Cheltenham 2021 Trainer Henry de Bromhead targets a big week at Cheltenham
Henry de Bromhead knows how to train Cheltenham winners.
Horses like Sizing Europe, Special Tiara and Balko des Flos tell us that, they are just a few of the nine triumphs he has recorded at the festival from his base in County Waterford.
Yet this week, he goes to the meeting not so much as Willie Mullins's wing-man for Ireland, more an attack leader who could deliver an awful lot of direct hits on the Cheltenham winners enclosure.
After all, Henry has very serious chances of winning the Champion Hurdle (Honeysuckle and Aspire Tower), the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Bob Olinger), the Marsh Chase (Envoi Allen), the Triumph Hurdle (Quixilios) and the biggest race of all, the Gold Cup (with either A Plus Tard or Minella Indo).
Backing that lot up are another bunch of horses who might not be favourites, but who could certainly challenge for the win or run into a place at good odds.
We're talking here about Ballyadam in the opening race of the week, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, Captain Guinness in the Arkle, Minella Melody in the Mares Race on Tuesday, Eklat De Rire in the Brown Advisory Chase, Put the Kettle On and Notebook in the Champion Chase, Chris's Dream in the Ryanair and Atlantic Fairy in the Albert Bartlett.
You get my drift, Henry has many bullets to fire in his pursuit of taking that winners total of nine into double digits. He'll surely do that - and start on the run down the road to reaching 20 successes, I'd suspect.
Two of those top chances, Envoi Allen and Quixilios, came to Henry in the fallout from Gordon Elliott's well-documented troubles - when the horses' owner, the Cheveley Park Stud, decided to take the animals from Elliott's yard and place them with De Bromhead.
Understandably, he has been reluctant to talk about the circumstances in which he got the horses, but is delighted to have them at his Knockeen stables.
"They are very exciting horses to be getting and we appreciate Cheveley Park Stud sending them to us.
"All the work was done in the last few weeks and it is now just a question of keeping them, and all our horses, ticking over until their big day," says the 48-year-old. "Touch wood, it is all going well and we go to Cheltenham with good chances."
Most of De Bromhead's top horses will have the considerable assistance of Rachael Blackmore in the saddle.
Now established as one of the top jockeys in these islands, Rachael showed her skills last year with a brave dash up the inside rail on Honeysuckle in the Mares Hurdle to get the better of the Mullins-trained favourite Benie De Dieux.
This wasn't just about being strong in the finish. This was top-notch tactical awareness by the jockey, praised for being just that after the race by no less a judge than Ruby Walsh.
Having Rachael steering many of his best horses is just another bonus for Henry over the four days of action.
If things are flying along now for Henry, it wasn't always so.
Back during the 2016/17 campaign, owners Alan and Ann Potts decided to take their horses from De Bromhead's care. That was despite all the success Henry had brought them, principally with the great Sizing Europe.
Among the horses to leave his yard was Sizing John. Now with Jessica Harrington he won - in February, March and April 2017, - the hat-trick of the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, the Cheltenham Gold Cup and, finally the Punchestown, Gold Cup.
It's the only time that feat has ever been recorded and De Bromhead had to sit silently and watch a horse he had nursed through his novice days, over both hurdles and fences, achieve such glories.
Now the boot is on the other foot and he takes charge of Envoi Allen, a steed that Elliott has always been convinced would win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2022 or 2023.
Back last summer, Elliott and his owners could have chosen to steer 'Envoi' at this year's Champion Hurdle before going fencing next term. There was a whisper of trying to emulate the legend that is Dawn Run by winning the Champion Hurdle before having his go at the Gold Cup.
"We talked about it," Elliott admitted after a chat with the Cheveley Park leadership, "but he was bought by them to be a chaser and so we are going the novice chasing route."
So, in a big change from the pre-Cheltenham thoughts of the last decade, the 'Irish banker' of the meeting is not trained by Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott.
It is in the capable hands of Henry de Bromhead. If he's feeling the pressure, he's not showing it.
"Ah, it is good times, it is good to be heading for Cheltenham with a good team of horses, jockeys and great stable staff with me. One horse I'm really looking forward to this week is A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup on Friday.
"He won a Grade One over two miles at Leopardstown last season, beating no less than Chacun Pour Soi. And I can't think of too many horses, bar Kauto Star, who won a two-mile Grade One and a Gold Cup.
"But when he won the Savills Chase at Christmas, we said we'd skip the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup in February and head straight for Cheltenham. Rachael will ride him and we go there with big hopes."
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