Classy hurdler Pied Piper will bid to continue the Irish domination of the Club Godolphin Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket on Saturday.
Formally owned by the late Queen when twice a winner on the Flat for John and Thady Gosden, it is over obstacles where the now Gordon Elliott-trained five-year-old has made his name, finishing second and third respectively at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.
With attentions turned to the level once again following a long summer absence, Pied Piper finished third on his comeback run at Killarney in late August and the Cullentra House handler has managed to snare the prized booking of Ryan Moore ahead of this main autumn objective.
“It’s very interesting and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Joey Logan, racing manager for owners Caldwell Construction.
“He’s in great form and his prep up to this has been very good, so Gordon is very happy with him.
“He is on a nice mark (96) and he’s after having a good break from jumping last year. He’s come back a bigger, stronger and fresher horse. It’s a big ask in a big field but we’re very happy with him.
“It’s going to be a messy race and it’s a big field as we all know, but hopefully Ryan will be in a nice position and will be happy. We’re very lucky and Gordon has done a great job, we’re really looking forward to having Ryan Moore riding him.”
The Irish have won four of the last five runnings of the Cesarewitch, with Elliott’s great rival Willie Mullins responsible for three of those victories.
Jockey bookings would suggest the William Buick-ridden Lot Of Joy is the pick of the Closutton quintet this time, with Rachael Blackmore getting the leg up aboard Jackfinbar, while hoping to join his uncle on the roll of honour is Emmet Mullins, who will saddle Cheltenham Festival winner The Shunter – who he describes as “Mr Versatility”.
The Grand National-winning trainer is keeping his eye on the weather and said: “Hopefully they get all the rain that is due and he could run a big race.
“He is a very versatile horse and he proved that when picking up the bonus by winning over both hurdles and fences in the space of two weeks. He’s Mr Versatility and obviously this is another avenue we can explore with him.
“He always runs his race and has been training well and hopefully is there to take his chance.”
Noel Meade is another Irish handler more commonly associated with training over jumps and has assembled a two-strong raiding party headed by Galway Hurdle runner-up and Irish Cesarewitch fourth Jesse Evans.
“He’s actually better off in this race than he was in the Irish Cesarewitch,” explained Meade.
“He seems in good shape but had a hard race in the Irish Cesarewitch, so we will have to hope he has recovered from that. But he seems OK and the little bit of work he has done has been good and we’re happy with him.
“He likes fast or fastish ground but the trip is a little bit of an unknown with him. He gets two miles all right, but two-miles-two, I don’t know, we will see.”
Jesse Evans will be joined in the line-up by stablemate Sheishybrid, who tuned up for this by finishing second over track and trip in the Cesarewitch Trial Handicap.
“She was second in the trial there and she is a good bit better off with the one that won it,” continued Meade.
“She stays all day and she will get two and a half miles. She will get the trip no problem and seems to have come out of the race well the last day. The quicker the ground, the better.”
Getting the better of Sheishybrid in the Cesarewitch trial was Andrew Balding’s Grand Providence, who will once again be partnered by Hayley Turner as she edges her way towards 1,000 career winners.
The jockey said: “She’s got a nice light weight and is proven at the distance at the track. Staying has really brought out the best side of her.”
Hughie Morrison saddled Vino Victrix and Not So Sleepy to finish second and third respectively in this 12 months ago and both are back for another crack at the prestigious handicap.
Not So Sleepy arrives after making all in Newbury’s Autumn Cup last month and will now have the burden of a 4lb penalty, while Vino Victrix returns to the Rowley Mile off a mark 2lb lower than when second to Run For Oscar in 2022.
“Sleepy didn’t help his chances by winning that handicap the other day, but that was very pleasurable and now he has a penalty,” said Morrison.
“We haven’t been trying to be cute with Vino, just nothing has really come for him this year. If he comes back to form, he could run into a place again.
“It would be nice to have a nice, big winner at the end of the season, but we’ve had a great year and can’t be greedy.”
Battle-hardened stayer Tashkhan registered his first victory in over two years when thriving in the mud at Chester recently and his handler Brian Ellison is hoping conditions will allow for another bold showing off top-weight here.
“I’m praying we get enough rain and it looks like it’s coming,” said Ellison. “We need it and the owner is keen on running, but obviously he won’t run unless the ground is right.
“He was good last time, top-weight in a handicap and giving weight away and a beating to in-form horses. It was good and we were over the moon with him really, he’s bouncing at the moment.
“I wouldn’t say he has to step up, but the ground is more important to him than the horses he runs against – he needs that soft or heavy ground.”
David Pipe’s Wordsworth was purchased with this race in mind and was seen to good effect over hurdles at Bangor 10 days ago, while Gary Moore’s Goshen and the Alan King-trained Tritonic are other names jumps fans will be familiar with.
The latter will attempt to give King and owners the McNeill family a second win in the race after combining with Grumeti in 2015 and Tritonic’s jockey Rossa Ryan believes he will be right in the mix.
He said: “I love him and I would put a line through Goodwood. It was sticky ground there and he didn’t like it.
“It either needs to stay dry and become nice, good ground or it stays raining and becomes loose. I think in the middle of that, he’s not in love with it.
“Alan’s are in good form and he will have a chance, he won’t be bringing him for the sake of it.”