‘Horses for courses’ – Gilligan hoping Buddy can make his mark at the Festival

Athenry-based trainer ‘can’t wait’ for Stayers’ Hurdle date, with his son in the saddle.

Paul Gilligan would not swap Buddy One for any other runner in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle field as his course winner prepares to take his shot at Cheltenham Festival glory.

The Irish raider finished third behind Iroko in the Martin Pipe last year before again hitting the crossbar at Aintree a month later.

The seven-year-old continued to perform well over the subsequent months and returned to the Cotswolds in November where a competitive handicap victory signalled a move into deeper waters in search of bigger honours.

Although faltering in his two starts to date in Grade One company, Gilligan believes Buddy One’s form at Prestbury Park makes him a player in the feature of Thursday’s Festival action and is relishing the chance to lock horns with some of the best in the staying hurdling division.

“It’s coming thick and fast and he’s in great shape. He’s been working really well lately and we’re looking forward to seeing him run,” said Gilligan.

“He did a great piece of work on Tuesday and I couldn’t be happier with him.

“He’s run twice around Cheltenham and won once and finished third in a race he could have won. It’s horses for courses as they say and he seems to like Cheltenham.

“I do think around Cheltenham and the fact that he handles the track will be a big plus. Whether he will beat them or not, I don’t know, but he’s going to be a hell of a lot closer to Gordon’s (Elliott) horses (than previously).

“I wouldn’t swap him for any other horse there. He’s a super horse to deal with and he travels well. When he gets to a new place, he just relaxes and eats. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Buddy One is as big as 66-1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle with some bookmakers but he is much shorter at 25-1 with Paddy Power, who report the gelding to be one of their five most popular picks since going non-runner money back on Festival races.

He was last seen being pulled up at Leopardstown in the Christmas Hurdle, but Gilligan is confident he is over the issues that troubled him that day and is firmly on track for his big-race assignment.

Buddy One galloping up the Cheltenham hill in November
Buddy One galloping up the Cheltenham hill in November (David Davies for The Jockey Club/PA)

“I think he has the potential to be involved,” continued the trainer.

“I know it’s a big step up from the handicaps, but at the same time, I thought at Leopardstown he was running a really nice race until something went wrong on the home bend before the last.

“Jack (Gilligan, son and jockey) did the right thing and pulled him up and we got him checked out after. The result was he was very sore and there were a lot of excuses and reasons for it (the poor run).

“He seems perfectly fine now, he worked and schooled the other day and he was just electric.”

Berties Dream was Paul Gilligan's previous Festival winner
Berties Dream was Paul Gilligan’s previous Festival winner (David Jones/PA)

It was in 2010 when Gilligan registered the biggest success of his training career as Berties Dream caused a 33-1 shock in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

However, he believes that moment will be eclipsed if either Buddy One or stablemates Kings Hill (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle) and Sequestered (Coral Cup/Martin Pipe) are able to make their mark at the Festival in the hands of his son.

“We’re going out there with three horses and our own lad will be riding them,” continued the Athenry-based handler.

“It’s way different to Berties Dream and when your own lad rides, of course it is a lot more special. We can’t wait for it.”

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