IT Came To Pass steps up preparations for his Hunters Chase defence with his final prep run at Naas.
It looks a hot contest with all the leading Cheltenham protagonists likely to run. Their never-to-be-forgotten victory was a fairytale for the O’Sullivan family from Lombardstown with the horse brilliantly ridden by Maxine and trained by her father Eugene.
With the point-to-points suspended due to Covid, the O’Sullivans will have a slightly different preparation for their stable star this season, but the ice-cool trainer is taking it all in his stride.
“It Came To Pass is very good and will run this weekend so we are looking forward to it,” Eugene O’Sullivan said.
“With the points cancelled we had to look at this race although the ground won’t be ideal.
“It’s very heavy ground at the moment and It Came To Pass is definitely a spring horse. For a yard like ourselves, it's rare enough to have a horse good enough to go to a big meeting like Cheltenham.
“It was 29 years between our first victory in the race and last March. We probably didn’t appreciate it back in 1991 so it gave us all a great kick a second time around. To go and defend the title would be something very special.“
Another hurdle for the O’Sullivans are the restrictions on amateur riders presently in place across all race meetings in England.
With the point-to-points also cancelled in the UK, the vibes are pretty negative on the chances of amateur jockeys being allowed to ride at Cheltenham.
“Under the rules, as they stand at the moment, Maxine wouldn’t be able to ride the horse at Cheltenham.
“It certainly is something we are keeping a very close eye on. Obviously, it would be terribly disappointing for Maxine after winning the race last year.
“They get on so well together, but what will be will be, as the saying goes. But we will just have to wait and see and thankfully the numbers of covid cases are dropping here and over in England.
“We are well aware that there are people across the frontline saving people’s lives at present. The staff in our hospitals are in everyone’s thoughts and prayers right now, but hopefully things will keep going the right way.”
The racing industry faces plenty of challenges right now, but the cancellation of point-to-points leaves so many trainers facing anxious times.
For a selling yard like the O’Sullivans, the pointing circuit is the backbone of their business. An impressive winner at a track like Dromahane will attract the eagle eyes of the leading buyers in the country.
“A yard like ours will have about 40 horses in training right now. You’ll always have a few horses injured and things like that.
It’s a major blow to the whole industry to have the point-to-point season suspended. It really is more of an industry than a sport so it is very worrying times for everyone involved in the game.
“There are so many horses that have been trained to run for this time of year and the amount of money held up is frightening.
“If these horses aren’t sold, the three-year-olds don’t get bought and don’t the line to the yearlings. The whole national hunt industry is being fed by the point-to-points. There is a cycle which works well for everyone, so we really need to get racing as soon as is safe to do so.”
Champion Jockey Paul Townend will have a quality book of rides for Cheltenham, captained by Al Boum Photo who is chasing a third Gold Cup in a row. The Willie Mullins string have been in sensational form all season and Allaho booked his ticket on the lorry with a comfortable victory in in a Grade 2 during the week at Thurles.
Dropped back to 2m4f and sent off the 10-11 favourite, he repelled the challenge of stablemate Elimay to get his career back on track and formed part of a one-two-three for trainer Willie Mullins in the race, with Annamix back in a distant third.
“I think he was just idling in front all the time,” Mullins said. “This might be more his trip, where he can jump and gallop. We’re very happy. I was a little worried when Elimay got to Allaho, but he picked up and went away like a decent horse.
”Today was good in terms of his jumping. David [Mullins] said he didn’t jump well in the fog in the John Durkan at Punchestown.
“Paul rode him in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown and we came away disappointed, but at least he’s making progress. I think he’s going to improve away into the spring, which is the time of the year you want him improving.”
Finally, it was terrific to see Davy Russell back riding out after being in a neck brace for months.
“I was certainly happy to be back out and there were no dramas,” Russell said.
“I rode a couple of nice horses this morning and it was a nice feeling. It’s exciting to be honest, but I still haven’t set a target to be back — I need to go back to the doctor and go through all that.”