Fergal O'Brien with Stayers' Hurdle hope Crambo
Fergal O'Brien with Stayers' Hurdle hope Crambo

Fergal O'Brien Stable Tour: Cheltenham Festival 2024 preview including Crambo and Dysart Enos

Ben Linfoot reflects on a visit to Fergal O'Brien's where the trainer of Crambo and Dysart Enos is hoping for a long awaited first Cheltenham Festival victory.

There’s a gold and racing green clock above the main barn at Fergal O’Brien’s with the name ‘Perfect Candidate’ emblazoned within the roman numerals.

He was a grand racehorse and somewhat epitomises the Fergal ethos as he was a horse that would run through a brick wall for you. He won nine times from 45 goes, three times at Cheltenham – but never at the Festival, where O’Brien’s record now stands at zero from 49.

Stood below the Perfect Candidate clock on Tuesday morning was O’Brien, posing for pictures with his latest contenders to try and break the Festival curse. “That’s how you’re meant to behave,” he says to Crambo, who is fresh and feisty next to a much more relaxed Dysart Enos.

If these two behave on the third day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, the four runner-up finishes for Barney Dwan, Cap Soleil, Alaphillipe and Imperial Alcazar won’t hurt quite as much as they currently do, as O’Brien openly admits.

Fergal OBrien ahead of the Cheltenham Festival 2024

“Look, the Cheltenham Festival has been part of my life for the last 30 years and it’s the best week of the year,” he says.

“We’ve had four seconds, but I’d rather finish second than finish nowhere. Hopefully we can put it right this year.

“It does [hurt] a little bit. It’s definitely a box we have to tick, something we need to do, and hopefully if it’s not this year it’s next year.

“I woke up this morning and I thought ’25 or 30 people coming up this morning on a work day, I could do without this two or three weeks before Cheltenham’ but actually it’s what we do it for. You’ve come here for a reason, you haven’t come here for Debs’ lovely tea and cinnamon swirls, you’ve come here for Crambo and Dysart, so it’s exciting.”

It has been a long road to get here for O’Brien, who spent the best part of two decades as assistant to Nigel Twiston-Davies before he branched out on his own. A short-lived dual licence experiment with Graeme McPherson recently didn’t work out, but his Withington base in deepest Gloucestershire is now bigger and better than it has ever been.

“We’ve got great facilities, a great set up, fantastic staff,” O’Brien says. “I was 18 years at Nigel Twiston-Davies’, I’ve been in the game long enough to know we have all the ingredients here, you just need the right horse on the right day and hopefully it will be Thursday March 14.”

Fresh Crambo pumped for the Stayers’

Crambo (left) leads the string
Crambo (left) leads the string

That is the day Crambo will line up in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and he will go there off the back of an 82-day break following his Long Walk Hurdle success at Ascot in December.

Later on O’Brien would joke that he hasn’t run Crambo since to keep the dream alive, but the truth is the Cleeve Hurdle, one of the few options open to him between Ascot and Cheltenham, came too quick for the seven-year-old who put in a shift to beat Paisley Park a short-head in the Long Walk.

“He had a hard race at Ascot and it took him a while to get over that, a couple of weeks. He told us [not to race in the Cleeve]. I’d love to be able to tell you he’s difficult to train but he’d train himself.

“He does everything very well himself, he’s very fresh after his work which is what you want to see.

“He’s got a great temperament. He hasn’t run around Cheltenham yet like Dysart but fingers crossed he can go there and be our first Festival winner.

“You look at the likes of Paisley Park and the one common denominator is that they have this flat spot and he has; actually, in the Long Walk it was the best I’ve seen him travel and jump.

“But he’s got a great temperament and we’re very lucky to have him.”

O’Brien is more than happy with Crambo’s recent work, but what of the Cheltenham question?

“I think it will suit him. It will bring out another little bit of improvement in him and he does need to improve again from the Long Walk.

“Crambo has youth on his side and we think he’s a very good horse so fingers crossed.”

Dysart has the speed to shake up Irish challenge

Dysart Enos is put through her paces
Dysart Enos is put through her paces

If Crambo has a good chance of claiming Festival glory, Dysart Enos must have an excellent one in the Dawn Run, also known as the Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, also on the Thursday of the Festival.

Six from six for O’Brien, she hasn’t yet gone further than 2m1f and O’Brien hopes her speed is a chief weapon against current race favourite Brighterdaysahead, trained by Gordon Elliott, who won last time over 2m5f on heavy ground at Navan.

“We’ve ticked a lot of boxes with Dysart,” O’Brien says. “She’s been to Cheltenham, won around Cheltenham, she travels very well, she’s got speed.

“Gordon’s horse won over two and a half miles and we’d hope we’d have the legs of her, we’ll see.

“At the minute she’s an out and out two miler, so that’s what we’re hoping. You’ve got to cling to some bit of hope when Gordon’s horses are coming over, so we hope that we have the speed on our side.

“From day one I thought we had a very good horse as Noel Fehily was the underbidder and he’s a very shrewd judge. Noel brought her back from Aintree for us and he says ‘are you sure you’ve got someone for this mare’ and I said ‘yeah, we have someone for this mare’ and so I knew he liked her.”

With her talent not in doubt, O’Brien was at pains to try and avoid the 5lb penalty for winning a Listed race, that both chief rivals Brighterdaysahead and Jade De Grugy have picked up en route to the Dawn Run.

When you’re searching for your first Festival winner, such edges must be magnified and that’s why Dysart Enos went to Doncaster for an ordinary novice last time out for her Cheltenham prep, where she justified odds of 1/9.

“We’ve planned our route to Cheltenham, rightly or wrongly, without a 5lb penalty,” O’Brien says. “Most winners have had the 5lb penalty. We just thought if we could get away without having one surely that’s got to be better than having one and the owners were on board with that.

“And it was important for her to run at Cheltenham. She can be a bit hot, so it was important for her to see Cheltenham, go around the paddock and come up the hill, see what’s in front of her.

“Hopefully we can get her there in one piece and if we do she’ll be in the mix.”

She could be more than that, she could be the one. On paper both Dysart Enos and Crambo are two perfect candidates for Festival glory. They just have to go and tear that monkey off the back now.

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