Lil Rockerfeller’s regular rider Trevor Whelan is out injured having fractured his collarbone which means Richard Johnson will take the ride in Thursday’s Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle
TRAINER Neil King has champion jockey Richard Johnson as super-sub for Lil Rockerfeller in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday.
Trevor Whelan – who usually rides Neil King’s stable star – is unable to after fracturing his collarbone and damaging his shoulder while exercising on his bicycle.
It is a big blow for the team as Whelan has struck up a great partnership with Lil Rockerfeller and steered him to his brilliant second in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
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King said: “The only disappointment is that Trevor doesn’t ride. He had his fitness work on Sunday morning. Unfortunately he hit a kerb and came off his bike.
“He has fractured his collarbone and put his shoulder out so the only good news is that we’ve got a decent substitute in Richard Johnson.”
King skipped Aintree to save him for this test and reports Lil Rockerfeller to be in great form ahead of his big test.
“He’s great. We said after Cheltenham that we’d bypass Aintree as we think Punchestown will suit him better and it would give him more time to get over his exertions at Cheltenham,” he said.
Lil Rockerfeller has to take on Nichols Canyon in his own backyard this time as Willie Mullins’ multiple Grade 1 winner seeks to complete the English/Irish Stayers’ Hurdle double.
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A massive bonus is up for grabs were he to win the Iroquois Hurdle in America in which he was third last year but Mullins is taking it one race at a time.
“He’s in good order. We are going to focus on Punchestown for now and will think about a possible trip back to America for him after that,” said Mullins.
“I was very happy with how he came out of Cheltenham.”
Nichols Canyon is one of four horses declared by Mullins along with Clondaw Warrior, Shaneshill and Footpad, who was fourth in the Champion Hurdle.
Since lifting this prize 12 months ago, One Track Mind has disappointed over fences.
However, trainer Warren Greatrex is convinced the seven-year-old is in the same shape he was in this time last year.
“It’s been a bit of a frustrating season. He hasn’t really taken to fences yet,” said the Upper Lambourn trainer.
“He’s had a bit of a break. He just had a blip, nothing major, around Christmas time.
“He looks fantastic and has been away for a couple of racecourse gallops.
“I’m putting cheekpieces on him which I think will help him. He’s in as good a form as last year going into it, if not better. He’s going to need to be, as it’s a better race.
“Hopefully he can go and do the job.”
Unowhatimeanharry was sent off favourite at Cheltenham after winning eight races in a row for Harry Fry but had to settle for third place.
“He ran well at Cheltenham. There were no excuses. He just met two better horses on the day,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“Harry has been happy with him since. With a bit of luck he could change it round and a drop of rain would be helpful. Hopefully he’ll give a good account of himself.”
McManus has a second string to his bow in Sutton Place, who takes a leap in both class and trip but has won his last five starts in the manner of a progressive type.
“The ground was a bit quick for him at Fairyhouse so we took him out there,” said Berry.
“This is a step up for him, but he’s in good form and we’ll see how we go with him.”
Sutton Place is trained by Gordon Elliott, who is also represented by De Plotting Shed, Jury Duty and Lieutenant Colonel.
Completing the 12-strong field is Noel Meade’s Snow Falcon, who was fifth to Nichols Canyon at Cheltenham and was third behind Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle on his latest outing.