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In-form North Yorkshire trainer is a smart Operator
Phil Kirby, who moved from Castleton on the North York Moors to Middleham during the winter, can land the biggest success of his training career at Uttoxeter today.
The Betfred Midlands Grand National is the target for Kirby’s progressive chaser Cool Operator, who will be partnered by northern stalwart Richie McGrath in the four miles and one furlong stamina test, which carries nearly £50,000 in prize money.
Kirby, who has taken over Kate Walton’s Middleham yard, is bidding for a hat-trick of wins with Cool Operator after successes on this course and at Carlisle.
Although he is unproven over quite this far, Cool Operator gives the impression a longer distance will bring out more improvement in him. He is expected to produce a bold display.
The opening Betfred Novices’ Handicap Hurdle looks a good opportunity for another horse chasing a hat-trick, the David Arbuthnot-trained Rocky Elsom.
Formerly a decent horse on the Flat, Rocky Elsom has found a rich vein of form over hurdles since being fitted with a tongue strap, winning at Plumpton and Huntingdon. Fully proven on a testing surface, he looks up to obliging once more.
Darkestbeforedawn may provide the solution to the Betfred Handicap Hurdle.
Caroline Keevil’s gelding was an easy winner at Towcester last time and is now set to make his handicap debut. He does not look overburdened, especially with the experienced Ian Popham reducing his weight by a further 3lb.
Former Gold Cup-winning jockey Andrew Thornton has chances of a double on behalf of trainer Caroline Bailey aboard Galway Jack (4.25), who is overdue a win, and See You Jack (5.00), who looks capable of winning in novice handicap company.
At Carlisle tomorrow, North Yorkshire trainer Alan Swinbank has good prospects of a double with Big Water and Mitchell’s Way. The latter goes for the Pamela Nicholson Bell Birthday Novices Handicap Hurdle after a course and distance success ten days ago. Thomas Garner retains the ride on the six-year-old, who can defy a 7lb higher mark.
Swinbank, based at Melsonby near Richmond, saddles Big Water in the bookmakers.co.uk Novices’ Hurdle.
Twice a bumper winner, the five-year-old has finished runner-up in both his starts this season over hurdles. It is only a matter of time before he opens his account and this looks a good opportunity. He is awarded the nap vote.
Jonjo O’Neill and Richie McLernon, who shared a Chelteham Festival win this week with Holywell, can also figure on the Cumbrian scoreboard.
They have good prospects with See U Bob – runner-up on his last two starts at Wetherby and Leicester – in the featured Happy St Patrick’s Day Handicap Chase and the promising Upswing, who makes his handicap debut in the Cumberland Show On 8th June Handicap Hurdle.
2.05 Rocky Elsom, 2.40 Grouse Lodge, 3.15 Darkestbeforedawn, 3.50 Cool Operator (NAP), 4.25 Galway Jack, 5.00 See You Jack, 5.30 Whiskey Chaser.
Today’s other meetings: Ffos Las, Kempton, Lingfield and Wolverhampton.
2.30 Big Water (NAP), 3.00 Kealigolane, 3.30 Mitchell’s Way, 4.00 See U Bob, 4.30 Upswing, 5.00 Tartan Snow.
Tomorrow’s other meeting: Lingfield.