NORTON trainer Malcolm Jefferson reckons stable-star Cape Tribulation has earned the right to take his place in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after his weekend win in the Argento Chase.

The David Abell-owned gelding gave the Ryedale handler one leg of a double at the Cheltenham Festival last year when winning the Pertemps Hurdle Final before going on to further success at Aintree.

And the nine-year-old left Jefferson with reason to be optimistic of a solid run in the Gold Cup when collaring 2010 hero Imperial Commander close to home at the Gloucestershire track on Saturday, in the hands of Denis O’Regan.

“He’s grand, no problem,” said Jefferson, right. “I thought Denis gave him a great ride and it’s nice to win a race like that. You have to enjoy those victories.

“This horse has got a lot of guts and he’s a very good horse on his day.

“He’ll have a quiet week or two now, then we will go straight to Cheltenham.

“If you’re not in, you can’t win. I’m not saying he would win a Gold Cup, but he might just get placed in one.”

Cape Tribulation has now seen his rating increase to 165 – which is no surprise to Jefferson after his chat with the head of handicapping at the British Horseracing Authority, Phil Smith.

“I was talking to Phil Smith and he said the horse was going to be up in the 160s now.

“It’s very hard for horses. You can break their hearts in big handicaps off top weight.

“They become hard races for them and there’s good money in the Gold Cup if you finish in the places.

“I don’t think he’s bothered about the ground and he won his two hurdle races last year on what the times suggested was almost good ground at both Cheltenham and Aintree.

“He’ll run up the hill in the Gold Cup and when you look at some of the Irish horses in it you just don’t know if they are going to get three and a quarter miles the way they have been running.

“They have to prove it yet and it is three and a quarter not just three miles.

“We’ll give it a try if he’s right. We’ll give them a go.”


• WINTRY weather last week absolutely destroyed the racing fixture list with meetings around the country being abandoned – mainly due to frost and snow – and this week’s events could well follow a similar pattern with waterlogging the culprit, writes Alec Russell.

Prior to Saturday’s Cheltenham card, only Ayr managed to put on a fixture on turf.

Northern meetings at Wetherby and Catterick were lost and the principal victim was Doncaster, which lost both days of its main jumps meeting of the year and saw its showcase race, the Skybet Chase, along with four Grade 2 contests, including the Champion Hurdle Trial, rescheduled from Haydock Park, all fall by the wayside.

The Cheltenham groundstaff had covered the whole of the track, to guard against frost, more than a week before its important Festival Trials Day.

Heavy falls of snow had put that fixture in peril, too, but incredible efforts by course workers, led by the clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, saw the snow cleared off and the covers removed and racing go ahead as scheduled.

The two-mile Victor Chandler Chase, which had been rescued from Ascot’s abandoned card the previous Saturday, was won in spectacular style by Sprinter Sacre, ridden by Barry Geraghty, who appeared to skim over the heavy ground and win by 14 lengths.

Only two horses from the Malton area made the long journey to Cheltenham, both from Malcolm Jefferson’s Norton yard – McMurrough in the Timeform Novices Steeplechase and Cape Tribulation in the day’s feature race, the Argento Chase, which had a total prize fund of £100,000.

McMurrough was pulled up by Harry Haynes on the very testing ground, but what a performance followed from Cape Tribulation.

Denis O’Regan, who rode Cape Tribulation in his big hurdle wins last year, was back in the saddle – replacing Jack Doyle who rode the gelding when he won Wetherby’s Rowland Meyrick Chase on Boxing Day.

There were nine rival contestants, including the 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, who was receiving 6lb from Jefferson’s charge.

Imperial Commander, now a 12-year-old, had been off the racecourse for 22 months but he raced with a real zest on the testing course and coming to the final fences was in the lead from Hunt Ball.

Throughout the early stages of the race, O’Regan had Cape Tribulation handily placed and the Norton nine-year-old appeared to be really enjoying himself and was jumping with a fluency which he had not always displayed in the past.

By the time the runners reached the final fence, Hunt Ball had run out of steam and Cape Tribulation was just on the heels of Imperial Commander.

Cheltenham’s long, demanding, run-in has found out many in the past and, despite the encouragement of his supporters, the leader was showing signs of weakening.

O’Regan’s efforts in the saddle paid off and Cape Tribulation got his nose in front a few yards from the winning line and had half a length to spare at the post.

It was a triumphant return to the Prestbury Park track for Cape Tribulation, who had landed the Pertemps Hurdle there last March before scoring at Aintree.

“He’s a different horse this year”, said O’Regan after the race.

“He loves Cheltenham and he tried his heart out. He’s a very tough performer when it comes down to it.”

A delighted Jefferson added: “I think we’ll probably have to come back for the Gold Cup.

“I’m not saying he’s going to win it but he might well get placed.

“Denis was brilliant (on Saturday) and I think the horse might be better on good ground and taking a chance in the Gold Cup may be better than carrying a big weight in a handicap.”

Cape Tribulation yesterday (Tuesday) saw his rating increase to 165 as a result of his Cheltenham victory.

Sky Bet, meanwhile, has cut his price from 100-1 to 25-1 for the Gold Cup but 33-1 was available yesterday (Tuesday) from Ladbrokes.

• THE news that Cape Tribulation is likely to go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March brings back memories of some of the great occasions that Ryedale horses have provided in that race in the past.

National Hunt racing’s blue riband race is a comparatively modern contest. It was first run in 1924 but it quickly established itself as the premier weight-for-age steeplechase and, starting in 1932, the brilliant Golden Miller won the race five years in succession.

Northern stables had to wait until 1956 before supplying the winner when Limber Hill, trained in Norton by Bill Dutton and ridden by Jimmy Power, was successful, and another 23 years elapsed before Alverton, from Peter Easterby’s Great Habton stables, won the 1979 renewal in a snowstorm.

Alverton lost his life three weeks later after a tragic fall in the Grand National.

Easterby did not have long to wait before again winning for Little Owl, ridden by Jim Wilson, scored in 1981 and his remarkable stable-mate, Night Nurse was second, being denied the accolade of winning both the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.

The next two years saw West Yorkshire, in the shape of Michael Dickinson’s Harewood stables, in the ascendancy, with Silver Buck and Bregawn, but 1985 brought the Jimmy FitzGerald trained Forgive ’N Forget, ridden by Mark Dwyer, in the winner’s enclosure to bring the prize back to Norton.

Dwyer had to wait eight years before he won the race again, on Jodami, trained at Foulrice Farm near Brandsby by Peter Beaumont. Both Forgive ’N Forget and Jodami were really top-class steeplechasers and both were placed in the Gold Cup after their wins.

• ALL-WEATHER racing battled through the snow during the past week and Norton trainer John Quinn had a winner, Nant Saeson, at Wolverhampton, while Tom Eaves rode Bradbury to victory for trainer Donald McCain.

Earlier in the week, Barry McHugh won on Street Battle for Tony Coyle.

The midlands track staged a Jumpers Bumper event last Sunday so that the National Hunt horses could at least get a competitive contest under their belts and Musley Bank trainer Richard Fahey won with Docs Legacy while Norton’s Brian Ellison scored with Capellanus.

Today’s (Wednesday) card at Newcastle has been lost and, at the time of writing, there is some doubt about Saturday’s Towton Chase meeting at Wetherby. Sheriff Hutton trainer Tim Walford’s progressive chaser Fentara has been pencilled in for this good novice stayer’s steeplechase as well as Great Habton handler Tim Easterby’s course winner Fourjacks.