13 February 2023

John McConnell readying strong Cheltenham team

13 February 2023

Autumn course winners Encanto Bruno and Fennor Cross are set to be part of John McConnell’s team for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Encanto Bruno, a £210,000 purchase after winning his sole start in the point-to-point field, made a winning debut under Rules at Cork in July before powering up the Cheltenham hill in October.

The form of the latter event could hardly have worked out better with the runner-up Strong Leader winning each of his three starts over hurdles, while Encanto Bruno has enjoyed a mid-season break.

The five-year-old is a 20-1 shot for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park and is reported to be firmly on course for that Grade One assignment.

“He got a break after Cheltenham and is back in full flow now, so the plan is to go straight to Cheltenham with him,” said McConnell.

“It was a good bumper he won and hopefully he’s developed a bit more physically since and we can get more out of him.

“The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede horse that won in Navan (It’s For Me) is probably the standout in the Champion Bumper, but we can only turn up and see how our horse does.

“Certainly the form of his race is solid, he’s won at the track and he’s a laid back character, so we’re very happy to have a go at it.”

Fennor Cross won a maiden hurdle at Cheltenham in October and returned to the track to claim a Grade Two prize at the November meeting.

He too has been kept fresh for a spring campaign, with McConnell adding: “He goes straight to the Festival as well. I’m not sure what race he’ll run in yet, it could be the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or it could be the Martin Pipe. He’ll get an entry in both and we’ll see.”

Another likely Festival contender for the County Meath handler is the resurgent Seddon, who won over hurdles at Cheltenham in October before bolting up over fences at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

McConnell said: “He’s gone up a lot in the weights, but he was entitled to I suppose.

“He’ll be entered in the Coral Cup and the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase (Festival Plate) and we’ll have a look at both races nearer the time and decide then which way we go.”

The trainer confirmed Anna Bunina will head for either the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup after finishing fourth behind Gaelic Warrior at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, while he has a couple of potential runners in the Triumph Hurdle.

Jackpot de Choisel won by 32 lengths on his second start over obstacles at Ayr last week, while multiple French Flat winner Hypotenus has not even run over hurdles or made his debut for McConnell yet, but he is considered an exciting prospect.

“Jackpot De Choisel will have another run and we’ll see then. He’ll be qualified for the Boodles as well as the Triumph Hurdle and we’ll have a better idea of where we’re going after his next run,” the trainer added.

“Hypotenus will probably run in a Grade Three in Fairyhouse in a couple of weeks and we’ll see how he gets on. He’s a big horse and he’ll be a lovely horse to have as a novice for next season, so we’re in no big rush with him, but if he ran very well in Fairyhouse we might be tempted to go for the Triumph.”

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