If the capabilities of the string Ben Pauling has assembled are transferred from the gallops to the track, then more than just a few feathers could be ruffled this season.
Despite securing both his best prize-money total and record number of winners during the 2017-18 campaign, Pauling feels it was very much a case of what might have been.
He said: “Up until Christmas we couldn’t have been going any better – then very shortly afterwards we got a bit of a bug, and it was very hard work from then on, to be honest.
“We had Willoughby Court with his foot abscess before the JLT (Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival), which was a complete disaster for the season.
“Global Citizen was brilliant in the Dovecote (Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton), then we waited for Aintree and the ground went bottomless and he came back all wrong.
“You wouldn’t call it a disastrous season, but it wasn’t quite what we had hoped for.”
With 2017 Neptune (Novices’ Hurdle) winner Willoughby Court now fully recovered from his setback, the Bourton-on-the-Water handler sees the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in December as an ideal target for the first half of the season.
He said: “He looks a million dollars and is moving very well.
“I’m hoping he is up to running in the Colin Parker Graduation Chase at Carlisle on November 4, and there is every chance if that went to plan you could see him in the Ladbrokes Trophy a month later.
“With a mark of 151, he could still be quite well handicapped.
“It is a big step up in trip, the Ladbrokes Trophy. I’ve no reason to believe he wouldn’t stay. He has had a tweak of his wind, and I hope he will reap the rewards.”
Pauling has yet to train a horse capable of being a genuine Champion Hurdle contender, but he believes that could all change should Global Citizen resume his progression.
He said: “There is a Listed hurdle at Kempton (this weekend), and he will be aimed at that. We will go for that – then there is the Elite at Wincanton three weeks later, so there is a possibility he could do the two of those.
“He has got a lot to do to prove he is Champion Hurdle standard, but he will be given the chance to. I’d like to think he could be a Christmas Hurdle horse. I’ve never had a horse with his speed and athleticism.”
While Grade One winner Barters Hill failed to feature in his first start in more than a year on his return from injury at Newbury in February, Pauling is keen to give the horse that put him on the map another go over fences.
He said: “He ran in a hurdle at Newbury and petered out towards the end. That was sad for me to see, and I thought maybe he was not quite not what he was – it wasn’t until later in the season when we ran a tracheal wash on him that he had a load of blood in his lungs.
“We are going to go back novice chasing with him, and his jumping seems fine. It will be lovely to see him back over fences, because he has only had one stab at it.
“If I could pick up a novice chase with him it would be the proudest day I’ve had with him.”
One division Pauling looks to have a particular strength and depth in is his novice chase team, which includes Equus Secretus and Gowiththeflow – both of whom already have potential Cheltenham Festival engagements on the horizon.
He said: “Equus Secretus looked very good early doors, then in his last two runs he hung very badly. We found a problem and gave him the rest of the season off. He is back cantering away now.
“If you were looking ahead you might think he would be one for the four-miler (National Hunt Chase) at the Festival. He is an exceptional jumper with a great attitude.”
He added: “I was very surprised Gowiththeflow got beaten the first two times. He went and won up at Doncaster, then finished eighth in the Ballymore.
“He is very accurate, and chasing will be the making of him. He might be one for something like the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham.”
Pauling has a definite long-term aim for useful bumper performer Nestor Park, a horse he has long held in high regard.
He said: “He is a bit special. He beat Portrush Ted at Ascot and he ran very well in the Listed bumper at Newbury to finish fourth. We shouldn’t have run him at Cheltenham, but we did.
“He is a horse with huge potential. There is one aim for him, and that is the Challow Hurdle.”
Others to note:
A Hare Breath
“He will end up back over fences this season in two-mile handicap chases and could be quite well handicapped.”
“She has been purchased out of John Gosden’s and was rated 85 on the Flat. She could be a useful one to go to war with in juvenile hurdles.”
“I think she is very smart and could be a good mares’ novice hurdler.”
“I think he could be quite useful in two-mile novice chases when the mud is flying. The two-mile division isn’t always as strong, so there could be a few opportunities for him.”
“He is an electric jumper, and if I campaign him properly and don’t over-face him he could be a top-class horse – because I don’t know what his limits are.”
“He is another going novice chasing. He won the Silver Plate at Kempton after just missing out on the Coral Cup at Cheltenham. He went to Aintree for his big day and he wasn’t himself at all. He has come back in looking as good as ever.”
“He is very talented, but fragile, and his fragilities came to the fore last year. I hope we’ve got on top of those now. He will go novice chasing, and his jumping is exceptional.”
“Nadaitak was rated 87 on the Flat for Sir Michael Stoute. He didn’t run last season. He will start off over two miles and will stay two and a half. He is a nice, big type.”
The Captains Inn
“The Captains Inn was purchased for a lot of money after finishing second in an Irish point-to-point, and he looks very smart. We will start off in a bumper and see where we go.”
Way Back Then
“He hated the ground that day in the Challow and just plodded around for fourth. If we can keep him sound then he could be quite useful. I think he is the sort that could go and be a proper Listed or Grade Two winner.”