FESTIVAL IS TANGIBLE AHEAD OF FINAL TRIALS
I always reckon that when Saturday’s Kempton meeting comes around you can almost taste the Cheltenham Festival.
This weekend is the last one for serious trials and it’s the last time a horse can run to get a mark for the Cheltenham handicaps – there will be plenty looking to up the ratings of their horses to make sure they get a run.
I’ve got a solid-looking book of six rides and the only race I’m not in is the Racing Plus Chase - but you can’t have everything.
I kick off with UNE ARTISTE (2.00) in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle and this will be my first sit on her in public as she made her debut at Haydock a week ago when staying on well for David Bass.
This will be a totally different experience for her going right handed on a sharper track but she’s had plenty of experience in France winning two bumpers and a hurdle and when I watched a re-run of Haydock it was clear she had plenty of pace – she was travelling very smoothly after jumping two out and buckled down well.
This will be the fastest ground she’s tackled but that’s not to say she won’t handle it well as they hardly ever get the chance to race on it in France.
She’s up against two leading Triumph Hurdle players in Sadler’s Risk and Dildar so we’ll know exactly how we stand after this.
I know one thing, I followed her up over four flights on Friday morning and she was very good.
I’ve picked up a serious spare ride in HUNT BALL (2.30) for the two and a half mile handicap chase.
Kieren Burke, his trainer, showed what he’s capable of last season when he combined riding and training the likes of Sparky May and Holmwood Legend and he’s done a terrific job on this horse having won five of his six starts this season.
I’ve had a look at him and there’s no doubt that this is his ideal trip and he can certainly travel in his races. I see that he’s gone up 10lb for winning at Wincanton last Saturday but I don’t think that would have stopped him winning that day and this looks a very winnable race to me.
I think KEYS (3.40) will be suited by blinkers now that he’s dropping back from two and a half to two miles for the Dovecote Hurdle.
He produced all his best efforts on the flat last season – it’s certainly nothing about his attitude – but we are all aware that this is a very tricky race with one of the best juveniles, Grumeti, up against us and one of the highest-regarded juvenile newcomers, Dodging Bullets plus Terre Du Vent, who looked useful on the flat in France when he was four lengths behind Kasbah Bliss in the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend.
All I know is that my lad has come out of Ascot last Saturday very well and has pace.
MINELLA CLASS (4.10) pleased me in a school on Friday morning and is a serious player in Pendil Novices’ Chase.
He was unlucky to unseat David Bass at Newbury last time out on New Year’s Eve and he goes into this fresh and well. He has won on heavy ground but I’m hopeful he will be able to handle these faster conditions.
The two mile five handicap hurdle looks the hardest race of the card so SEMI-COLON (4.45) has got to bring her “A” game to the track and has something to prove after pulling up on Boxing Day.
I’ve picked up another decent spare in the last, the bumper, STARVIN MARVIN (5.15), trained by Rod Millman.
He won well on debut at Warwick and has a live chance but it’s never easy to defy a penalty in bumpers and I thought Virginia Ash put in an eye-catching debut third at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
TRANQUIL THE BEST OF MY THREE ACROSS THE SEA
I’ve got three at Naas on Sunday and I can’t tell you much about DARA TANGO (1.45) in the maiden hurdle as I’ve never ridden him and he’s only had two runs over hurdles for Tony Martin.
My second is FLYCORN (3.25) is the two mile Grade Two Paddypower.com Novice Hurdle and I’m on him for the first time so I’m just hoping he comes back to his winning form at Tipperary in October.
My best chance seems to be TRANQUIL SEA (4.05) in the two mile Grade Two Paddypower.com Chase. Officially he’s the best horse in the race but I have a very healthy respect for Seabass who is on a seven-timer for Ted and Ruby Walsh.
CHAMPION HOPE HAD A GRAND CHANCE
It was really bad luck that GRANDOUET has been ruled out of the Champion Hurdle as I’m sure he’d have been a big player.
It’s a blow for Simon Munir and the team at Seven Barrows because a tremendous amount of work had gone into the horse.
It just goes to show that, with the likes of the scare to Fingal Bay, it’s a feat to get a horse to Cheltenham at his peak, let alone hit the target.
It was quite a while since I’d been to Seven Barrows for a schooling morning and I really enjoyed myself on Friday putting quite a few through their paces.
SIMONSIG ATR Tracker really pleased me over eight flights of hurdles, tucked in behind two others and after that it wouldn’t really worry me which of the novice hurdles he went for at Cheltenham. Very sharp.
Keys did ok in the novice hurdle at Ascot and wasn’t helped when we got messed about coming out of Swinley Bottom. The run will have sharpened him up having been off since early December and it could be that a drop back in trip might help.
Bobs Worth really pleased me in the Reynoldstown Chase.
His wind was good after the operation but he just flattened out a bit coming out of Swinley Bottom having travelled brilliantly until then and it looked as though the leaders were going away from us. He rubbed a couple of fences after that but still stayed on up the home straight and despite hitting the second last was a good second to Invictus.
Historically, you don’t necessarily need to win this race to take the Rsa Chase at Cheltenham and this fella will improve a lot for that run. He’s going to be a player next month.
RIVERSIDE THEATRE ATR Tracker was absolutely deadly – top class on his comeback after a year off to win back to back Ascot Chases. That was a massive credit to the boss and his team – just shows what an operation it is. I gave him a breather at Swinley Bottom, kept taking him back but in the end I had to let him go on and win his race.
He’ll take some beating in the Ryanair Chase.