Ben Pauling is anxious to make up for lost time as his hugely-promising chaser Willoughby Court prepares for a belated seasonal reappearance at Newbury.
Pauling has had to be especially patient while niggling injuries have interrupted the imposing seven-year-old’s progress – but he is ready to pitch him into the Ladbrokes Handicap Chase on Friday.
Willoughby Court was ante-post favourite for last season’s JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, until a poisoned foot ruled him out of that and other high-profile spring assignments.
Already a Grade One Festival winner, in the 2017 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, most recently his return for this campaign was delayed by a minor cut.
“He had his little setback, a cut, but he is back in good form,” said Pauling, understandably frustrated at having to miss earlier opportunities at Carlisle and Sandown, but happy he has Willoughby Court ready.
“He’s schooled and worked very well this week.
“We’re just looking forward to getting him out again and getting his campaign up and running – a bit later than we had hoped.”
Pauling does not expect fitness to be a major issue, despite the Paul and Clare Rooney-owned gelding’s near 11-month absence since New Year’s Day.
“He will undoubtedly come on for it, because we had to have those few weeks on the easy list,” added the Cotswolds trainer.
“But he was quite fit before he went and did it, so I think he might still be able to get away with it.
“Either way, we are getting well into the season now, so I think we just have to get him out – because we have bigger targets ahead.”
One of those initial key dates is about to come and go, Pauling deciding in the circumstances to choose a slightly lower-key engagement one day early rather than Newbury’s annual showpiece staying handicap on Saturday.
“We decided the Ladbrokes Trophy first time out would be a big ask, so we’ve opted for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap,” he said.
“Ideally, we would have liked to go to Carlisle for the graduation chase there – that would have been a lovely starting point, but we had to miss it.
“Then after Carlisle, there was Sandown – but that was the same. So he’s straight into open company, with only three runs under his belt as a novice.”
Victory on this corresponding card a year ago is a source of encouragement for the trainer.
Pauling added: “He was very good at Newbury when he won the Berkshire (Grade Two Ladbrokes Novices Chase), so this is a track we know he likes.
“The ground and track will be ideal for him.”
Willoughby Court is set to face six rivals including Beggar’s Wishes, who has won his last two starts for Peter Bowen, and the Paul Nicholls-trained Touch Kick – a recent winner at Hereford.
Grade Two honours are up for grabs in the Ladbrokes Novices’ Chase – better known as the Berkshire Novices’ Chase.
Just four runners go to post for the two-and-a-half-mile contest and three of them met each other at the track three weeks ago.
On that occasion Warren Greatrex’s high-class mare La Bague Au Roi beat Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation and Alan King’s Talkischeap into second and third place respectively.
Greatrex said: “She had several options this week, but I wasn’t keen on going over three miles on Saturday in what looks like being soft ground, so we’re happy to run here.
“I like Lostintranslation a lot and he should come on for his first run, but so should we.
“She’s been in great form at home and this is an important next step.
“I know she’s stepping down in trip, but I wouldn’t be afraid of running her over two miles.
“It’s a Grade Two so won’t be easy, but it will take a good one to beat her giving weight.”
Spiritofthegames, an impressive winner at Chepstow on his latest outing for Dan Skelton, completes the quartet.