Warren Greatrex could not be happier with La Bague Au Roi as his brilliant mare bids to wrap up a third successive Grade One victory in the Devenish Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree on Thursday.
The eight-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season so far, winning all her four starts over fences and proving equally effective from two and a half to three miles.
After winning the three-mile Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, she lifted the Flogas Novice Chase over three furlongs shorter at Leopardstown in February.
Greatrex decided to sidestep Cheltenham and wait for Aintree, where she also had an alternative engagement in the Mildmay over three miles and a furlong on Friday.
“She’s been in very good form since Leopardstown and she’s had a nice break,” said the Lambourn handler.
“With the weather they’re having, they are getting a bit of rain every day and I just thought three miles on Friday might not be right for her.
“She’s just as effective over two and a half and the news Defi Du Seuil had come out helped the decision. Richard (Johnson) and the owners agree it’s the right race to go for, so we’ll give it a shot.
“She seems very good at home, she looks fantastic and she’s beaten everything she’s taken on so far, so fingers crossed.
“It is a hot race – that’s Grade Ones – but she’s won two this season already. If she could go and win a third she’d have done exceptionally well this year.”
Kalashnikov was going well enough when unseating his rider at the sixth fence in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.
Amy Murphy is hoping the six-year-old can make amends as he steps up to two and a half miles.
“He’s in good order. I’m happy with him. It’s a fact-finding mission ahead of next year,” said the Newmarket handler.
Nicky Henderson is hoping Pentland Hills can overcome the arduous task of three races in less than six weeks when he lines up for the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle.
The former Chris Wall-trained gelding made a successful hurdling debut at Plumpton on February 25 after moving to Seven Barrows and then swept to victory in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“He has come out of it very well. It does mean that it will be his third consecutive race in quite a short space of time,” Henderson told Unibet.
“We went to Plumpton on the Monday and then Friday week he was at Cheltenham in the Triumph Hurdle – it was a very brave shout.
“He made a horrible mistake at the first (in the Triumph) and my first reaction was, ‘Henderson that was a very silly thing to do’ to try and bring him in on one run, he just doesn’t know enough’.
“Then all of a sudden, having nearly put Nico (de Boinville) through his ears, he picked up, galloped off and travelled beautifully throughout the race.”
Henderson also saddles Adjali, who was seventh behind his stablemate in the Triumph Hurdle.
Paul Nicholls believes his decision to byPass Cheltenham with Christopher Wood could prove the right move in the long run.
“I like him and he has done nothing wrong in two starts. He has got to step up in class, but he has done very well since going hurdling,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“I looked at that the other day, that he was rated a good few pounds superior to Pentland Hills on the Flat. He is obviously a good horse.
“Some people thought there might be an issue of him staying, but at Fontwell it was heavy ground over two and a quarter miles and he absolutely trotted up and he went to Newbury and won well with a penalty again.
“He could have run well in the Triumph, but it was nice not going to Cheltenham as he comes here fresh and well. He worked brilliantly on Saturday morning.”
Joseph O’Brien feels Band Of Outlaws will be able to cope with the step up in class after his victory in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“Band Of Outlaws has come out of his race at Cheltenham well,” he said.
“This represents a big step up in class, but he’s in good form at home and we are hopeful he’ll run a good race and hopefully get some prize-money.”
The County Kilkenny handler also expects Fakir d’Oudairies, who was fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, to make his presence felt.
“He ran well in Cheltenham as well,” he said.
“He was running against older horses and back against his own age group will be a help. We think he has an each-way chance as well.”