Cheltenham credentials on the line at Naas this Sunday
January 24, 2020 | Niamh Byrne
Carefully Selected and Australian runner Big Blue feature on cracking card
Some 17,259km from his base in Australia, the classy eight-year-old Big Blue is one of seven runners in the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas this Sunday.
Ireland’s Racecourse of the Year is set to play host to a first ever Australian runner over jumps in this country as Big Blue’s ambitious trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace attempt to plot a path to the Cheltenham Festival in March.
In a race that produced Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’allen last year, Big Blue will look to fare better than he did in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton as connections eye a place at the Cheltenham Festival with the Sydney St Leger winner.
Speaking from Australia this morning, joint trainer Ciaron Maher said: “Big Blue has shown that he is a nice quality flat horse and he is only relatively new over the hurdles.
“He can mix it with the best of the horses down here but we are not just sure where he will fit in up there but I thought he had the potential to warrant going up there.”
Big Blue will face a tough field which features the Willie Mullins-trained Stormy Ireland and Franco De Port, while 2017 winner Sutton Place will make his return from a 721-day layoff for Gordon Elliott. Elliott also runs Mengli Khan, while the field is completed by the Jessica Harrington-trained Jetez and the Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go.
Maher added: “He stays well and he handles what is our worst ground so conditions shouldn’t be a problem for him.
“The handicappers couldn’t give him a mark but the Irish handicapper, Andrew Shaw has been excellent and hopefully the Limestone Lad Hurdle on Sunday will guide as to where we can potentially place him at Cheltenham.
“He has schooled quite a few times since he ran at Kempton and he has schooled well and worked very well so we are hoping for a bold showing. Kempton looked a slick race but it was obviously not a true reading of Big Blue’s form and I’m still quite confident he will measure up well up there.
“Rachael Blackmore will ride him on Sunday and she’s flying at the moment.”
As well as a little piece of history with the first Australian runner at Naas, racegoers on Sunday will also get the opportunity to see another fancied horse for the Cheltenham Festival as Carefully Selected heads the field for the Grade 3 Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase.
Already a Grade 3 winner at Punchestown a fortnight ago, Carefully Selected will make a quick reappearance for champion trainer Willie Mullins as the trainer attempts to open up more options at Cheltenham for the highly-rated eight-year-old.
"He's in good form and, while he won very well over two and a half miles last time, I think the step up to three miles will suit him well,” Mullins said on Friday.
“It isn't ideal running back so quickly after Punchestown but he needs to be placed in a chase run over two miles seven and a half furlongs or more in order to qualify for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham so we are letting him take his chance this weekend."
Carefully Selected will face five rivals which include stable companion Small Farm and trainer Matthew Smith's Grade 1 runner-up Ronald Pump.
The first on a seven race card is due off at 1.10pm and further details can be found at www.naasracecourse.com.