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Press Release 12th February 2024 Cheltenham

By Ben Cox

Trainer John ‘Shark’ Hanlon has admitted he would “travel the world” to find a superstar racehorse like his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Hewick and still cannot believe he found him in a local sale “five minutes down the road”.


Hanlon describes the nine-year-old, who cost his owner TJ McDonald just €850 (around £800) but has already won more than £600,000 in prize money, as “tough as nails”.


And as he and his team plot a second bid for Gold Cup success after his fall in last year’s race two fences from home, the trainer says his whole team get a buzz from having such a top-class chaser in their yard.


County Carlow-based Hanlon only bought Hewick at a sale in nearby Goresbridge after the horse he had intended to buy was not there. Since then he has won the American Grand National, the Grade Two bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown Park and the Grade One Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.


Speaking at a media event today which was organised by The Jockey Club, Hanlon said: “He has a great temperament – you can do what you like with him and travelling doesn’t bother him. We probably won’t go to Cheltenham until Wednesday.


“He is tough as nails and has never let us down. To have a horse like him makes such a difference to the yard and gives us such a buzz. You would travel the world to get a horse like him and he came from only five minutes down the road!


“The extra two and a half furlongs in the Gold Cup (compared to Kempton Park) will help him and after Cheltenham, there is the English Grand National to consider. There is also a race in Australia I was considering but there are no flights which fit in with the quarantine schedule so he won’t be able to go.”


In last year’s renewal of Jump racing’s Blue Riband event, Hewick raced prominently and was still in with a chance of a famous victory when parting company with rider Jordan Gainford two fences from home.


Since last March, the now nine-year-old has gone on to further success in the Grade Two bet365 Oaksey Chase at Sandown Park in April and on his most recent start in the prestigious Grade One Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.


Hanlon continued: “The horse is in real good form and came out of the King George very well. He will probably go and do a piece of work in a schooling bumper at Naas on Wednesday, as he did before the King George. He is not a big horse and it is easy enough to get him fit.


“He ran well in it (the Gold Cup) last year and there is no reason he won’t run well in it again this year. We might just change our tactics as last year we made a lot of use of him and there is no need to as with Hewick, you can make the running, sit in second or sit in last.


“He always hits a flat spot and he did last year when he got crowded on the inside and horses came around him. Hopefully this year, with a clearer round of jumping, he won’t be far away.”


When Hewick won the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on Boxing Day last year it was on his first start in more than four months, but Hanlon insists the son of Virtual is not a difficult horse to train.


However, one concern is the ground, with Hewick showing a distinct preference for top of the ground and he explained: “He had a little cut on his leg before he came back in this season and we only had seven weeks before Kempton so I was afraid he wasn’t going to be fit enough. But he is not a big, huge horse who needs a lot of galloping – a couple of gallops puts our lad right and he is easy enough to keep sound.


“The ground is most important for him – he doesn’t want soft ground. Galopin des Champs is obviously a very good horse but I’d love to meet him on proper good ground. There is more than one horse in the race and every horse is there to be looked at – it is always going to be a good race.”


With Hewick’s regular partner Jordan Gainford currently out injured, Hanlon is considering his options, with Gavin Sheehan - who rode him to success at Kempton Park - and Rachael Blackmore – his partner at Sandown Park - both potentially available.


Hanlon added: “Jordan is injured and I don’t know if he will be back but Rachael and Gavin have both ridden a winner on him and so we just have to see. It doesn’t really matter who rides him as he is that kind of a horse.


“I spoke to Gavin last night and I know he would love to ride him again so that is not a bad sub to have and I’m sure Rachael wouldn’t mind throwing her leg over him again!”


Photo Credit: Lorraine O'Sullivan


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