Elimay returns to action on familiar ground before Cheltenham
Elimay is expected to face a tough task as she kicks off her Cheltenham Festival preparations with a hat-trick bid in Saturday’s BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas.
Willie Mullins’ runner first landed the Listed contest in 2021 before going on to take second in the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham, while last year she added to her Naas laurels when repelling Pink Legend by half a length to win at Prestbury Park too.
Elimay went on to finish second at the Punchestown Festival, but has been off the track since trailing home a 16-length fourth on her return at Clonmel back in November.
The nine-year-old must concede weight all around at Naas and will be giving 12lb to fellow Closutton inmate and JP McManus-owned mare Dinoblue – a factor Mullins’ son and assistant Patrick expects will prove crucial.
He said: “Elimay had a slight setback over the winter, so it is great to have her back out and going before Cheltenham. This is not going to be easy for her giving away all the penalties.
“Dinoblue is stepping up against more experienced mares, but she is getting all of the allowances and we’d like to think she can take advantage of all the weight she is receiving.”
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Magic Daze, a Punchestown Festival winner last season, is also among the seven runners for a race Mullins has won in six of the last seven years.
Another key Cheltenham player turns out in the Naas Farm Machinery Hunters Chase as the Mullins-trained Billaway looks to win the extended three-mile contest for a fourth year on the bounce.
Billaway, winner of the St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase at last year’s Festival, will team up as usual with Patrick Mullins and much like Elimay, his major rival could be a stablemate.
Annamix, who was third in last year’s Topham at Aintree, returns to racecourse action proper after a couple of point-to-point starts this winter, although longer-term targets are in mind for the 10-year-old.
Mullins said: “Billaway has won this race the last three years and we are putting a tongue-tie on him for the first time. We are expecting a big improvement from his first run which he normally has in him.
“Jamie Codd rides Annamix in the same race. We are trying to qualify him for the Aintree Foxhunters’, so hopefully he can finish in the first three on Saturday.”
The opening Jim Nolan Transport Supporting Kill GAA Rated Novice Hurdle is another race to watch with an eye on the Festival.
Brazil won this last year before claiming the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham and three of this year’s contenders are entered in the Triumph Hurdle.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Jazzy Matty, Andrew Slattery’s Sir Allen and Almuhit from Denis Hogan’s yard are engaged in the Festival heat, while Metamorpheus and Byker were both last-time-out winners.
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