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Totally affirmative bid for Cheltenham Festival
Brian Ellison’S lengthy quest to train a Cheltenham Festival winner has received a double boost by an aspiring hurdler and a cheaply-bought handicapper who have booked their tickets to next month’s glittering gathering with timely successes.
Totalize travelled to Kelso last week for his third outing over hurdles, which he needed to qualify him for a rating in advance of the Fred Winter Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in just over three weeks time.
Totalize did not just qualify for the race, he laid down a marker with a fine success under a well-judged ride from Danny Cook to come from last to first and win comfortably.
It was much the same story on Monday at Carlisle when Yesyoucan, reappearing after a short break, shrugged off top weight of 11st 12lb to win the handicap hurdle with any amount to spare with Cook in the saddle. Cheltenham’s Coral Cup is now set to be on his agenda.
“The better the ground, the better he is,” said Cook of Yesyoucan, who has now won three races this season, including a valuable handicap at Haydock, for Ellison, whose money-spinner changed hands for just £6,000 at Ascot Sales last June.
“He’s a grand horse to ride and we seem to have developed a bit of a rapport,” added Cook. “He’s booked his place now for Cheltenham and perhaps Aintree, and he could even be better in the spring.”
It took rather more of an outlay to secure Totalize – bought out of Luca Cumani’s yard for 50,000 guineas at Newmarket last October – but the four-year-old is developing into a useful addition to the Ellison yard.
“That heavy ground at Kelso wouldn’t have been in his favour, but he’s a decent horse,” said the Spring Cottage trainer, who has now placed him to win two of his three starts over hurdles.
Ellison is considering sending half-a-dozen horses to the Festival, a team spearheaded by Viva Colonia, who is two from two over fences since joining the Norton yard earlier this season.
“He’s going for the Grand Annual Chase and I couldn’t be happier with him. He’s in great form and will be heading there with a big chance,” says Ellison, who is left to wonder, after some bad luck and near-misses, whether 2013 will be the year he finally puts his name on the Cheltenham Festival roll of honour.
• Malcolm Jefferson, who saddled an incredible two winners from just three runners at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, is aiming to take both his heroes back to the same meeting.
Cape Tribulation, who won last season’s Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, will this time be contesting the blue riband of the meeting, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Attaglance is set to take in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase on the opening day, following his memorable victory 11 months ago in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
“I’m keen to run Attaglance, but he’ll only go if it’s decent ground,” explained the Norton trainer. “He’s just not the same horse on soft or heavy ground and the only time he’s had conditions somewhere near his liking this season was last time out at Musselburgh when he ran a blinder to finish third.”
Cape Tribulation is twice a winner at Cheltenham. His most recent course victory was in the Argento Chase last month when he beat Imperial Commander, a former winner of the Gold Cup, with a spirited effort which saw him nail a Grade 2 win in the shadow of the post.
“He’s fine,” reports Jefferson. “He came out of his last race well and is just ticking over nicely. He’s an easy horse to train, quite clean-winded and no trouble at all.”
Now in his 32nd year as a trainer, Jefferson has had only one previous runner in the Gold Cup – stable favourite Tullymurry Toff, who unseated his rider in the 2000 renewal, won by Looks Like Trouble – but he is more than hopeful that Cape Tribulation can play a part in this year’s eagerly-awaited renewal.
“I wouldn’t be running him if I didn’t think he had a chance,” declares Jefferson.
“He’s always been a decent horse and he’ll be staying on when others might have had enough. He’s a stronger horse now than he’s ever been and is the right age.”
Denis O’Regan, who has struck-up such a good rapport with Cape Tribulation, will retain the ride in the Gold Cup. “I think he’s improved this year and it’s an open race. He deserves to take his chance,” said the jockey, who finished fifth on Time For Rupert in last year’s event.
• Ifandbutwhynot may give the course commentator an unwelcome tongue-twister if he’s involved in the thick of the action at Cheltenham, but Nawton trainer David O’Meara is hoping to hear the horse’s unusual name called home first in the County Hurdle.
The seven-year-old, a Cheltenham winner earlier in the season, gained his third win from five starts over timber with a rousing display at Musselburgh last week under Timmy Murphy.
“He goes on the soft, but I think he’ll be better on good ground,” says O’Meara. “He won off 130, so he should get in the County Hurdle now.”
• Trustan Times may have tasted defeat at Haydock last Saturday, but he did little to tarnish his chances of at least making the frame in the Grade 1 World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Winner of a valuable Grade 3 race on the same course earlier in the season, Tim Easterby’s gelding was disappointing when a well-beaten third next time out at Ascot, but, after a break to freshen him up, he performed admirably last weekend to finish a brave second to Across The Bay in Grade 2 company.
The World Hurdle may be the next port of call for Trustan Times, who will be bidding to provide Easterby with his second Cheltenham Festival winner. The first? Who could possibly forget the brilliant Barton winning the 1999 Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle under Lorcan Wyer?
• Cheltenham Festival preview nights will be all the rage up and down the country, and particularly throughout Ireland, in the coming weeks and members of the local fraternity will be involved in the popular previewing of the exciting action.
Malcolm Jefferson will be action at Wetherby Racecourse on Monday, March 4 and at Holgate Working Men’s Club in York on March 8.
In between, a preview night at Beverley Racecourse in aid of Malton’s Jack Berry House, will he held on March 6. Hosted by ‘yours truly’, the panel includes Malton jockey Harry Haynes and Sean Quinn, son and assistant of John Quinn, who will be popping up here and there at preview nights in the coming weeks, and who even has a stint in Ireland to get to grips with as Cheltenham fever continues to rise.
• Paul Hanagan was thrilled to bag a major prize for his retaining owner, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum in Dubai last week when steering the hugely exciting Soft Falling Rain to a convincing success in the prestigious UAE 2,000 Guineas.
Trained by Mike De Kock and the champion juvenile in South Africa last year, Soft Falling Rain had won the 2,000 Guineas Trial in decisive fashion and consequently lined up last week as a red-hot favourite.
He more than justified his position in the market by travelling strongly under Hanagan before striding away in the closing stages to win easily.
“He’s some horse,” Hanagan told me. “He gives you some feel. That was his first run over a mile, and although he got it well enough, he’s got enough speed to win over six furlongs.”
• Hats off to Jamie Hamilton, the Malton-based amateur rider, who has just completed a week to remember.
Not only did Hamilton, who is attached to the Richard Fahey yard, ride a winner under Rules at Musselburgh, that hunter chase victory on Buckstruther was sandwiched between point-to-point wins last Sunday and the Sunday before.
• Sheriff Hutton trainer Tim Walford pulled off a shock result at Market Rasen on Sunday when King Of Strings made a successful racecourse debut in the bumper – at odds of 66-1.
The four-year-old, who paid a win dividend on the Tote of 70-1, showed a good attitude to beat the odds-on favourite Salto Chisco by half-a-length after receiving a bump from the runner-up in the final furlong.
Walford, who has only three bumper horses in his yard and whose Fly By Night, also making his debut, finished sixth in the Market Rasen race, was not totally surprised by the victory of King Of Strings. “He’s done everything right since we’ve had him. He was fit, but he wasn’t ‘wired’ and there should be improvement to come from him.”
• John Quinn is still in the process of finalising his Cheltenham team, but the Highfield trainer could have as many as five runners at the Festival.
While Countrywide Flame remains bang on target for the Champion Hurdle, which has been his target ever since the start of the season – and certainly since he spreadeagled his rivals in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle at the beginning of December – Kashmir Peak and Hidden Justice will bid for honours in the Triumph Hurdle, which Countywide Flame won at 33-1 last season.
Quinn, who has trained two Cheltenham Festival winners – he also won the 2009 Kim Muir Chase with Character Building – is also considering two horses for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle; Doncaster winners Calculated Risk and Cockney Sparrow.
“All the horses are in good form,” reports the trainer, as he prepares to add the finishing touches to his Gloucestershire-bound squad.