Labaik could step up for Champion bid at Punchestown
Impressive Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Labaik could run in open company at the Punchestown festival as trainer Gordon Elliott bids to secure enough prize-money to land a first trainers' championship.
The quirky Labaik – who has displayed a tendency to refuse to race but was on his best behaviour when springing a surprise at Cheltenham – has been entered in the €250,000 Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle as well as the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
"We never made a secret about how good we thought the horse was before Cheltenham, he just wasn't brilliant at jumping off [at the start] sometimes," said Elliott. "We've put him in the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown and that's a possibility.
"He's definitely running at Punchestown so if he doesn't go for that race he'll line up in the Champion Novice Hurdle on the opening day. He's in great form. He just does what he has to do at home and I'm looking forward to his next run."
The Champion Hurdle is worth €150,000 more than its novice equivalent, which could tempt Elliott who is battling Willie Mullins for the title.
Elliott, who was crowned the leading trainer at the Cheltenham festival with six winners, is €360,000 clear of Mullins and is 1-3 favourite to win a first title, but there is still plenty to play for with €2.9 million up for grabs at Punchestown, which runs from Tuesday, April 25 to Saturday, April 29.
Elliott didn't send a large raiding party to Aintree and has kept his big guns back for Punchestown, where his formidable team will include the likes of Mares' Hurdle heroine Apple's Jade, Triumph Hurdle runner-up Mega Fortune and Champion Bumper winner Fayonagh, who produced an astonishing finishing burst to prevail having completely blown the start.
"She's normally great starting off and it was a shame she got left at Cheltenham. Jamie [Codd] gave her a brilliant ride to recover and she must be a really tough mare to have done what she did," said Elliott.
"Jamie recommended her to the owners and she won by 20 lengths in a Listed bumper on her first start for us so she's been great. We've got the option of the championship race or the mares' contest with her."
Jamie Codd, who will keep the ride on Fayonagh, is battling for honours of his own and is level with Patrick Mullins in the amateur riders' championship.
Fry has Festival target
Harry Fry is another trainer who is gearing up for an assault on the County Kildare track later this month as he looks likely to run American in the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase on Tuesday, April 25, as well as other stable stars.
Fry skipped the Cheltenham Festival with American but feels that now is the time to step him up to Grade 1 class.
"American likes a bit of juice in the ground and, as long as he gets that, we're taking him to Punchestown for the Growise Champion Novice Chase," said Fry.
"We said all along we weren't going to Cheltenham because the ground had dried out too much. I've no regrets about missing Cheltenham. We waited for the right ground and he backed that up with a really good performance at Uttoxeter.
"I was thrilled with his win at Uttoxeter and hopefully, on his ground, he's right up there with the good novices."
Fry looks set to give the green light to Unowhatimeanharry for the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday, April 27.
He said: "The plan with Unowhatimeanharry is to go the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle. We decided the course was just drying out a bit too much at Aintree so it's roll on Punchestown for us."