12 March 2023

Espanito Bello tees Connell and O’Sullivan up perfectly for Cheltenham

12 March 2023

Espanito Bello was produced to perfection by Michael O’Sullivan to win the Bar One Racing Leinster National Handicap Chase in easy fashion at Naas.

Ahead of a big week for owner-trainer Barry Connell and his young jockey, the nine-year-old course specialist was sent off 7-2 for the afternoon’s feature handicap.

Travelling smoothly tracking the pace throughout he moved effortlessly into contention as the field rounded the final bend and O’Sullivan was still hanging on to plenty of horse as he hit the front jumping the last.

Espanito Bello simply had to be kept up to his work in the closing stages as he coasted to a seven-and-a-half-length victory and picked up the €59,000 first prize.

“That’s what he was here two years ago when he beat Coko Beach the length of the straight and it’s taken us a little while to get back to that,” said Connell.

“He loves the course and that’s his fourth win here. He won a bumper, a hurdle, a beginners chase and now a hundred grand handicap.

“He’s in the Irish National, but we would only run him if the ground came up soft. I ran him in it once before, but he wasn’t right and the ground was too quick.

“He’s going to go up a bit for that and is entitled to step back into Graded company at some stage as well.

“That’s a fantastic pot to win today and I’m thrilled.

“He finished fifth in the Thyestes the last day which was a good run considering it was his first run in a chase for over a year. He got a lot of confidence from that and travelled way sweeter today. He was a winner everywhere.”

Connell and O’Sullivan team up with leading Cheltenham contenders Marine Nationale in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday and Good Land the following day in the Ballymore.

Connell added: “They are over there and were ridden out this morning. They couldn’t be in better form and everything is 100 per cent.”

When asked about ground conditions he added: “They are having a drying day over there today. The ground doesn’t matter to Good Land, but the other fella wouldn’t want it too soft.

“If it’s soft it will be English soft and it won’t be too bad.”

Nick Rockett had won a bumper in good style at Thurles last month and wasted little time opening his account over hurdles in the opening Bar One Racing “Guaranteed Multiples All Shops” Maiden Hurdle.

Although his jumping left little to be desired in stages, the 11-8 favourite proved far too good for the opposition in the hands of Paul Townend.

“His schooling yesterday left a bit to be desired and I think Paul was relieved to get around let alone win but there is definitely plenty of room for improvement,” said assistant trainer Patrick Mullins.

“It’s great for Stewart (Andrew, owner) who flew over from Leeds today. His wife Sadie passed away recently and this was her horse so he’s obviously delighted that he’s won.

“He looks a horse that could go on and be a nice novice for the spring and could even stay in for nice ground over the summer.

“He won a point to point and will jump fences in time.”

Thomas Gibney’s Wee Charlie (4-1) had enough in hand to hold on in the closing stages of the Bar One Racing “Price Boosts All 28 Favourites At Cheltenham” Handicap Hurdle, while Stuart Crawford’s Carnfunnock (7-2) showed plenty of fight to reel in Lucky Max in a mighty finish to the Bar One Racing “Mobile Betting At Cheltenham” Handicap Hurdle.

“The ground probably blunted his speed a bit,” said winning rider JJ Slevin.

“It was a good performance and we thought he was reasonably well treated off a mark of 116. It was nice to get his head in front.

“He tried hard and his jumping is coming on as he did jump a bit big. He got a bit more cover today and it was a smoother run through.”

In the concluding bumper there was no joy for odds-on favourite Fancy Girl as John Gleeson tuned up for his Champion Bumper ride aboard A Dream To Share by steering John Queally’s Gaillimh A Run (11-4) to victory.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox