jump trainers’ championship continues to look like it will go down to the final day of the season.

Skelton picked up a 113th victory of the season, with Doyen Quest winning the Kingston Stud Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, and then saw Nicholls’ Rare Middleton just headed close home in the concluding Cheltenham Pony Racing Authority Graduates Handicap Hurdle.

Skelton picked up a winning prize of £13,007.50 with that win and Nicholls now trails his former assistant by just under £80,000.

Mullins leads the title by around £50,000, with this weekend’s Scottish Grand National meeting at Ayr and the season-ending Sandown fixture pivotal for the destination of the crown.

Doyen Quest was two lengths down heading to the final hurdle along the stand side rail, but shifted inside after clearing the obstacle.

Harry Skelton then kicked for home on the six-year-old and got up to land the race by half a length from Whatsupwithyou at 4-1, backing up his victory at Newbury from last month.

Nicholls’ Lallygag was prominent throughout but weakened after clearing the final hurdle, coming home 12th of the 15th finishers.

In Excelsis Deo justified favouritism at 3-1 to land the feature Matt Hampson Foundation Silver Trophy Handicap Chase for Harry Fry and Jonathan Burke.

The Nicholls-trained Il Ridoto was pulled up by Harry Cobden, while Skelton’s Sail Away and Our Jet both finished well down the field.

In Excelsis Deo gained two lengths on Hang In There and Scarface going over the final fence and galloped clear up the hill to win by four and three-quarter lengths.

Skelton’s Grade Two-winning Proschema returned after nearly a year off the track in the Safran Landing Systems Handicap Hurdle but finished out of the money down in eighth, as Zain Nights (9-2) took top honours for Lucy Wadham and Bryony Frost.

Nicholls clawed back some prize-money in the final race on the card, with Rare Middleton prominent throughout and having the beating of 13-8 favourite Our Champ up the run-in, only for the fast finishing 11-1 shot Tintintin to come up the rail to collar him on the line.

Skelton’s pair A Law Of Her Own and In This World finished out of the money, alongside Nicholls’ other runner Wild Max.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the pinnacle of National Hunt racing, but it is perhaps unfair to let two Fridays in March, six years apart, define the career of Paddy Brennan.

Brennan hit the ultimate height in 2010 when Imperial Commander took advantage of the fall of Kauto Star to storm up the Cheltenham hill and beat off the other Ditcheat legend of the era, Denman.

However, the fences got their own back in 2016 when Brennan and the smooth-travelling Cue Card came to grief as a mouthwatering battle with Don Cossack was about to come to a head.

It was also at that obstacle where Cue Card was to fall in his final appearance in the Gold Cup in 2017, but 2016 was the year the nose-banded Colin Tizzard superstar was primed to a peak.

Brennan has ridden over 1,500 winners over jumps and has been in the weighing room for nearly a quarter of a century.

One of the characters among the riding fraternity, he cut his teeth at the cut-throat finishing school of Jim Bolger. And it was a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire when moving to the UK at the turn of the century, joining Paul Nicholls as a conditional.

His time at Ditcheat was followed by a move to Philip Hobbs, where he rode as second jockey to Richard Johnson and was champion conditional in 2004/05.

It was during that season that Brennan recorded his first Grade One success when partnering Kevin Bishop’s Ashley Brook to a 16-length romp over War Of Attrition in Aintree’s Maghull Novices’ Chase.

Before triumphing at Aintree, the duo had finished second in the Arkle at Cheltenham and it was a further 12 months before the Irishman broke his duck at racing’s Olympics when landing the Fred Winter with 40-1 shot Shamayoun.

A move up north to become Howard Johnson’s stable jockey brought further Festival glory in 2007 when Inglis Drever won the second of three World Hurdles in the gold and black silks of Graham and Andrea Wylie.

Brennan’s time trawling the northern circuit was brief, as he was cut adrift by Johnson after one season with the County Durham handler.

But a safety net was provided by Nigel Twiston-Davies and so began a four-year partnership that would take both men to the very top of the sport.

He passed 100 winners in a season during his first campaign as the Twiston-Davies number one – but the Brennan era at Naunton Downs will forever be associated with Imperial Commander.

They first hit the headlines when landing a gamble in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham and in the spring an inspired Brennan produced a majestic ride as Imperial Commander claimed the scalp of Voy Por Ustedes in the Ryanair.

That signalled a Gold Cup mission for the 2009-10 season and the first stopping point on the journey back to Cheltenham was Haydock, where Ruby Walsh picked Brennan’s pocket in the dying strides on Kauto Star to prevail by a nose.

Back at his favourite course at Cheltenham in March and with Kauto Star struggling when falling, Brennan and Imperial Commander stormed up the Cheltenham hill for a second successive Festival win – and this time in the blue riband itself.

Imperial Commander’s Gold Cup was leg one of a memorable treble for the Twiston-Davies team on the final day of the 2010 Festival and Brennan brought up his own Gold Cup day double when his beloved Pigeon Island landed the Grand Annual that drew the action to a close.

Around this time, Brennan was also forging a partnership with Tom George’s bold front-running grey Nacarat. The pair combined twice for big-race success, with their finest hour coming when making all to win the Bowl at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in 2011.

The emergence of Twiston-Davies’ son Sam as one of the weighing room’s hottest prospects saw Brennan jump before he was potentially pushed in April 2011, although the handler was said to be shocked by the decision.

Although he was never far away from Naunton Downs, as he helped Fergal O’Brien set up his fledgling base on the same gallops used by his former employer, Brennan spent four years in the big-race wilderness before being handed the call-up to ride Cue Card by Colin Tizzard.

Despite the earlier mentioned lows in the big one, there were plenty of highs, with the dynamic duo linking up for victory six times from the 15 occasions they were united on course.

Taking over from Daryl Jacob at the start of the 2015-16 season, Brennan and Cue Card got off to the perfect start when winning Weatherby’s Charlie Hall Chase.

Cue Card then went on to claim the second of three Betfair Chase wins at Haydock before the duo made it a hat-trick of victories when an inspired Brennan hauled Cue Card home to down Vautour in the King George – a triumph that was to be the combination’s finest hour and one of the rider’s most notable achievements in the saddle.

A decisive victory in the Aintree Bowl in 2016 offered some consolation to their Gold Cup despair, as the pair continued to pick up Grade One staying chases – including another Betfair Chase in November of that year and an Ascot Chase in February 2017.

The upward curve of the O’Brien stable has seen Brennan make regular appearances in the winner’s enclosure during the latter stages of his career and a further Grade One was added to the CV when he drove home Poetic Rhythm for his great ally in the 2017 Challow Hurdle.

However, that was the last top-table success for five years until the battle-hardened juvenile Knight Salute took the Irishman back into the limelight at Aintree in April 2022.

Initially, Knight Salute had dead-heated with Gordon Elliott’s Pied Piper following a thrilling finish, but was then awarded first place outright in the stewards’ room, despite Brennan’s protestations that there was no case for Davy Russell aboard Pied Piper to answer.

That sportsmanship has been the hallmark of Brennan’s latter years in the saddle, along with a steadfast loyalty to both his colleagues in the weighing room and trainer O’Brien.

Scriptwriter followed in Knight Salute’s footsteps with a Triumph trial success and Dysart Enos ensured Brennan remained a big-race player right until the very end of his decorated career when landing the Grade Two bumper at Aintree in 2023, before making a successful switch to novice hurdling.

O’Brien’s Kamsinas was another late Grade Two victor for Brennan at Haydock last November and the jockey reached 1,500 winners on Teorie at Catterick the following month, having passed the 1,000 milestone just over seven years earlier.

There was to be no fairytale final success at the Cheltenham Festival last month, but Brennan fittingly bowed out at the home of National Hunt racing a month later aboard the O’Brien-trained and aptly-named Manothepeople.

Paddy Brennan announced his immediate retirement from the saddle after steering Manothepeople to victory in the penultimate race at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

The 43-year-old has enjoyed a hugely successful career, with his victory aboard Imperial Commander in an epic renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup being the obvious highlight.

Success in the 2007 World Hurdle on the hugely popular Inglis Drever and the 2015 King George VI Chase triumph of Cue Card also feature on a long list of big-race triumphs, while a double at Catterick in December saw him pass the 1,500-winner mark.

After that landmark, Brennan said: “It’s been a dream – it’s been like a holiday destination that’s lasted for so long. Hopefully I haven’t booked a flight home yet, but maybe it’s not too far away.”

Brennan was denied a fairytale final victory at the Cheltenham Festival, but fittingly got his chance to sign off with a win at the home of National Hunt racing a month later, as the Fergal O’Brien-trained Manothepeople (9-1) galloped to a clear-cut win in the Weatherite Air Conditioning Handicap Chase.

The veteran jockey, who was crowned champion conditional at the end of 2004/05 season, stood up in the stirrups and saluted the crowd as he passed the post in front, before being congratulated by fellow riders in the pull-up area and returning to emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure.

Charlie Appleby expects to have around 12 horses based in America throughout the summer, with Sheema Classic winner Rebel’s Romance among them.

Appleby, who has enjoyed great success in recent years with his forays to North America, is making a more permanent base for his team by setting up a satellite yard.

Along with Rebel’s Romance, who may go via Hong Kong, the likes of Nations Pride and Master Of The Seas, a recent Grade One winner out there, are also to be campaigned overseas.

“There are seven horses there in Keeneland at present and we’re shipping over two more next week,” said Appleby.

“Legend Of Time goes over there along with Nations Pride and then Measured Time will head over there as well and they’re going over in stages really.

“Basically, they are in Keeneland, we’ll have a few runners (Kentucky) Derby weekend, like Master Of The Seas, and then that team will ship to Saratoga when the rest of the team will join up and we expect at least 12 horses.

“Everyone likes to put a label on these things and I suppose it is a little satellite yard, we’ve put that team together and there’s a nice programme out there for those types of horses.”

He went on: “After Saratoga, we’ll give them a little bit of a break and make the call to see if they are Breeders’ Cup candidates or not. You can’t beat the experience out there if they are going to be Breeders’ Cup horses.

“Rebel’s Romance will go over there later, we’re toying with Hong Kong for him. There’s a small chance he’ll go to Saratoga in August.

“It’s nice to go out there, the team out there are great, they help our team and it is always an advantage knowing the facilities going into these races.”

Native Approach could strengthen Charlie Appleby’s Classic hand by providing the trainer with a fourth victory in the last six runnings of the bet365 Craven Stakes at Newmarket.

Subsequent Derby hero Masar was the Moulton Paddocks handler’s first winner of this recognised 2000 Guineas trial in 2018, while Master Of The Seas and Native Trail struck Craven gold in successive years in 2021 and 2022 before filling the runner-up spot in the Guineas less than three weeks later.

Ancient Wisdom, who enjoyed a racecourse gallop on the Rowley Mile on Wednesday morning, and the unbeaten three-time Kempton winner Notable Speech appear Appleby’s two chief contenders for the first Classic of the season on May 4.

But Native Approach – narrowly beaten on his Kempton debut in January before going one better the following month – gets an opportunity to stake his claim on Thursday.

Appleby said: “Like a lot of these horses that come off the all-weather, we’re testing them on the turf now.

“I’m not trying to sit on the fence. He looks great at home but he’s got to go and switch it on on the turf now.

“I’m always one who would rather just sit before I get too bolshy over what they have achieved or what they could achieve – like Notable Speech, he’s doing it at a different level at the moment.”

He added: “At the end of the day, from the outside looking in, the only way you can beat City Of Troy is by an unexposed three-year-old, because what he beat last year, I don’t see anything reversing the form myself.”

Native Approach’s task is far from straightforward, with a number of horses with Group One form also in contention for this Group Three contest.

Andre Fabre’s Alcantor was last seen being touched off by David Menuisier’s Sunway in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in October and crosses the Channel for a race his legendary trainer won with Xaar in 1998.

“He’s done well over the winter, I’m pleased with him and I think running him in the Craven will be good experience for him – and for me,” said Fabre.

“He has no plan to come for the English Guineas, the French is a possible option.”

Eben Shaddad is a major contender for John and Thady Gosden on the strength of his third-place finish in last season’s Dewhurst Stakes behind Aidan O’Brien’s brilliant Guineas favourite City Of Troy.

Meanwhile, O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore team up with Cambridge, who rounded off his juvenile year by finishing second in the Group Three Eyrefield Stakes at Leopardstown.

“He has a fair bit to find with the form horses Alcantor and Eben Shaddad, but he followed up his Salisbury win on lively ground for me with a decent second in a Group Three on deep ground at Leopardstown, and hopefully there is plenty of improvement in him at three,” Moore told Betfair.

“He will probably want further down the line but this is a good starting point for him.”

The Richard Hannon-trained Haatem and Jane Chapple-Hyam’s unbeaten pair of Sons And Lovers and Champagne Prince complete the field.

Galopin Des Champs will try to right his only ‘wrong’ of last year when he lines up in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup later this month.

The dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was sent off the 4-11 favourite to complete a spring festival double in the three-mile Grade One 12 months ago, but after mastering British raider Bravemansgame, Galopin Des Champs was swamped by the late flourish of 20-1 shot Fastorslow.

Willie Mullins’ charge heads to Punchestown fresh from his second Cheltenham triumph for his fifth start of the season, with stablemate and Champion Hurdle scorer State Man also on course to chalk up his fifth outing this term in the Boodles Champion Hurdle.

The trainer said: “It’s going to be tough for him (Galopin Des Champs). He got beaten there last year, but I think the two, the Paul Nicholls horse and himself, went at it very early and the other horse came and robbed them. Paul (Townend) might just use different tactics and the horse seems good.

“Galopin Des Champs turns up every day and runs a race and has had many runs this season. I’ve seen horses that are hardy, willing and turn up end up being very good horses because the good ones sometimes get injured and are not able to turn up every day – we’ve seen that this year with one horse in particular.

“State Man turns up every day and wins all those Grade Ones and if you’re the owner, trainer or jockey, they’re the ones you want to be on – good, hardy, sound horses.”

With State Man going for the Champion Hurdle, that leaves Lossiemouth to target the Coolmore N.H. Sires Bolshoi Ballet Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle.

The five-year-old added to her Triumph victory of last season when landing the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with Mullins happy to wait until next term before tackling the open events.

He said: “Lossiemouth will go for the mares’ race, at this point in time anyhow. We’ll let State Man go for the Champion Hurdle.

“I was absolutely delighted with Lossiemouth in Cheltenham and it looks like she’s coming on-song in her bid for the Champion Hurdle next year.

“All those horses have to stay sound, it’s lovely thinking you have two or three for the Champion Hurdle and maybe Constitution Hill will be coming back, but they’ve all got to get there and as we’ve seen they don’t. It’s not a given that you get there.

“When you look at Lossiemouth on the track you think she’s a little grey mare, but when you stand into her you get a fright. It’s always a good sign when you look at a horse and think they’re a normal size but then when you stand in they’re much bigger, it just shows how well proportioned they are.”

Ballyburn routed his Cheltenham rivals in the two-mile-five-furlong Gallagher Novices’ Hurdle and has two options at Punchestown, in the two-mile KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle and the longer Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

Mullins said: “He impressed me hugely in Cheltenham – everyone was raving about him after his couple of wins in Ireland and I thought he was a good novice, but I thought he was way more than that when I saw the way he went up the hill at Cheltenham. He can go any trip so we will leave that until later on, we’ll see how the races pan out.

“Ballyburn looks a really good horse – what he did, I would be comparing him to Faugheen or Vautour, that was the sort of performance he put in for me at Cheltenham. A really top-end performance.”

Tullyhill has the same options as Ballyburn as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing run when sent off favourite for the Supreme.

Mullins added: “I imagine Tullyhill will go, he’s a winner round Punchestown and he was in some form on the gallop this morning.

“He was very disappointing (at Cheltenham), Paul said he went out like a light. We didn’t find anything wrong with him but he just wasn’t up to scratch on the day.”

Both Triumph Hurdle winner Majborough and Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase hero Fact To File have signed off for the campaign, but Mullins could field fellow JP McManus runner and impressive Aintree scorer Mystical Power at Punchestown.

Another Liverpool victor, Il Etait Temps, is also pencilled in for a quick return to action in Barberstown Castle Novice Chase having triumphed by nine lengths in the Manifesto.

Mullins said: “I thought in Aintree he settled well and jumped well and he’s becoming more the finished article.

“I just thought when I saw him walking round the parade ring, I’ve never seen a horse move so well. The way he was striding out at a walk, covering so much ground, he impressed me before the race. The break he got after Cheltenham, he just relaxed.

“He obviously performed well twice in Leopardstown and then now in Aintree, so maybe just a flatter surface does do it for him and maybe a little better ground as well, though it was soft enough in Aintree.”


Jasmin De Vaux was a landmark 100th Cheltenham Festival winner when claiming the Champion Bumper and he is in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race, while Kargese could have another bite of the Grade One cherry in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle after finishing second at Cheltenham and Aintree.

 

“He is good and has put on a nice bit of condition since he came back. I’m very happy with the way the whole string has put on condition, I was looking at them this morning and looking at the coats they have on them and the flesh they’ve put on since Cheltenham, I was really pleased,” said Mullins.

“Kargese has some engine, she pulls so hard. We’re going to have to change a few things about her as if we can get her to settle in a race, she is a real machine I’d say.

“I’d say she’s big enough to go chasing and sometimes those horses settle better over fences.”

Mullins is currently leading the British trainers’ title with the Irish equivalent already in the bag and he admits the prospect of completing that double has made him think twice on Punchestown plans.

He said: “It was amazing coming home from Aintree, the amount of texts and calls I got from my owners to say ‘if you want to bring my horse to Ayr, Perth or wherever do that’. They’re really behind it, they’re part of the team and want to be part of it if it’s going to happen.

“It’s sort of thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for our team, but we still have an A-team to bring to to bring to Punchestown anyway.”

Pretty Crystal held off the late surge of Dance Sequence in the Lanwades Stud Nell Gwyn Stakes at Newmarket.

Viewed as the first 1000 Guineas trial of the spring, Charlie Appleby’s previously unbeaten Dance Sequence was 10-11 favourite to enhance her Classic claims.

William Buick was briefly short of room on the Godolphin filly and it was just then that Oisin Orr on Pretty Crystal made his decision to set off in pursuit of Brian Meehan’s Kathmandu, who had made a bold bid for home.

As Kathmandu’s stride began to shorten, it was Richard Fahey’s Pretty Crystal who looked the likely winner but Dance Sequence, once in the clear, began to make ground.

The favourite began to roll around upon meeting the rising ground, though, making life difficult for Buick, and that enabled Pretty Crystal (18-1) to come out on top by a neck.

El Fabiolo will bid to aid Willie Mullins’ quest to be crowned Britain’s champion jumps trainer by contesting the bet365 Celebration Chase on the final day of the season at Sandown.

With the Randox Grand National success of I Am Maximus at Aintree seeing Mullins hit the front in the title race, the Closutton is keen to grab what he believes would be a “once in a lifetime achievement” with both hands, as he looks to fend of Dan Skelton and perennial champion Paul Nicholls.

As is usually the case, most of the Mullins big guns are being readied to round off the campaign at the Punchestown Festival between April 30 and May 4.

But star two miler El Fabiolo could forego an outing in County Kildare to instead head back across the Irish Sea the previous Saturday, with the £170,000 Celebration Chase likely to have a major bearing on where the championship ultimately ends up.

Speaking at a press morning at his yard to promote the Punchestown Festival, Mullins said: “El Fabiolo will definitely go to Sandown.

“The Celebration Chase is an important race and it looks like a big race that we have the winning of, which would be huge.

“A lot will depend on what happens between now and Punchestown, (but) looking at it, we’re about £50,000 in front, so if we won that (Celebration Chase), one of the other guys would have to win another feature and probably another race to pass us.

“It’s a three-score game at the moment, but Paul is really a master of winning the championship and he will have his tactics in his head already. He could win the Scottish National and the bet365 Gold Cup and blow us out of the water, but you need a lot of luck to do that too.

“We’re just hoping that we can get one nice prize – and with a bit of luck, it will make it difficult then for Dan and Paul.

“We’re getting huge goodwill, especially from a lot of people across the water. They’re saying it’s adding a bit of spice to the end of the season and it’s a once in a lifetime achievement if we can manage to pull it off, so we’re going to put everything into it.”

El Fabiolo will be on a retrieval mission if he does turn up at Sandown after a bad mistake led to him being pulled up as a 2-9 favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins revealed the seven-year-old was feeling the effects of his disappointing effort after returning to Ireland, but is confident he is now back on-song.

He added: “He just wasn’t right when he came back from Cheltenham, so I just gave him a break and let him find his feet, so he’s bucking and kicking the last few mornings.

“He just wasn’t himself, but there was nothing to treat when we got home. Sometimes you just give a horse a break and let him recuperate and he’s done that and seems in good form now.

“He’s as fit as a flea and one or two bits of work should see him right for Sandown, I imagine.”

Another horse under consideration for a trip to Sandown is Arkle hero Gaelic Warrior, although the six-year-old does also have the option of Punchestown’s Barberstown Castle Novice Chase.

Mullins said: “Gaelic Warrior always looked very, very good but that form got a huge boost and it would be nice going to Punchestown with that, but I think he holds an entry in Sandown, so we’ll see how things go but I’d like to go to Punchestown with him.

“It’s sort of thrown a bit of a spanner in the works for our team but we still have an A-team I think to bring to Punchestown anyhow.

“It’s not something I like doing (running a novice in open company), but maybe this year we might have to look. El Fabiolo will be there, though, maybe he’d be enough.”

Charlie Appleby’s Ottoman Fleet landed the bet365 Earl Of Sefton Stakes for the second successive year at Newmarket.

The five-year-old was race-fit, having had three runs at Meydan in Dubai, and having won this race 12 months ago, had been racing with credit at a high level in America.

A consistent performer, he falls just short of the top class but in Group Three company, he is a force to be reckoned with.

Having travelled smoothly into contention two furlongs from home for William Buick, he soon took two lengths out of the field and the race was over in a matter of strides.

While he began to get tired late on and Astro King, the Cambridgeshire winner, closed to within a length, the 7-4 favourite was never in any danger.

The disappointment of the race was Roger Varian’s Embesto, who finished a well beaten fifth.

Jayarebe ran out a most impressive winner of the bet365 Feilden Stakes at Newmarket for Brian Meehan and Sean Levey.

Only seen twice last season, he won on his debut on the July course and was then stepped markedly up in class for the Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at ParisLongchamp on Arc weekend.

Only seventh behind Richard Hannon’s Rosallion there, he took a major leap forward on this occasion.

Never far from the firing line, Levey kicked for home heading into the dip and having hit the front, he soon put daylight between himself and his rivals.

Aidan O’Brien’s Gasper De Lemos briefly looked a threat before fading, while Andre Fabre’s Narkez never looked like playing a part in the finish.

It was the Richard Hughes-trained Whip Cracker who chased home the 11-1 winner, another who was close to the pace throughout, but he was beaten three and a quarter lengths.

“In three runs, he’s won here at Newmarket twice, once on the July Course and now the Rowley Mile – he’s a lovely horse,” said Meehan.

“He’s seen that out really well and pedigree-wise you would imagine a mile and a quarter would be the limit of his stamina, but he looked very good there.

“I liked the way he did it today, especially the way he came up the hill. He was always impressive last year and he has been doing well throughout the spring.

“He’s a lovely horse and I think if he would have been over a mile in the Lagardere, he would have probably run a bit better, but the form is really good.

“He was only six lengths behind Rosallion and that was seven furlongs, whereas today was a mile and one and, as always, there is natural improvement over the winter with these two to three-year-olds. The bare form is pretty good for a Listed race.

“The owner is away and back next week, so I’ll go and meet him and see what we’re going to do. He’s possibly a French Derby type, but he’s also a horse that might benefit for a bit more of a subtle touch for a while.

“The mile and a quarter race at Ascot would be a race to consider and there is a whole summer ahead of us and there’s plenty of time.”

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