Doctor Phoenix’s owners are hoping their fairytale can continue in Thursday’s Clonmel Oil Chase.
The 10-year-old enjoyed an unexpectedly brilliant first season in Ireland after being bought for £10,000 by the Nick Bradley Racing Club, switching to Gordon Elliott’s stable to claim three wins, including a valuable handicap and another at Grade Three level.
Owners, including the syndicate’s National Hunt adviser Will Smith, will once again be willing him on from afar – in the hope he can pick up where he left off.
“Last year was a fairytale really,” said Smith.
“We picked him up for 10 grand, with a view to just seeing what there was for him and maybe win a handicap.
“We had that first Cork run, then won, had him spot on for the Dan Moore (at Fairyhouse) – then he just flew from there.
“To get so close after that to Great Field, who I think is a very good two-miler, was wonderful.
“Then who knows what would have happened (back) at Fairyhouse?”
On that occasion, Doctor Phoenix fell at the second last when upsides dual Cheltenham Festival winner Un De Sceaux, on his step back up to two and a half miles from two.
He was initially due to return over the minimum trip in the Fortria Chase at Navan last weekend, until ground worries ruled him out.
Smith has an inkling that the extra half mile will suit him even better.
“The first thoughts I had about him were maybe he was a horse we could take up in trip, from some elements of his pedigree,” he said.
“But Gordon quickly saw that he’s got some pace – so we felt ‘why change from what has been working at two miles?’
“The two-and-a-half-mile race came up (at Fairyhouse), and he seemed to be travelling really nicely – so it might be that is probably his best trip, if he is going to reach as high as he can.”
Smith senses the extra distance will offset the ongoing lack of rain.
“We are hoping there might be a little bit come race time,” he said.
“It was really quite quick for the Fortria, we thought. But over two and a half miles, even if it is still good ground, they should go a stride or so slower.”
Doctor Phoenix will be ridden for the first time by Keith Donoghue, with Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy teaming up with Elliott’s two Gigginstown House Stud hopes.
A Toi Phil – who finished in front of Doctor Phoenix at Punchestown last spring but now has to give him 2lb – and Alpha Des Obeaux have a fitness edge after a run each already this season.
The latter, often seen over three miles and further, is running for only the second time since his switch to Elliott from Mouse Morris.
Kemboy is making his reappearance but on the back of an increasingly fruitful novice campaign – while Rashaan proved himself no slouch with a Grade Three novice chase win at Galway in the summer.
Against high-class opposition, Smith knows he can be no more than hopeful.
A four-time county championship-winning cricketer, he will be attending to his day job as a coach back in England while he tries to keep an eye on Doctor Phoenix’s fortunes.
“I have cricket commitments,” he said.
“So I’ll probably be running coaching sessions, but might be able to get a quick look for a few minutes at how he’s doing.”