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Ryedale raiders target Cheltenham Festival
THE entries for the handicaps haven’t even been announced yet, but next month’s Cheltenham Festival could already be playing host to one of the largest raiding parties from North Yorkshire for many years.
With Norton trainer Malcolm Jefferson targeting a blue riband Gold Cup appearance for Cape Tribulation, his colleague John Quinn set to saddle Countrywide Flame in the Champion Hurdle and Great Habton’s Tim Easterby having entered Trustan Times in the World Hurdle, the might of Ryedale’s racing community could be contesting the majority of the four-day meeting’s Championship races.
Add a further selection of exciting runners in the top-class novice hurdle and chase contests, and there are many reasons to be excited about the annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park if you are from the county.
Jefferson has chosen the Gold Cup over the World Hurdle for Cape Tribulation, who won the Pertemps Hurdle Final last year at the Festival and only last month beat Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase at Festival Trials Day.
“I’ve spoken to David (Abell, owner) and we think three-miles-two is better than three miles of the World Hurdle, so we took him out of that,” the Newstead Cottage Stables handler said earlier this week.
“I think there could be a big field in the World Hurdle. Everybody will try their chances with Big Buck’s out. He stays well and I think it’s worth taking a punt. He’s in good nick and has come out of that race well.
“He always seems to run well there and he’s won twice, so he’s a horse that likes the course.”
Attaglance, who gave Jefferson a memorable Festival double last year when winning the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, has also been pulled out of the World Hurdle with the Pulteney Land Novices’ Handicap Chase, on the opening day, now on the agenda.
“I’ve taken him out of the World Hurdle as well,” Jefferson added. “He’s got an entry in that two-mile-five 0-140 novice handicap chase, but he will only run if it is good ground.”
Trustan Times, however, still has the aim of taking over from Big Buck’s firmly on the agenda.
Easterby’s seven-year-old, third in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas and a Grade 3 winner at Haydock in November, is among a raft of entries for the contest, which is held on the third day of the meeting.
All eyes will be on Quinn’s Countrywide Flame in the Champion Hurdle, with the Highfield Stables trainer feeling his star, who won the JCB Triumph Hurdle at 33-1 at the Festival 12 months ago, is in good shape.
After announcing his arrival among the division’s big hitters in some style when taking the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle earlier in the season, a tactically-run Christmas Hurdle at Kempton didn’t suit before the five-year-old chased reigning Champion Hurdle king Rock On Ruby home at Doncaster last time out.
“He’s grand,” said the trainer. “I was happy enough with him at Doncaster last week.
“It wasn’t ideal. He was forced into making the running into a strong headwind and he led two good horses for one mile and five furlongs. He was five lengths down at the last and was beaten three lengths at the line, with Denis (O’Regan) just nudging away on him.
“He’s a spring horse and although he’s got something to find to win a Champion Hurdle, it’s what goes there best on the day that wins, and he’ll love the fast gallop.”
Quinn could be the most likely to saddle another Ryedale Festival winner in the bigger races, with the trainer having a plethora of options as he looks to win back-to-back Triumphs.
Hidden Justice, who bids to complete a hat-trick of wins at Haydock tomorrow when running in the Victor Ludorum Hurdle, could run if the ground comes up soft while Kashmir Peak, who was identified as a smart juvenile very early in the season, is also on course for the high-profile contest.
Quinn also hopes to run Calculated Risk at Cheltenham in the Fred Winter Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
A Doncaster winner on his debut, he finished unplaced at Huntingdon last week, but Quinn said: “He’s a half-brother to Kings Quay, who did so well for us a few years ago and who was a horse who loved a bit of decent ground.
“I think this horse is much the same and I was disappointed to get to Huntingdon and find the ground was bottomless.”
He isn’t the only Norton handler with plenty of options.
Brian Ellison will enter a raft of runners in the handicaps, but Viva Colonia is among 33 currently going for the Irish Independent Arkle, while Neptune Equester, who ran in last year’s Grand National, is one of 107 horses that would like to run in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and Cape Explorer could yet run in the Triumph as Ellison looks to capture a precious Festival winner.
Add Easterby’s Four Jacks, possibly engaged for either the RSA Chase or the Jewson, the chance that Sheriff Hutton trainer’s Tim Walford could still be represented by Fentara in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase and several entries across races for Nawton’s David O’Meara, and the chances that Ryedale could be celebrating a series of Festival successes next month start to look very strong indeed.