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Supreme ruler Labaik in great heart with Fairyhouse and Punchestown on the radar

Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero Labaik has been pencilled in for appearances at both F airyhouse and Punchestown before the end of the season.

Having refused to race twice in succession on the Flat, Gordon Elliott's grey looked to have been reformed by a switch to the jumping game when scoring in impressive style at Punchestown and Navan in the autumn.

However, his old problems resurfaced as he failed to jump off in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and the Navan Novice Hurdle in December and his career looked all but over after he trailed home 100 lengths behind the winner at Naas last month.

But Elliott has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the six-year-old and he put his best foot forward to run out a brilliant winner of the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser.

Owner Aidan O'Ryan said: " It was a brilliant day and it was just great to see the horse deliver what he'd promised to do.

"The main thing was getting him to jump off. Once he'd done that, we knew what he was capable of.

"I don't think there was any fluke about it. It was a good race, Melon was the talking horse going into it and he was second.

"I went to see him earlier in the week and he seems in very good form and great order.

"I think the plan will be to go for the Grade One novice hurdle in Punchestown, possibly taking in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse along the way.

"He seems good and fresh as although he's been to the races a few times, he hasn't had many runs!"

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Hopes high Derek Fox will return from injury to ride One For Arthur in National

Lucinda Russell is "pretty sure" Derek Fox will be fit to ride One For Arthur in the Randox Health Grand National.

Fox took over as stable jockey at Russell's Kinross yard following the retirement of Peter Buchanan, and has been in the saddle for the eight-year-old's two wins this season at Kelso and most recently in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.

But he has not ridden since a fall at Carlisle on March 9.

The pair gained valuable experience over the Aintree fences when a close fifth in the Becher Chase in November and One For Arthur is one of the ante-post favourites for the great race on April 8.

"He's actually down at Jack Berry House in Malton with Scu (Peter Scudamore, assistant trainer)," said Russell.

"He's always been confident he'll be back in time and I'm pretty sure he will be.

"One For Arthur is in great shape, we've had mixed feelings watching some of the horses he's been running against come out and win big races, but I'm sure we're doing the right thing by him."

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Enda Bolger hoping Aintree fences will fire up On The Fringe

Enda Bolger is hoping a return to the Aintree fences will help On The Fringe bounce back to winning form after he was beaten at Cheltenham.

The pre-eminent hunter chaser of his day was looking to win at the Festival for the third successive year but could only stay on into fourth behind Pacha Du Polder.

He has also won Aintree's Randox Health Foxhunters' Chase, for which he is one of 38 entries. for the past two seasons and his trainer is looking forward to him returning to Merseyside.

"All going well he'll be at Aintree," said Bolger.

"He came back safe and sound which is the main thing, maybe the ground was a little quick for him at Cheltenham.

"By the time of the race it had even quickened up from when I walked it in the morning, but we're only looking forwards now, not back.

"He does love Aintree, he seems to come alive over those fences so hopefully that is in our favour.

"He had a lot of ground to make up at Cheltenham and just stayed on one-paced, but at Aintree he seems to be able to go with them early, even though it's a shorter trip."

Cheltenham winner Pacha Du Polder will aim to follow up for Paul Nicholls, while Balnaslow, who was prominent throughout, is another in the mix.

Persian Snow, Grand Vision, Big Fella Thanks and Black Thunder are other notable entries.

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Mags Mullins in no hurry to map out Debuchet plans

Mags Mullins is unsure as to whether Champion Bumper runner-up Debuchet will run again this season.

The four-year-old was beaten a length and a quarter by Fayonagh in the Grade One heat on what was just his third career start last week.

While Mullins was thrilled with his performance, she will bide her time before making any decision on possible options for Debuchet before the end of the campaign.

Mullins said: "He came back in great form - he seems in mighty order.

"You've never won until you've crossed the line, especially in Cheltenham with that hill to climb.

"It would have been nice to win, but he ran a great race and the main thing is he's come home in one piece.

"I don't know whether we'll run him again (this season). There's a four-year-old-only Listed race in Limerick and then there's Punchestown, we'll just wait and see how he is."

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Jean-Claude Rouget stars Almanzor and La Cressonniere set for big 2017

Early-season plans remain fluid for French superstars Almanzor and La Cressonniere.

The Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Almanzor won five of his six starts in 2016, including Group One triumphs in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown and the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

His remarkable stablemate La Cressonniere is unbeaten in eight starts, but has not been seen in competitive action since last August after an injury setback ruled her out of an intended appearance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Sylvain Vidal, racing manager for part-owner Gerard Augustin-Normand, said: " Everything is fine with Almanzor, but the last time I spoke to Jean-Claude, he said he wants to take his time.

"La Cressonniere is fine and back on track. She's been working well, but Jean-Claude also wants to take his time with her.

"It is still too early to say when either will be running. They are two very good horses and there is no rush.

"There are plenty of races for both of them later in the year."

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'Slow process' as Toast Of New York continues to be assessed for racing return

Connections of Toast Of New York insist there is still no guarantee the former Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up will return to competitive action.

Last seen being agonisingly beaten in the 2014 Classic by Bayern for Jamie Osborne, injury forced the UAE Derby winner into early retirement.

After his Breeders' Cup run he was bought by Al Shaqab Racing and has been standing at stud in Qatar, but the fledgling breeding industry there is such he has not covered many mares.

It emerged last month that Toast Of New York had returned to the UK to be assessed by veterinary staff to see if he could return to racing, but Al Shaqab's racing manager Harry Herbert feels there is a long road ahead.

He said: "He's still trundling along. It's a very slow process.

"He is still at Longholes Stud being assessed by the Al Shaqab vet, Duncan Moir, and we'll see how we get on.

"What happens from here is purely down to veterinary advice, but if Duncan is happy, he is likely to go back to Jamie Osborne's, possibly in the next week or two.

"At this stage it isn't very exciting as it is a long and difficult process bringing a horse back, firstly from the injury he had and then having been let down and covered a few mares.

"He's still a million miles away from doing any serious exercise."

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Cheltenham ace Yorkhill heads Ryanair entries at Fairyhouse

Yorkhill is the headline act among 24 entries for the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on April 16.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was an authoritative winner of the JLT Novices' Chase at last week's Cheltenham Festival and would undoubtedly be a hot favourite if putting his unbeaten record over fences on the line on Easter Sunday.

Mullins unsurprisingly has a strong hand, with Bachasson, Bellshill, Great Field and Royal Caviar also among his seven contenders.

Sponsor Michael O'Leary's sole success in the race arrived in 2007 courtesy of the Charlie Swan-trained One Cool Cookie, but Gigginstown House Stud's familiar maroon and white silks are sure to be well represented this year.

Noel Meade's Road To Respect was one of the most impressive winners at Cheltenham as he stormed to a six-length success in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase under Bryan Cooper.

Meade and Gigginstown also have the option of fielding Flogas Novice Chase winner Disko, who was third behind Yorkhill in the JLT.

Other contenders include the Gordon Elliott-trained trio of A Toi Phil, Ball D'Arc and General Principle, Alan Fleming's Festival hero Tully East and Jessica Harrington's Our Duke.

The two British-trained entries are Gary Moore's Casse Tete and Frodon from Paul Nicholls' stable.

Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe said: "The Ryanair Gold Cup is always a top-class affair and this year's renewal is shaping up to be one of the best yet.

"To potentially have three Cheltenham Festival winners in the line-up is a mouthwatering prospect."

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Let's Dance figures in Fairyhouse list

Cheltenham Festival heroine Let's Dance heads a 10-strong entry for Willie Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday.

Let's Dance provided owner Rich Ricci with his sole success at this year's Festival when coming from a long way back to land the Trull House Stud Mares' Novices' Hurdle under Ruby Walsh.

Mullins could also call upon Airlie Beach, winner of the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at this venue but disappointing at the Festival, as well as the likes of Augusta Kate, Asthuria and Kate Appleby Shoes.

The Grade One contest has attracted 22 entries in total, with Gordon Elliott represented by Shattered Love and Dinaria Des Obeaux.

Warren Greatrex's La Bague Au Roi and the Donald McCain-trained Lastbutnotleast are two potential challengers from Britain.

"Let's Dance produced a brilliant performance to win at Cheltenham and her presence at Fairyhouse, should she show up, would be a real treat for racegoers," said Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe.

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Nigel Hawke continues hot streak at Ludlow

Speredek completed his hat-trick in style in Ludlow's feature Bromfield Sand & Gravel Handicap Chase to continue a fine month for trainer Nigel Hawke.

Wins at Taunton and Sandown had seen Hawke forced to up his six-year-old in class, but as was the case throughout the day, he did not have many rivals to beat.

Sean Bowen set out to make all and while he had company from De Faoithesdream for the first circuit, that one was a spent force in the home straight and the 10-11 favourite had 11 lengths to spare over Workbench.

Hawke, a Grand National-winning jockey on Seagram in 1991, was saddling his eighth winner of the month at a strike-rate of over 30 per cent.

Gino Trail was sent off the 1-10 favourite to win the Alfa Aggregate Products Novices' Chase and despite jumping left throughout, Kerry Lee's charge had little more than an exercise round under Jamie Moore.

"He was 1-10 and the hardest part was getting him down to the start, it wasn't much of a race," said Moore.

"He's a 10-year-old but he's not had much racing, he's had more races this year than in the whole of his career.

"That's three he's won this season now and he's also been second to good horses like Zamdy Man, Buveur D'Air and Flying Angel. Kerry's placed him well.

"He qualifies for veterans' races now, so that could be an option."

Dan and Harry Skelton are another operation who place their horses to best effect and they were rewarded with a double.

Shantou Rock (2-9 favourite) won the two-mile novice hurdle as his price suggested he would

"He likes to get on with it. Things didn't go to plan at Southwell last time, but that was good today," said Harry Skelton.

"He likes to take you along and he ran with the choke out over the first three, but then he calmed down.

"He's not achieved much there but he'll make a very nice chaser next year."

Whatduhavtoget (11-8 favourite) was a 16-length winner in the mares' novices' hurdle in the well-known Highclere Thoroughbred Racing colours.

The 14-year-old Pearlysteps (7-2) was a popular winner of the hunter chase for Henry Daly and is now set for retirement.

"I'd like to think that's it. It doesn't get any better than that, winning at your local track with a 14-year-old who is owned and bred by the chairman of the track," said Daly.

"It's a great moment to stop, he's won 10 races - not many do that."

On a day when only 33 horses were in action across seven races, Ludlow's general manager Bob Davies was left scratching his head.

"It's very disappointing, we put on good prize-money all the time," Davies - another former Grand National-winning rider - told Racing UK.

"You can understand horses coming out at the overnight stage when you have an inch of rain before declarations as they might have been expecting better ground.

"What was disappointing is that we only got 107 entries for £72,000 prize-money and Chepstow got 170 entries for £35,000 so you wonder why we do it all the time.

"We spread our prize-money evenly so we don't have one big race and the rest worth nothing.

"Once you've done the programme book you don't really want to change races as trainers can plan a long way in advance.

"Easter can be a bug bear as when that moves so do the fixtures, but you wonder sometimes what you have to do."

But Daly said: "I see Bob was moaning about the trainers not running - I would suggest Bob needs to look at the programme himself and get his programme right. Two mares' races, running a 0-150 two-mile chase between Cheltenham and Aintree.

"If I had one rated 150 I think I'd run it in the Grand Annual, not at Ludlow."

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Nigel Hawke continues hot streak at Ludlow

Speredek completed his hat-trick in style in Ludlow's feature Bromfield Sand & Gravel Handicap Chase to continue a fine month for trainer Nigel Hawke.

Wins at Taunton and Sandown had seen Hawke forced to up his six-year-old in class, but as was the case throughout the day, he did not have many rivals to beat.

Sean Bowen set out to make all and while he had company from De Faoithesdream for the first circuit, that one was a spent force in the home straight and the 10-11 favourite had 11 lengths to spare over Workbench.

Hawke, a Grand National-winning jockey on Seagram in 1991, was saddling his eighth winner of the month at a strike-rate of over 30 per cent.

Gino Trail was sent off the 1-10 favourite to win the Alfa Aggregate Products Novices' Chase and despite jumping left throughout, Kerry Lee's charge had little more than an exercise round under Jamie Moore.

"He was 1-10 and the hardest part was getting him down to the start, it wasn't much of a race," said Moore.

"He's a 10-year-old but he's not had much racing, he's had more races this year than in the whole of his career.

"That's three he's won this season now and he's also been second to good horses like Zamdy Man, Buveur D'Air and Flying Angel. Kerry's placed him well.

"He qualifies for veterans' races now, so that could be an option."

Dan and Harry Skelton are another operation who place their horses to best effect and they were rewarded with a double.

Shantou Rock (2-9 favourite) won the two-mile novice hurdle as his price suggested he would

"He likes to get on with it. Things didn't go to plan at Southwell last time, but that was good today," said Harry Skelton.

"He likes to take you along and he ran with the choke out over the first three, but then he calmed down.

"He's not achieved much there but he'll make a very nice chaser next year."

Whatduhavtoget (11-8 favourite) was a 16-length winner in the mares' novices' hurdle in the well-known Highclere Thoroughbred Racing colours.

The 14-year-old Pearlysteps (7-2) was a popular winner of the hunter chase for Henry Daly and is now set for retirement.

"I'd like to think that's it. It doesn't get any better than that, winning at your local track with a 14-year-old who is owned and bred by the chairman of the track," said Daly.

"It's a great moment to stop, he's won 10 races - not many do that."

On a day when only 33 horses were in action across seven races, Ludlow's general manager Bob Davies was left scratching his head.

"It's very disappointing, we put on good prize-money all the time," Davies - another former Grand National-winning rider - told Racing UK.

"You can understand horses coming out at the overnight stage when you have an inch of rain before declarations as they might have been expecting better ground.

"What was disappointing is that we only got 107 entries for £72,000 prize-money and Chepstow got 170 entries for £35,000 so you wonder why we do it all the time.

"We spread our prize-money evenly so we don't have one big race and the rest worth nothing.

"Once you've done the programme book you don't really want to change races as trainers can plan a long way in advance.

"Easter can be a bug bear as when that moves so do the fixtures, but you wonder sometimes what you have to do."

But Daly said: "I see Bob was moaning about the trainers not running - I would suggest Bob needs to look at the programme himself and get his programme right. Two mares' races, running a 0-150 two-mile chase between Cheltenham and Aintree.

"If I had one rated 150 I think I'd run it in the Grand Annual, not at Ludlow."