Cheltenham Festival 2009 

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Oliver McKiernan Hoping Plan Comes Together

County Dublin-based Oliver McKiernan will have double cause to celebrate if Follow The Plan can win the Irish Independent Arkle Chase on the Cheltenham Festival’s opening day (March 10) – he both trains the six-year-old and owns him, via his Cavan Developments Bloodstock.

McKiernan, a builder who took out a permit to train in 1998, has already excelled in one sporting sphere having played Gaelic football for Cavan in the mid 1970s but it is currently Follow The Plan who is dominating his thoughts.

The ex Irish pointer was third in the Irish Arkle on heavy ground at Leopardstown having previously got the better of Tatenen in a thrilling finish to the Grade 1 Durkan New Homes Novices Chase at the same course on December 26.

“Follow The Plan worked at Leopardstown on Monday morning and he’s seems in good order at the moment. He will do another couple of bits of work at home but that’s the last serious piece of exercise prior to Cheltenham,” said McKiernan.

“We thought the ground was slightly against him in the Irish Arkle but he still ran his race. He gave weight to Tatenen in the Durkan New Homes Novices Chase and it was a really good battle to the line – it could have gone either way and it was just our day. His level of form suggests that he goes to Cheltenham with a decent chance.”

McKiernan could also be represented by recent Galmoy Hurdle runner-up Whatuthink, who has previously contested the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, and the veteran cross-country specialist Star Performance, who is set for a seventh appearance at Prestbury Park.

“Whatuthink will hopefully run in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and we will be very happy to run into a place, while we could also have a couple of runners in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, headed by Star Performance. He’s been second to Spot Thedifference twice around there and this will probably be his last chance to run there. If the ground comes right, then we would love run him.”

All of McKiernan’s Cheltenham hopefuls graduated from the Irish point-to-point scene and the Rathcoole-based trainer sees racing between the flags as an ideal introduction for his string.

“I’ve got about 12 horses at the moment and I also have a few mares to breed from. Most of my horses start off in point-to-points and it’s a great learning curve for the youngsters because it’s more of an education for them. The grounding they receive stands them in good stead throughout their career and you can take your time with them.”

McKiernan is also delighted his former assistant, rookie trainer Alan Fleming, looks set to have a real chance of Cheltenham glory with Starluck, who currently sits near the head of the market for the JCB Triumph Hurdle (March 13). The salaried trainer for owner Andrew Wates was on board for McKiernan’s first success under Rules at Fairyhouse in April, 2001.

“It’s great that Alan’s going to Cheltenham with such a great chance of winning a race,” added McKiernan. “He’s done superbly since he’s gone to the UK and it would be brilliant if Starluck ran well. He was a key part of my yard for a few years and it’s great that he seems to be going so well.”

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