The transition from the Flat season into the meat of the National Hunt season is ramped up a notch with Tipperary’s Super Sunday fixture this weekend featuring the best of both worlds.
In the Grade 3 Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle, multiple Grade 1 winner Abacadabras takes on Scottish Champion Hurdle heroine Anna Bunina, while on the Flat, the Group 3 Coolmore U S Navy Flag Concorde Stakes has attracted a 13-strong field headed by the 108-rated Snapraeterea for Joseph O'Brien.
Gordon Elliott stated this week that Sunday’s first run of the season for the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Abadcadabras could determine his path for the season with a potential chasing campaign on the agenda. John McConnell had a positive bulletin on Anna Bunina and the intriguing contest is complemented by the inclusion of the Henry de Bromhead-trained Jason The Militant and Noel Meade's Jesse Evans with Effernock Fizz and Hope Des Blins also engaged.
While some of the most powerful operations in the sport will make their way to Tipperary on Sunday hoping to snare some of the big prizes on offer, the small but select string of Francis Casey will be represented by his stable star, Max Flamingo.
Irish Grand National-winning jockey Paddy O’Hanlon will ride the Casey-trained seven-year-old in the Grade 3 O’Dwyer Stell Dundrum Novice Chase and the popular Stamullen-based trainer is hoping for a bold showing.
“I’m looking forward to him getting started unless it gets heavy and with the rain that’s given now, it won’t get heavy. He goes fine on soft ground,” Casey said on Friday morning.
“He did very well out and is in great order. He’s done a few bits of work and I’m very happy with him but I’m sure he’ll take the run. He looks a better horse than last year but he probably isn’t as fit yet. I’m thrilled with him though.
“The Mayo National didn’t work out at all for him. The first time he jumped off fine, the second time he was jumping off last and he never seen the first fence and went straight into it and Jack (Kennedy) ended up pulling him up.”
Casey, who is no stranger to big race success having been an integral part of Flemenstar’s Grade 1 success when trained by his late father, Peter, suggested that plans are fluid for Max Flamingo.
“The intention was to go to the Munster National but if he runs well in this, we’ll stay the graded route where there’ll be smaller fields. He was always the same, he likes to get into a rhythm and he’s been the same in big handicaps, even over hurdles. Things go wrong and that’s it. In smaller fields he can get into a rhythm and tends to get better as he goes along.
“I have no worries about his jumping. When he won in Killarney, before Jack got off him, he said, ‘This is the best horse I’ve ever seen to jump.’ I says, ‘Sure you rode a Gold Cup winner!’ ‘I don’t care,’ he says. ‘He’s the best horse I’ve ever seen to jump,’ and then he ploughed into the first in Ballinrobe! But when he gets into a rhythm, he’s a good jumper.
“I’ll know more after Sunday but I’m very happy with him as long as the ground doesn’t go heavy.”
Denis O’Regan and Jack Kennedy both guided Max Flamingo to victory this year but with minor injuries restricting that pair to the sidelines for now, Casey is sticking with O’Hanlon, who is equally as familiar with the son of Kalanisi, even though the conditions of the race preventing the rider from using his claiming allowance.
“I don’t have any staff,” Casey added. “I’ve only five riding out but Paddy works them for me. So even though he can’t claim the five pounds, he’s good to me so he gets the ride. I could get Rachael Blackmore, Mark Walsh, Seán Flanagan but they’re not here the rest of the week. When I go to Skryne, Paddy is there for me and Conor Maxwell is there for Palace Rock. So that’s the way I see it.”
Max Flamingo’s rivals on Sunday include the Gordon Elliott-trained Ash Tree Meadow, who was last seen when fourth in the Galway Plate, and Willie Mullins is represented by the hat-trick seeking Authorized Art and Rambranlt'jac. Kilbeggan winner Il Courra makes up that five-runner contest.
The Cheltenham Festival winner Brazil will bid to make the most of his time as a novice when heading the field for the Grade 3 Woodlands House Hotel Novice Hurdle.
Padraig Roche's four-year-old will exit the novice ranks in December and faces nine rivals on his first start since finishing third in Grade 1 company at Aintree.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins, who has won this race previously with Penhill and Bachasson, saddles two of Brazil's challengers, Champ Kiely and Hubrisko, as does Henry de Bromhead with Marvel De Cerisy and Riogo Choice.
Meanwhile, trainer Sheila Lavery has a busy weekend ahead and isn't discouraged by Friday's rain finding its way to Tipperary as she prepares Belle Image for the Group 3 Coolmore U S Navy Flag Concorde Stakes.
The four-year-old daughter of Kodi Bear was a memorable fourth at odds of 125/1 in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at The Curragh last season and while an ease in the ground isn’t a requirement for Lavery’s charge, she has shown herself not to be inconvenienced by it.
“She’s had a lot of niggly setbacks but she seems to be in a really good place now,” Lavery reported from France this morning. “Given the quality of the race, she will need to be very well but I’m just absolutely thrilled to have her back and to be taking part in a race of this calibre.
“The rain won’t do her any harm though I don’t think she’d like it bottomless. She just needs a bit of an ease and hopefully it won’t get too deep. But I’m running out of time with her and she’ll take her chance.
“Plans are fluid for her at the moment as regards whether she will race next year or not. She’s in the December Sale but we’ll see how we go. It will be interesting how she gets on at Tipperary on Sunday.”
Lavery is Paris ahead of New Energy running in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.
“We are in Paris with New Energy and really looking forward to the weekend with both horses. New Energy is improving all the time and we are delighted with the draw he has got,” Lavery added.
Ger Lyons and Colin Keane won the race last year with Maker Of Kings and this time combine with Markaz Paname, while Ado McGuinness runs 2020 winner Current Option alongside stable mate Casanova in what promises to be a fascinating affair.
While restaurant packages have been sold out, the Bulmers Bundle remains available. At a price of €29 it includes admission, a race card, a pint, €10 food voucher and €5 tote voucher. General admission is €15 online and €20 on the gate.
There will be plenty of entertainment on the day with the CJ Kickham Brass Band playing on arrival. Live music in the Bulmers Marquee will come from Marvel Tones, followed by Handipak.
There is a pet farm and playground for the children while the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe will be played on the big screen for patrons.
Parking is free and the racecourse is just a five minute walk from Limerick Junction Train Station. There is a bus stop directly outside the front of Tipperary Racecourse.
Gates open at 11am with first race 1.15pm and the last race at 5.20pm.