The JP McManus-owned champion cross-country performer, Easysland, has the Cheltenham Festival has his main objective again, but is set to remain on the cross-country circuit rather than being aimed at the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, according to racing manager Frank Berry.
McManus purchased the David Cottin-trained six-year-old after his victory at Cheltenham in December and plenty see him as potentially being Gold Cup class after he galloped away from Tiger Roll and company at the Festival earlier this year.
However, Berry said on Tuesday: “The plan will be to come back for the cross-country. He’s very well. They are happy with him. I’m sure if there is a race they will give him a run over there before he comes back to England.
“He’ll stick to the cross-country route. It’s a possibility he could go to Cheltenham before the Festival. There is nothing written in stone.”
Angus McNae and James Millman review Easysland's 2020 Festival success
McManus, who enjoyed such a successful time at the 2020 Festival, starts the new campaign without a UK-based number one rider, but Berry did not reveal any new plans on that front.
Instead, the McManus runners will continue to use the best jockeys available for their horses which are scattered around a host of top trainers, including Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, Philip Hobbs, Alan King and Harry Fry.
In Ireland, Mark Walsh has continued to be retained by McManus since Barry Geraghty retired from riding in July.
“There are no plans at all. Everything is the same as it was. We are carrying on as normal,” said Berry.
One of the star rides up for grabs this season will be Epatante, whose main aim will be to hang on to her Unibet Champion Hurdle crown.
The Nicky Henderson-trained mare was one of five winners for Geraghty at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
“Nicky is very happy with her. We don’t know at the minute where she will start off. She has a good few options. We’ll see when she’s ready,” said Berry.
“The Champion Hurdle is definitely the target.”
Berry reported Buveur D’Air to be well on the road to recovery after being injured when bidding to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle for the third year running at Newcastle in November.
The nine-year-old underwent surgery following his narrow defeat by Cornerstone Lad after he returned with a splinter of wood in his foot.
“He’s back in Nicky’s and it’s so far, so good,” said Berry.
“It’s taken him a long time to get over the injury, but he’s back being ridden out and we’re just taking it day by day with him.
“He’ll tell us when he’s ready. He’s on the road back and it would be great to see him again.”
McManus has an exciting young hurdler in Saint Roi, who won the highly-competitive County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Saint Roi scores at Tipperary in style - how high can he go?
The five-year-old, trained by Willie Mullins, made an impressive return to action when winning a Grade Three contest at Tipperary at the weekend.
Saint Roi is likely to run next in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal at the end of the month, a contest that has also been mentioned as a possible target for the Gordon Elliott-trained Abracadabras.
“He did it nicely the other day. The conditions of the race suited him well,” said Berry. “I think Willie is thinking of going to the north with him.”
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