Talking Horses: Blackmore building strong Cheltenham book of rides


Rachael Blackmore added another major contender to her book of rides at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday when Bob Olinger, the 6-4 favourite, burst clear to win the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas, marking himself out as Ireland’s leading contender for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle on 17 March as he did so.

Bob Olinger went into Wednesday’s race with only one win over hurdles to his name, but had previously finished a close second to Ferny Hollow, last year’s Champion Bumper winner, on his debut over timber in November.

Blackmore, who was looking for the 11th Grade One success of her career, always looked confident on Henry de Bromhead’s gelding and quickened to lead between the final two flights. Bob Olinger flew the last and crossed the line six-and-a-half lengths clear of Blue Lord, earning a top quote of 5-1 second-favourite for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle behind the 9-2 market leader, Bravemansgame.

Previous winners of Ireland’s first Grade One of the year include Envoi Allen, who completed the double in the Ballymore last season, and the 2016 Grand National winner, Rule The World, who took the race in 2013.

“He’s always shown us a lot at home and I think today was the stamp of the kind of horse he is for the future,” Blackmore said. “I wanted to ride a straightforward enough race on him. He’s a simple horse to ride in that sense and I was happy most of the way.

“He jumped better today in the latter half of the race. The jump is there if you really ask him. For the future he’s probably going to be one for longer trips, he’s won a point-to-point and looks one for fences in the future.”

Bob Olinger joins A Plus Tard, the 10-1 second-favourite for the Gold Cup, and Honeysuckle, the 4-1 joint-favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle, in Blackmore’s book of rides for the Festival, where she can also look forward to riding Aspire Tower and Notebook, both runners-up at Grade One level last time, in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase or Ryanair Chase respectively.

Another serious challenger for the Festival meeting emerged earlier on the card as Willie Mullins’s Energumene, in the blue and white colours of owner Tony Bloom, recorded an easy success in a two-mile novice chase.

Energumene is now as short as 5-1 and no bigger than 7-1 for the Arkle Trophy on 16 March, in a market headed by Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin, currently the only odds-on favourite for a race at the Festival at a top price of 5-6.

Quick Guide

Greg Wood’s Thursday tips


Catterick Bridge

12.40 Balkardy

1.10 Timely Gift

1.40 Pay The Piper

2.10 Sastruga

2.40 Duc De Grissay (nap)

3.10 Fame And Hope

3.40 The Herds Garden


12.50 Go As You Please

1.20 Enry Iggins (nb)

1.50 Pennyforapound

2.20 Call Simon

2.50 Emphatic Qualm

3.20 The Glancing Queen

3.50 Baratineur


Fontwell Park

1.00 Beauport

1.30 Bard Of Brittany

2.00 Umbrigado

2.30 Lily The Pink

3.00 Belle De Manech

3.30 Love The Leader

4.00 Jazz King

Chelmsford City

4.20 Crantock Bay

4.55 Trepidation

5.30 Irish Times

6.00 Top Drop

6.30 Pilot Wings

7.00 Old News

7.30 Cool To Be A Cat

8.00 No Nay Bella

The Festival’s three races for amateur riders, meanwhile, could be contested by professional jockeys this year if the current lockdown restrictions extend into March, after the British Horseracing Authority said on Wednesday that amateurs will not be permitted to take part in races under Rules after Saturday.

The BHA move brings the sport into line with the latest government restrictions around “grassroots” sport. Hunter chases will continue to be part of the racing programme but will be open only to professional jockeys, including conditionals, and the weights to be carried in such events will be reduced accordingly.

“It’s too early to say what will happen at Cheltenham,” a spokesperson for the BHA said on Wednesday, “it is over two months away and the situation may have changed by then. We will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions about the Festival closer to the time.”

A handicap chase at Southwell in September, in which the veteran chaser Cillian’s Well suffered a fatal fall, is reportedly the race at the centre of a BHA investigation which also involves leading rider Bryony Frost, who discussed “ongoing things that need to be sorted out” in a recent interview in the Guardian.

Frost, riding Wisecracker, was a short distance in front of Cillian’s Well and Robert Dunne when the 11-year-old fell four out and suffered a fatal injury. A subsequent exchange of words between Frost and Dunne is now understood to have led to Frost lodging a complaint with the BHA.

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