Most trainers might never have a horse good enough to run in the 32Red King George VI Chase – yet Ruth Jefferson will tick that box in her first full season with a licence when Waiting Patiently lines up at Kempton Park.
Jefferson, whose influence had been growing in recent years before her father, Malcolm, sadly died in February, realises she is in a fortunate position to have such a performer.
There was not a dry eye in the house when just the day after her father’s funeral, Waiting Patiently won a Grade One at Ascot – beating the hugely-popular Cue Card – to bulldoze his way into the top echelons of the sport.
While a decision was taken to miss the Cheltenham Festival, an injury prevented him from going to Aintree and has delayed his comeback this season, meaning he will be having his first outing for 10 months.
“He is probably better fresh, some horses you would work until the day before they run – he’s not like that,” said the North Yorkshire-based trainer.
“He won there last season when it was good to soft, soft in places and that was perfect, so any rain would help us, but he doesn’t need it bottomless.
“He looks like he’ll stay, but he’s got to prove it. The only reason I wouldn’t want it bottomless is because he’d have a hard race which would take him longer to recover from.”
Waiting Patiently is no stranger to Kempton following his Listed-race success and neither is Jefferson, who travelled down over Christmas with Dato Star, the best horse her father ever trained and who won the Christmas Hurdle in 1999.
“I went down with Dato Star the year he won and I also went when Kings Measure ran against Gloria Victis in the Feltham. He fell at the last and stayed down because he was winded. The screens were up and the crowd feared the worst,” she said.
“He was fine though, and when I walked him back in front of the stands he got a round of applause and the poor thing thought he’d won.
“Dad’s big regret with Dato was never taking him over to Ireland. Because soft ground at Cheltenham is so rare he felt he should have gone over there and taken Istabraq on, it might have been different on soft.”
Jefferson, 37, is fully aware of how hard it will be to win a race such as the King George first time out – but circumstances have conspired against her since his breakthrough at the top level at Ascot.
“After he won at Ascot we rode him out for a week and he looked fab. Then the snow came and he went in his coat, he looked awful so we backed off him hoping for Cheltenham, but he didn’t come back in time,” said Jefferson.
“We were aiming for Aintree, but found a bit of heat in his leg and he’d damaged a tendon sheaf. Whether he did it at Ascot or after, I don’t know. We’ve just had to wait, but he healed really well and every time we’ve scanned it, it’s been great.
“I wouldn’t call him fragile, I just don’t think he’s a horse who’d take a lot of racing. Henrietta Knight started it with the three runs (with Best Mate) and you get called out, but some can take eight and three is enough for others.
“It doesn’t bother me if he only does three the level he’s at – especially if he keeps winning.”
Because Waiting Patiently still needs to prove his stamina over three miles, Jefferson will make future plans after he runs – but, just like her father, the Cheltenham Festival is not the be all and end all.
“We’re going to Kempton thinking he’ll stay, but if he doesn’t it will change our plans long term, so we’ll get this out of the way,” she said.
“There’s the big Irish meeting in February or we could go back for the Ascot Chase, so we’ll see, but Kempton is the first hurdle where we’ll know more.
“As for Cheltenham, he’s a horse that leans on you so I’m not sure jumping downhill will suit him.
“If we win the King George we’d have to look at it, and then we’d know whether to have a crack at the bonus (£1million Jockey Club Chase Triple Crown next season.”
The Jeffersons inherited Waiting Patiently from owner Richard Collins after former trainer Keith Reveley retired – and while everyone always knew he was a nice horse, whether he was expected to be quite this good is another matter.
“When he came to us he was rated 123 and we never expected to end up where he’s ended up. He always looked like a chaser and there was no obvious reason to stay over hurdles,” said Jefferson.
“His work is always good and he does a lot in a piece of work. What I like in his races now is he settles out the back and he doesn’t jump extravagantly, so he doesn’t waste energy which would give you a little more confidence that he’d stay.
“I’m very lucky Richard has left him with me and put his trust in me – it’s kind of him to do so. When he won at Kempton last year the licence was still in my dad’s name, but he’d been ill for a couple of months by then. Whatever we’re doing here obviously suits him.
“He got his name from when he was a young horse in Ireland with Adrian Costello, he always used to wait patiently for his breakfast. He bangs a bit more now, but we let him off.”
Training in your own right may bring plenty of upsides, but the traditional holiday season is not one of them.
“Christmas Day will be get up, muck out, feed, pack the wagon and drive to Kempton,” said Jefferson.
“It’s one of those things, it shouldn’t be a bad run down on Christmas Day. I said I’d take him, my brother will come with the lad who looks after him on Boxing Day – it saves someone else being away from home.
“I have to multitask, I’m not Nicky Henderson, I do a bit of everything still!”