National hero Noble Yeats has Stayers’ Hurdle in his sights

Cheltenham bid is more than a prep for Aintree.

Emmet Mullins insists the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is more than just a stepping stone to the Randox Grand National for Noble Yeats.

The nine-year-old was the Aintree hero in 2022 but finished fourth last year when saddled with 11st 11lb in the four-and-a-quarter-mile contest, a 19lb higher mark than the previous year.

Noble Yeats prepped for that title defence by finishing a distant fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and went on to run down the field in the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, leading to a later start to his campaign and a Stayers’ Hurdle bid.

Beaten as an odds-on favourite on his seasonal bow, Noble Yeats roared back to form when edging out the ever-popular Paisley Park in a thrilling finish to the Cleeve Hurdle and Mullins believes that result puts him right in the mix for top honours at the Festival.

Noble Yeats with connections after his Cleeve Hurdle win
Noble Yeats with connections after his Cleeve Hurdle win (Nigel French/PA)

He said: “He’s bouncing – he definitely improved a lot from the first time up at Limerick at Christmas. He would have needed that plenty and he definitely improved between then and the Cleeve Hurdle, hopefully he should come on again.

“That was always the plan. He was late back into training as we had such a big campaign last spring and I said to Robert (Waley-Cohen, owner) back in October, we had been put in our place in the Gold Cup last year and I couldn’t see a way past those horses this time around, so we changed direction.

“I’m not saying he’s going to win the Stayers’ Hurdle either but I think he could run a good race in it. I suppose Gordon’s (Elliott) horses are still unexposed, I thought Irish Point was impressive stepping up at Christmas.”

While Aintree in April is likely his ultimate aim, Mullins is not compromising on his preparations for the Stayers’.

He added: “It’s a target in it’s own right. It definitely won’t be as demanding a race as the Gold Cup but we’re definitely training for the Stayers’ as a race in it’s own right.

“I think we were quietly confident going into the Cleeve, and I said to Robert that if we didn’t lay down a marker we’d not deserve our spot in the race, so it was good to see that he did.”

Corbetts Cross holds a clutch of novice chase entries at the Festival but his build up suffered a blow when taking a fall at Fairyhouse last week.

Mullins pointed out Corbetts Cross is the only National Hunt Chase entry for owner JP McManus, but he is unsure how much a mark that tumble has left.

He said: “He seems none the worse for the race so it’s just taking it one day at a time. Physically he looks OK and I suppose we will take our time and we won’t be schooling him for another bit of time – fingers crossed there’s no lasting damage done.

“I can’t really say (if it will be too tight for Cheltenham) without schooling him. He’s a very versatile horse. He has form beating Found A Fifty over a mile and seven in Naas last year and he has form winning over three miles. We will just keep all options open for now.

“He’s got a high quality cruising speed, so if his jumping stands up to it he can always come back in trip a bit.

“He was JP’s only entry in the National Hunt Chase, so I think he’s keen enough on going there.”

Mullins ranks So Scottish among his possible handicap contenders, expecting to travel “four or five” but Leopardstown bumper winner Jeroboam Machin will not be among them after suffering a season-ending injury.

The trainer has the distinction of having ridden a Festival winner in 2011 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle victor Sir Des Champs and saddled a victor in The Shunter, winner of the 2021 Plate at a meeting run without spectators during the pandemic.

Mullins added: “It’s a special place. Training the winner was during Covid so there was no one there but it still hit home on the day. I got a big kick out of it even though there was no crowd there.”

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