Eric Bloodaxe is set to lead Joseph O’Brien’s team into battle at the Dublin Racing Festival next weekend.
Unbeaten in two bumpers to date, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned five-year-old will aim to follow in the footsteps of Envoi Allen – who last season won the Grade Two bumper at Leopardstown before going on to double up at the Cheltenham Festival.
“I’ve been very lucky this year to get some very nice bumper horses, so we’ll be represented with real chances,” said O’Brien.
“Eric Bloodaxe has done nothing wrong – he looks a decent horse and might run on the Saturday – and we’ve a filly that won at Fairyhouse, Castra Vetera, who might run on the Sunday.
“The young horses coming through, the novices and the bumper horses, are the future – so it’s important you are well represented in those, and luckily this year we are.
“Uhtred is another nice young horse. But having run over hurdles, he doesn’t qualify for the bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival – (so) he might go to Naas for a winners’ of two at the end of February.”
O’Brien, a champion jockey on the Flat, has made a scintillating start to his training career – winning major races under both codes, including a Melbourne Cup with Rekindling and an Irish Gold Cup with Edwulf.
He added: “I’ve had the support of some fantastic owners, and I’ve stumbled across some very good horses.
“I have a great team of (stable) staff on the Hill (in County Kilkenny), and they make it happen.
“It’s a very different lifestyle, training, but you get more of a kick out of training a winner – because more goes into it.”
Edwulf’s win at the Dublin Festival in February 2018 created headlines, after connections had feared the worst when the chaser finished in severe distress following his run at Cheltenham the previous March.
“Edwulf winning was huge – it’s a very big race, and to get him back to win like that after Cheltenham was fantastic,” said O’Brien.
“We were lucky to still have him – it’s well documented what happened, and the vets were great. He ran a career-best that day.”
In the same JP McManus silks, O’Brien’s star so far this season has been Fakir D’oudairies – who was last seen over Christmas as runner-up to Notebook at Leopardstown and has two options next weekend, the Irish Arkle and the Flogas Novice Chase over two miles five furlongs.
He added: “Fakir D’oudairies has two entries – we haven’t made a final decision, and hopefully the ground is fine.
“Touch wood, he’s always been good jumping fences and has been a natural.
“He maybe didn’t get into the same rhythm last time, and I hope we can get him back into that rhythm – and we can get closer to Notebook this time.
“He’s in good shape. I think the ground will make the final decision whether he runs in the Irish Arkle or the Flogas.”
O’Brien has several other contenders throughout the meeting, but none with obviously outstanding claims.
“Unless the ground is very soft, Darasso won’t run (in the Irish Champion Hurdle),” he said.
“At Haydock (last weekend), it wasn’t as heavy as we hoped – and with Haydock being tight, he was just outpaced, so I wouldn’t lose faith in him yet.
“He’s a very good horse, (and) he has a big future – but whether that’s over fences or hurdles, I’m not certain. I’d say he might get further than two miles.”
Asked which horse he would choose to ride in the race, O’Brien said: “Sharjah has done nothing wrong, but it would be hard to get away from Honeysuckle – she’s never really done anything wrong.”