IT CAME TO PASS and Maxine O’Sullivan are heading back to the Cheltenham Festival.
Following their never-to-be-forgotten victory in 2020, the Sullivans are hoping to reclaim the famed Foxhunters Trophy after the horse finished seventh last March under Richie McLernon.
These are nervy times for connections, but the Sullivans are optimistic about participating in the race which they memorably won in such breath-taking fashion at the 2020 Festival.
Of course, there were joyous scenes across the county on that occasion as jockey Maxine fulfilled the dreams of a lifetime.
This race is known as the amateurs Gold Cup, and the 66/1 outsider stormed up the famous Cheltenham hill under a patient and brilliant ride from Maxine.
Of course, history was repeating itself for the Sullivans as Lovely Citizen won the race for Maxine’s father Eugene as trainer and his brother William riding in 1991.
Naturally, the few weeks before any big meeting is a terribly nervous time for every trainer but the vibes from Lombarstown are positive.
“As things stand, we are intending to travel to Cheltenham," Eugene O’Sullivan said.
"We have a few more pieces of serious work to do yet but everything is on track for the Cheltenham Festival.
"Maxine knows the horse better than anyone and she was pleased after the work we did last Saturday.
“We are certainly coming in under the radar a bit as we haven’t got decent ground yet. Hopefully, the rain will stay away, and the forecast is good it seems.
"Our neighbour and friend Richie McLernon rode him last year as the amateurs weren’t allowed travel over due to Covid restrictions, but Max will be back in the saddle again this year. Fingers crossed that everything goes to plan between now and March 18.
"The horse is now an 11-year-old but is lightly raced overall. We have no huge expectations going over, once Maxine and the horse come back safe and sound that’s all that really matters.
"There was 29 years between Lovely Citizen winning and It Came To Pass so we keep our heads firmly on the ground in this game. But it would be brilliant to go back over again that’s for sure.”
There was disappointment for fellow north Cork trainer Michael Winters as they revealed that Chatham Street Lad will not make the Cheltenham Festival. Winters' stable star who has won around the track has not recovered in time from his latest setback.
Earlier in the season Chatham ran a blinder to finish third to the Gold Cup favourite A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. Unfortunately, he picked up a nasty injury which meant he missed out on most of the season.
He was supposed to run at Gowran Park a couple of weeks ago but was lame the morning of the race.
It has been such a frustrating time for the trainer who to be fair always remains positive.
“Chatham Street Lad won’t be running at Cheltenham. It has been one of those years that things have just gone against us," Winters explained.
"But the good news is the horse is back in light work and there are still big meetings like Aintree and Punchestown to look forward to.
"We will be entered in the Topham Chase at Aintree and once the ground has an ease in it, we will be fine.
"It’s disappointing but we are around the game long enough to expect the unexpected in racing.”
Lisgoold jockey Paul Townend has a brilliant book of rides, but his hand has been weakened by the enforced absence of Allegorie De Vassy due to injury.
The five-year-old had been impressive in winning her first two starts in Ireland for Willie Mullins, most recently claiming Grade Three honours at Fairyhouse in late January.
She was well fancied to provide her owner Rich Ricci with a third win in the Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and was a leading chance for Townend.
“Allegorie De Vassy has chipped a bone in her hock and will be on the sidelines for a minimum of three months." Ricci’s racing manager Joe Chambers said.
"The full duration is to be confirmed. We have taken a number of X-rays, which were all negative over the weekend.
"However, she was still not fully sound and it took us until a scan yesterday evening to identify the acute area.”
Despite Allegorie De Vassy being ruled out, the Ricci colours are likely to be well represented across the four days in the Cotswolds for Townend. Leading hopes include Queen Mother Champion Chase contender Chacun Pour Soi, Triumph Hurdle favourite Vauban and Gaelic Warrior, who has not yet run for the Mullins team but has been heavily backed for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
“We’ll have somewhere in the region of eight to 10 runners. Allegorie De Vassy was probably one of three or four fairly strong fancies that we thought would be very competitive.
"If the Irish Chacun Pour Soi turns up we would be very much looking forward to that.
"We will see where he might lie in what is a particularly deep field, I think.”