Racing – Bolger has two for Foxhunters but Cross Country runner looks unlikely

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10 March 2020; Epatante, with Barry Geraghty up, celebrates on their way to winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on Day One of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Racing – Bolger has two for Foxhunters but Cross Country runner looks unlikely

For the first time in the 17-year history of the race, it looks like Enda Bolger won’t have a runner in the Cross Country Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

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Bolger has always been viewed as the best in the Cross Country trainer in the business. His unique training set-up in Limerick is perfectly suited to producing cross country stars. Leading owner, JP McManus has always been quick to send horses to Bolger, so he can ready them for this most unique of races.

McManus and Bolger teamed up to win four of the first five renewals of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase. Although they’ve only managed to find one further winner since 2009, Bolger has always played some part in the Cross Country, and last year was one of the few renewals where an Enda Bolger runner didn’t finish inside the top three, at the very least.

The 2016 winner, Josies’ Order was pulled-up, and another trip to Cheltenham seems unlikely. Yanworth also represented Enda Bolger in last season’s Cross Country, but he unseated Darragh O’Keeffe fairly early on, and suffered a fatal injury at Kilbeggan in the autumn.

There have been two Cross Country Handicap Chases staged at Cheltenham so far this season. Bolger only sent one runner over to England for the second of those contest, and My Hometown failed to make any sort of impact, crossing the line last, 90-lengths behind John McConnel’s Some Neck.

As things stand, none of Enda Bolger’s horses feature in the list of possible entries for the 2021 Cross Country Chase, and any potential runners have just eight weeks left to prove they are worthy of a Cheltenham Festival entry.

The St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase is the other race Bolger tends to target at Cheltenham. In 1996, Enda both trained and rode Elegant Lord to victory in the Foxhunters. 20 years later, Nina Carberry guided On The Fringe into the winners’ enclosure, before successfully defending their crown the following season.

Bolger may not have a runner earmarked for the Cross Country but, thankfully, it seems “the boss of the banks” has two prime contenders for the 2021 Foxhunter Chase.

The first of those is Staker Wallace, who finished fourth behind Eugene O’Sullivan’s shock winner, It Came To Pass on his Cheltenham debut in 2020. Since then, Bolger’s ten-year-old has placed in two point-to-point races, and broken his maiden tag in Hunter Chases at Limerick, where Barry O’Neill rode the 4/7 favourite to a comfortable victory.

Stand Up And Fight could also carry JP McManus’ famous colours into the Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham in March. Derek O’Connor’s mount was the youngest horse in the field at the age of seven when he finished sixth behind Hazel Hill in the 2019 Foxhunters.

Stand Up And Fight beat current favourite for the 2021 race, Billaway when the pair met at Fairyhouse in November. Willie Mullins’ talented hunter chaser managed to turn the tables on Bolger’s charge at Down Royal over Christmas, but that was run over a shorter trip which suited Billaway more, and Stand Up And Fight will be keen to have another crack at his rival in the “amateur’s Gold Cup” on day four of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.