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Malton jockey eyes Cheltenham cheer after last year’s disappointment
A MALTON jockey who was forced to miss last year’s Cheltenham Festival because of serious injury is counting off the days to this year’s meeting, which is now under two weeks away.
Danny Cook, stable jockey to Norton trainer Brian Ellison, said: “Missing last year’s Cheltenham fixture was so disappointing. Every season is geared around those four days of the Festival. It’s racing’s equivalent of the Olympics and every jockey wants to be riding there. I can hardly wait this time.”
Cook is no stranger to Festival highs. In 2010, when attached to the David Pipe yard, the Romford-born rider won the Byrne Group Plate on Great Endeavour wearing the well-known colours of David Johnson.
“That was a day I’ll never forget. It’s an unbelievable feeling to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival,” said Cook, who is hoping to replicate the feeling at next month’s eagerly-awaited gathering.
“I’ve got some good rides. Totalize, who has won twice over hurdles, Yesyoucan, who won the other day at Carlisle, and Viva Colonia, who is two from two over fences since he came to Brian, are all in great form,” he said, putting just three of the Ellison team under the spotlight.
“Orsippus is another horse I am looking forward to riding,” he added, referring to the Michael Smith-trained staying hurdler. “I have only ridden him once, but he ran very well behind Peddlers Cross at Musselburgh and is another horse going there in good form.”
This time last year, Cook’s career was very much at a crossroads. A bad fall at Wetherby’s Christmas meeting had left him with a shattered knee, which had to be pinned and rebuilt. One diagnosis suggested that it would take him 12 months to be fully fit again. He was back in six.
“It was a bad time and very frustrating to be out for so long and then, when you come back, it’s like having to prove yourself all over again,” reflected Cook.
He has since left nobody in any doubt that the accident did nothing to affect his riding prowess or his appetite for winners. He is enjoying a fine season, highlighted by a four-timer at Musselburgh in deep mid-winter.
“A winner at Cheltenham would be the icing on the cake,” he says. “I am trying not to think about it too much – I need to stay in one piece for a couple of weeks first – but it’s great to be in a position of having some good rides to look forward to. I am counting off the days.”
• RYEDALE trainer Tim Walford, who has given Fentara two Cheltenham Festival options, is seriously considering missing the meeting altogether and aiming her at a race at Newbury the following weekend.
“She’s a little bit ground-dependent,” he explained. “She’s run well on good ground, but she goes very well in the soft.
“I think she could go to Cheltenham and run a very good race, but the last thing I want is for her to finish sixth or seventh, for everyone to say how well she ran, but to end up thinking that it was an opportunity missed. I think the best race for her is the EBF Mares’ Chase Final at Newbury the following Saturday.”
Fentara has elevated her rating over fences this season to a creditable 126 after a wide-margin win at Kelso from a horse, who has since scored at Carlisle, and, most recently, a highly respectable third in a Grade 2 race at Wetherby.
Walford had hoped to run Fentara at Newcastle last Saturday, only to be left frustrated when the meeting was abandoned on the morning after overnight snow. “It was a perfect race for her. We were so disappointed the meeting was off.”
Fentara holds entries in the National Hunt Chase and the Kim Muir/Fulke Walwyn Chase at Cheltenham, two races confined to amateur riders. “Even though it is drying up fast now, it could change again, and there’s so much moisture deep in the ground, it could be soft again after two wet days,” he points out.
“We shall have to see. If the ground came up soft, we’d be mostly tempted by the Kim Muir, but I am swaying more and more towards the EBF Mares’ Final against her own sex. Listed races like those are hard to find for mares, which is pathetic, considering they are always banging on about the importance of racing mares.”
Walford concluded: “The main thing is, she is in very good form, no matter which race we choose to run her in.”
• WEIGHTS for all the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival will be published today and Tim Easterby will be paying particular attention to the outcome of the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle.
The Great Habton trainer has given his star jumper Trustan Times the option of going for this race instead of the Grade 1 World Hurdle, a daunting test, for which he is currently quoted at 33-1.
Trustan Times, a horse who has switched back to hurdles from fences this season with excellent results, won at Wetherby and Haydock earlier in the season and, after a subdued third-placed performance at Ascot, returned from a break to finish second at Haydock just under two weeks ago.
Should Easterby elect to aim him at the Pertemps Hurdle, Trustan Times will be bidding to follow in the hoofprints of Malcolm Jefferson’s Cape Tribulation, who won the corresponding race 12 months ago for Ryedale.
Cape Tribulation has, of course, had his attentions returned to chasing and Jefferson is of the belief that his handsome gelding can hold his own in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the ultimate highlight of the entire meeting, for which he is quoted at 25-1.
Jefferson is also aiming to run Attaglance, likewise successful at last year’s Festival, in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase. He is generally priced at 12-1.
To pick up on the ante-post odds of some of Ryedale’s other main flag bearers, Countrywide Flame, winner of last year’s Triumph Hurdle, is generally a 16-1 chance to follow up in the Champion Hurdle.
His trainer John Quinn has two live chances in this year’s Triumph Hurdle – Kashmir Peak, widely available at around 14-1 and Hidden Justice, who can be backed at 20-1 with several leading bookmakers.
A price of 20-1 is also available with some layers about David O’Meara’s recent Musselburgh winner Ifandbutwhynot, while 14-1 is generally on offer for Viva Colonia, from the Brian Ellison yard, in the Grand Annual Chase.
• LADIES ARE FOREVER, the flagship performer for Ryedale trainer Geoff Oldroyd, did her Brawby handler yet another good turn last weekend. The five-year-old, who failed to get her head in front last season, despite several good efforts in defeat, gained Listed race glory at last Saturday’s Lingfield meeting in the Cleves Stakes over six furlongs.
Ladies Are Forever was ridden by Willie Twiston-Davies, who was indebted to Oldroyd and Pocklington owner-breeder Reg Bond for giving him the ride.
“Because it was a Listed race, I was unable to claim my 5lb allowance,” explained the apprentice-son of Gloucestershire trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. “But when I won on Alfred Hutchinson (for the same connections) here the previous week, Mr Oldroyd said I could ride Ladies Are Forever in this race if I was available, even though I couldn’t claim in it.”
Ladies Are Forever, closely related to Mick Easterby’s top sprinter Hoof It, has proved a goldmine performer for Bond. Having won the richly-endowed Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy in her first season in 2010, she followed up as a three-year-old in a Group 3 race at York, which, fittingly, Bond himself had sponsored through his international tyre company. Earnings accumulated by Ladies Are Forever now stand at more than £215,000.
It’s obviously a winning family. At Wolverhampton on Monday, Chosen Forever, a sister of Ladies Are Forever, and likewise trained by Oldroyd, prevailed under Michael O’Connell, wearing the Bond colours on a mare who has now won six times on the course.
• THINGS just get better and better for Paul Hanagan in Dubai.
One week on from winning the UAE 2,000 Guineas on the exciting Soft Falling Rain, the former Malton-based champion jockey followed up with a Group 2 win last Thursday at Meydan on Mushreq. The common denominator between the two horses is that both are trained in South Africa by Mike de Kock and are owned by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, Hanagan’s retaining owner.
Hanagan will be remaining in Dubai until late next month. “I shall be flying back to Britain the day after the World Cup meeting,” he said.
• MATTHEW HOPKINS received plenty of praise from trainer Mark Brisbourne after winning on Very First Blade at Wolverhampton last Friday night.
The young apprentice, who is attached to Mick Easterby’s Sheriff Hutton stable, landed a decisive victory on the sprinter. “Matthew gave him a very good ride,” said Shropshire trainer Brisbourne. “He rode exactly to orders, which is all you want any apprentice to do. It proves they listen.”