Journey With Me aims to book Cheltenham ticket during Saturday Naas run

Henry De Bromhead runner seen as second favourite by many for Novices Hurdle

Journey With Me will try to book his Cheltenham ticket by scoring at Naas on Saturday.

Henry De Bromhead’s runner is something of a ‘dark horse’ among top Irish novices for the festival which kicks off in just over four weeks.

On the back of only two racecourse starts to date Journey With Me is a 5-1 second favourite in many lists for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle on Day 2 of Cheltenham.

Short on experience but long on potential, the horse that once when through the sales ring for just €5,000 lines up in the Connollys Red Mills Auction Novice Hurdle this weekend.


Compared to the Ballymore favourite Sir Gerhard - a proven Grade 1 winner over flights and bumpers - Journey With Me is a very unproven article.

However his sole race over hurdles to date was full of promise.

A Christmas contest supposedly there for Kilcruit to pick up instead saw the ex-point to point winner emerge on top.

The runner up Minella Crooner has boosted the form since. Kilcruit duly won his maiden at Punchestown and even the fifth Falcon Eight scored at Thurles on Thursday.

Factored into such cramped Cheltenham odds is how Journey With Me won despite a general downturn among the De Bromhead team that began over Christmas and has lingered since.

With only weeks until the all-important festival, lots of eyes are peeled for signs of a timely resurgence in stable form.

There was some encouragement from midweek when five runners at Fairyhouse yielded a win and two places from a handful of runners.

Another handful of De Bromhead runners will take their chances over the weekend but there’s little doubt Journey With Me is the priority.

City Island picked up the Naas contest on-route to Ballymore glory in 2019 and the presence of another promising young horse, O’Toole, adds to the competitive mix.

It’s a curiosity of the Ballymore betting that with just a maiden win under his belt Journey With Me is shorter than a trio of Grade 1 winners in Ginto, Minella Cocooner and Stage Star.

Saturday’s action could go a long way to establishing whether or not that sort of reputation is presumptive.

Another of De Bromhead’s novice team, Largy Debut, will try to retrieve his own reputation at Punchestown on Sunday.

Having beaten Kilcruit at Cork in December, Largy Debut started favourite for the Future Champions at Leopardstown over Christmas and ran abysmally.

He jumped right throughout and stopped to nothing before the straight prompting Rachael Blackmore to pull him up.

Keith Donoghue takes over on the Chris Jones owned runner for the Listed novice hurdle where Largy Debut will sport a first-time hood.

Going right-handed should at least help with steering and a bounce back to his Cork performance could be significant on a broader stable basis.

Before that, other festival clues could emerge from Naas although they might not cause too much change to ante-post lists.

Elimay should repeat her 2021 victory in the Listed Opera Hat Chase ahead of trying to go one better than last year in the Mares Chase at Cheltenham.

Her stable companion Billaway is going for three in a row in the Hunters Chase and should strip significantly sharper for his comeback at appearance at Thurles last month.

“Billaway will come on from Thurles where he was a bit sluggish when second. He has never won first time out so I’d be expecting a truer performance from him.

“He’s won this race the last two years. The track seems to suit him. He’s in first-time cheek-pieces and we’re hoping they might sharpen up his jumping a little bit,” his jockey Patrick Mullins reported.

In other news, Paul Nicholls will have his first runners in six days at Newbury on Saturday.

Britain’s champion trainer is another fighting a recent dip in stable form and deliberately hasn’t sent out any horses so far this week.

That changes on Saturday with the dual-King George winner Clan Des Obeaux (Denman Chase) and the top novice Bravemansgame due to line up.

The latter is being aimed at the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham and warms up in a limited novice handicap chase.

“He’s got to go somewhere as a prep for Cheltenham and I think this will be ideal,” Nicholls said.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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