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Five key horses to look out for at Down Royal this week

Thu 28 Oct 2021

There are plenty of superstars in action at Down Royal on Friday and Saturday, as well as some potential stars. Harry Allwood pinpoints the five key horses to look out for over the two days.

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Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo is set to return to action at Down Royal on Saturday (Pic: Focusonracing)
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo is set to return to action at Down Royal on Saturday (Pic: Focusonracing)

It is fair to say we are in for a treat at the Ladbrokes Festival Of Racing at Down Royal this week, with a number of high-profile national hunt horses returning action and, based upon previous results at this meeting in the past, there is a chance we will see one or two future stars on show.

Champion Bumper winner Sir Gerhard made his debut under rules in the Pro/Am Flat Race on Saturday 12 months ago, and Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios was successful on the same card before going on to score at the Cheltenham Festival.

Skyace, who landed the Grade Three Mares Novice Hurdle at odds of 66-1 on the opening day last year, scored at Grade One level at the Punchestown Festival later that season, and Envoi Allen was also successful on his chasing debut at Down Royal in 2020.

This year, the standout name among the entries is Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo who returns in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase on Saturday, and Frodon, Galvin and Delta Work will be among his rivals in what can only be described as a mouth-watering contest.

Below are five key horses to look out for, with a view to bigger targets later in the season.

Every race will be shown live on Racing TV over the two days, and Gary O’Brien and Ruby Walsh will be on course previewing, and reviewing, all of the action. Enjoy!

Party Central

Race: Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Mares Novice Hurdle(1.45pm, Friday)

Watch how Party Central scored on her hurdling debut

This youngster produced some strong form in bumpers, including when finishing second in a Grade Two contest behind Grangee at Leopardstown in February prior to landing a Listed race on her final start of the season.

Gordon Elliott’s charge returned with a satisfactory debut over hurdles at Listowel where she travelled like the best horse in the race and was not asked for her maximum effort. Connections were also keen to point out that she would strip fitter for the outing afterwards.

Her jumping, for an inexperienced hurdler, was good overall and she will have no doubt learnt plenty for the experience.

She is a best-priced 25-1 for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at next year’s Cheltenham Festival and, although she faces strong opposition on Friday, she has bundles of potential over obstacles, so connections will be disappointed if she is not up to at least going close here.

Zanahiyr

Race: Wkd Hurdle (2.20pm, Friday)

Zanahiyr was narrowly beaten by Jeff Kidder at the Punchestown Festival when last seen

Looked a high-class hurdler in the making when scoring at Grade Two and Three level last season and was sent off the 11-8 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, he raced keenly in that contest and was not suited by the lack of pace – he was staying on again towards the finish – and bounced back at the Punchestown Festival when second behind Jeff Kidder.

He shaped as though he would be suited over further on both occasions and it will be no surprise to see him stepped up in trip following this outing, which is no doubt a stepping stone to loftier targets this season.

His trainer, Gordon Elliott, has said his four-year-old has grown again over the summer and it remains early days for this former Flat performer over obstacles.

He faces four rivals on Friday, but may not have it all his own way as Grade One runner-up Cask Mate, who has the benefit of a run following a recent outing on the flat, is only rated 7lb inferior to Zanahiyr on ratings, and will carry 5lb less than him.

Vanillier

Race: Tote Ten to Follow Beginners Chase (3.30 Friday)

Vanillier stormed to success in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival!

Took his form to a new level when powering to victory in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival and while that may not have been the strongest renewal of the Grade One contest, he impressed with the way he drew clear of his rivals on the run in.

He was probably feeling the effects of those exertions when disappointing at the Punchestown Festival - which was his sixth start of the season in testing conditions - and makes his chasing debut on Friday.

He has some of the strongest hurdles form next to his name and was described as a “staying chaser in the making” last season, so it is wise to expect further improvement from him over the larger obstacles.

This trip is likely to be short of his best and he also faces some other high-class rivals here, including Stayers’ Hurdle fourth Beacon Edge, who will also be making his chasing debut, and connections will likely be hoping for a clear round as he gains experience before competing in Grade One contests later this season.

Minella Indo

Race: Ladbrokes Champion Chase (2.50pm, Saturday)

Relive Minella Indo's Cheltenham Gold Cup victory

The Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who is the second-highest rated chaser in Britain and Ireland behind Chacun Pour Soi following his victory in jump racing's blue riband contest.

He may be making his seasonal debut on Saturday, but he bolted up on his return last season, albeit at a lower level, so is clearly capable of going well fresh and his rivals have a bit to find with him on the ratings.

Henry de Bromhead's star chaser will need to be close to his best, though, as he faces a difficult task with Frodon, Delta Work and Galvin – who has the benefit of a recent run – among his rivals.

However, it will be a shade disappointing if he is not able to make a winning return, and a tilt at the King George could be on the agenda following this outing.

Envoi Allen

Race: Join Racing TV Chase (3.25pm, Saturday)

Envoi Allen in winning action on his chasing debut at Down Royal last year

Made his chasing debut with the world at his feet over the larger obstacles at this meeting last year and, after ticking every box on his first three starts over fences, things did not go to plan for him on his final two outings at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

He had jumped well prior to his fall in the Marsh Novices’ Chase and returned lame when pulled up at the Punchestown Festival, so did at least have excuses for those below-par efforts.

Connections appear to have found him the perfect opportunity to get back on track here, and the dual Cheltenham Festival winner ought to take all the beating in the Join Racing TV Chase.

He is also two from two at Down Royal, and his nearest rival on ratings – Coko Beach – has lots to find with Envoi Allen.

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