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D'Antan age no barrier: Doyle

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Cheltenian. Picture: David Jones/PA

Cheltenian. Picture: David Jones/PA

Cheltenian. Picture: David Jones/PA

THE Grade One Weatherby's Champion Bumper, which tails tomorrow's card, is always the biggest unknown of the week at Cheltenham.

In fact, held back-to-back with the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle, you have two races one after the other that few could ever claim to have got rich on.

Without ever having a runner in the race, Wexford-based trainer Liz Doyle has enjoyed some satisfaction from the Champion Bumper as two horses she sold went on to do her proud shortly afterwards.

Al Ferof was first up when he finished second in the race but came back the following year to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Cheltenian won the Champion Bumper having finished second on debut at Punchestown for Doyle.

This morning, Doyle got a flight from Dublin to watch Cheltenian line up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but more importantly saddle the likely favourite for tomorrow's Champion Bumper.

With Empiracle sadly ruled out and Golantilla friendless in the market, the French import Le Vent D'Antan has been steadily promoted.

An impressive winner on his only start, Le Vent D'Antan has pleased connections in the build-up and is emerging from a yard that couldn't be in better form.

Doyle told the Herald: "We've had a good build-up with the horse, his bloods are good and he seems healthy and we've had a fairly clean run with him."

On Sunday just gone, Doyle claimed the Leinster National at Naas with Irish Grand National hopeful Rich Revival, giving her a second winner in a week and in a season that already marks her career best.

"Having a few winners the week before takes that bit to worry about out of the way and the ground being safe takes another thing to worry about out of the way," she said. "And he has travelled over okay so you are just left with the competition then."

As always, the competition in this race will feature a strong Willie Mullins attack and even Aidan O'Brien will have a runner, but Doyle is only concentrating on her horse.

Few will be willing to knock the horse, but most have question marks over the fact that he is only a four-year-old, an age that has produced just two previous winners of the Champion Bumper.

Le Vent D'Antan turned four on January 1st, the date that all horses jump up a year for administration purposes, but in fact he will run in tomorrow's Champion Bumper as a three-year-old.

Beaten

She explains: "My only little negative about the whole thing is that he was a March foal and he won't quite be four by the time the race comes around. I'm hoping that won't work against him too much and that he is forward enough to take it all in.

"Jezki was a four-year-old last year and he was only beaten seven or eight lengths in the race but he was still well beaten. Sometimes it can come too fast for a four-year-old but this horse has a Flat pedigree so he is not like a four-year-old by Oscar or Flemensfirth. He has got a lot of Flat genes in him so I'm hoping that will sort of bridge the age gap."

Shortly after Cheltenian won, Doyle was approached by her sister on behalf of the Goliath Syndicate to keep an eye out for the next Cheltenian. Bravely, Doyle suggested she already had him, but he was only two and would involve patience. They waited and have got due reward.

"Last year we did six quiet bits of work in the month of April with him. He was never brought away or even given a slap down the neck. We just asked him to stretch and thought a bit about him being a racehorse before he was let out on his break," she said. "Even those little bits of work before we let him off were very nice and he seemed to have a natural aptitude towards being a racehorse.

"I think we are justified in bringing him over here, but whether he fills the gaps for us or not I don't know – he's definitely entitled to be there."

Amateur Mikey Fogarty will retain the ride having won the Leopardstown race on him and Doyle added: "He is very straightforward to ride, he doesn't pull and he settles, so you can put him anywhere and I think the whole hustle and bustle and craziness of the race will suit him.

"It's all about travelling and I think he should travel well so if he does, touch wood, he'll be in the first four or five coming down the hill and God knows what will happen after that."

Cash

Offers arrived after the Leopardstown win, but the Goliath Syndicate went looking for a Cheltenham horse two years ago, waited two years for him to run and now look forward to him becoming that Cheltenham horse tomorrow.

"Any horse is open to an offer but it is literally down to the people that own the horse whether they sell or not and the owners of Le Vent D'Antan just didn't want to sell. They want to enjoy him and don't want to cash him in. Money isn't the be-all and end-all to everybody."

One previous runner at the Cheltenham Festival with Doyle riding it herself ran well but didn't trouble at the finish in the Kim Muir, but this is a different ball game now.

"I suppose it's a typical training thing to play down the chances, but I'm not feeling too much pressure. It couldn't have been any more pressure than Leopardstown when he was well backed first time out and we were walking into the unknown a little bit.

"I just want this horse to run with credit. He's capable of it."

He ticks a lot of boxes, now there's just one big exam left.


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