Ferny Hollow returns from almost 800-day absence to try to earn Cheltenham festival ticket

Jockey Jordan Gainford back in action this weekend after damaging vertebrae before Christmas

Out of sight hasn’t proved out of mind when it comes to Ferny Hollow and those pricing the odds on him eventually living up to his potential.

The Willie Mullins-trained star returns to action after almost 800 days on the sidelines at Naas on Sunday. He lines up in the Grade Three Newlands Chase against a handful of opponents including the Galway Plate hero Ash Tree Meadow.

Despite such a mammoth absence, Ferny Hollow is as low as 12-1 for the upcoming Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, cramped odds considering his profile but likely to contract significantly if he impresses on his comeback.

Successful in the 2020 Bumper at Cheltenham, Ferny Hollow looked to have the world at his feet when beating Bob Olinger in a maiden hurdle only to be subsequently sidelined through injury.


A new chasing career began in 2021 but came to a quick halt after a Grade One Christmas victory, since when memories of what might have been haven’t gone away.

Stable companion El Fabiolo is a red-hot favourite to lift the two-mile crown in 2½ weeks’ time but there will still be plenty interest to see what the latest version of Ferny Hollow might look like.

With just seven races under his belt to date, the nine-year-old might yet be able to confound presumptions about them never coming back and he does get a useful 9lb weight concession from Ash Tree Meadow.

Sunday’s other Grade Three features one with a very different profile as Gordon Elliott’s filly Wodhooh bids to make it six from six in her jumping career to date.

The ex-Michael Stoute runner has thrived over flights including landing Listed contests at both Doncaster and Newbury.

She currently has a trio of Cheltenham festival options, including the Triumph, although the Winning Fair Hurdle is no bad prize in its own right.

“She doesn’t want the depths of heavy ground, so a couple of dry days will do her no harm and hopefully Sunday will set her up nicely for the spring festivals,” Elliott said.

With Jack Kennedy suspended on Sunday, she is set to be ridden by Jordan Gainford who’s also on the comeback trail.

Out of action since December when he fractured vertebrae after being unseated in a chase at Naas, Gainford teams up with Fury Road in Saturday’s Grade Three Tote Bobbyjo Chase in Fairyhouse.

In his absence, Gavin Sheehan stepped in for an unlikely King George success on Gainford’s old partner Hewick.

Keen to prove his fitness before Cheltenham, the rider should have a safe conveyance on Fury Road, although the finish is likely to involve the Grand National favourite Vanillier and reigning Irish National champion, I Am Maximus.

The latter has recently been coming off worst against his stable companion Galopin Des Champs but running honourably in the process. This represents a drop in class and it is around the track where he also secured Grade One success in December’s Drinmore.

I Am Maximus does have to give Vanillier 12lbs as the latter continues his preparation for trying to go one better than last year at Aintree in April.

Jalon D’Oudairies has been the standout to date among Elliott’s bumper team this season and is among the favourites for Cheltenham’s Day Two finale.

Also in the mix for that is Romeo Coolio and his fans will hope for a form boost from Sporting Glory in Saturday’s concluding event.

It looks something of a win-win Elliott, though, as Sporting Glory’s big rival looks to be his racecourse newcomer Jersey Des Brosses, a near €430,000 purchase by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary after finishing second in a point-to-point.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column