Mick Channon is looking to Glen Forsa to follow in the hoofprints of stablemate Mister Whitaker and give the trainer his second Cheltenham Festival victory, this time in the Arkle Challenge Trophy.
When this natural jumper and strong traveller lines up for the big novice chase on the first day of the meeting, it will be almost a year to the day that Channon opened his Festival account.
Channon, Henrietta Knight and owner Tim Radford had originally set their sights on attempting a repeat of Mister Whitaker’s success in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase with Glen Forsa.
But his smooth success on switching back to two miles in the Kingmaker at Sandown prompted a rethink.
With favourite Le Richebourg ruled out, Channon finds his charge challenging for outright favouritism in the Arkle, in which rather than trying to take down a host of Irish-trained rivals, his main opponents now appear those based in England.
Channon said: “Everything has gone to plan with Glen Forsa, to the point that I wish his race was tomorrow. He is in very good order and pleased Jonathan (Burke) who sat on him on Tuesday.
“He’s improved all year and the race (Arkle) has cut up, so he will almost certainly go for it.
“All along we’ve known that he was very good – his work and demeanour told us that. But 18 months ago he came back from a routine canter with an issue and we found he had a hole in his hock, but Hen (Knight) got him back and the rest is history.”
The current season has been geared towards Glen Forsa making the transition from hurdles to fences, although not even the most optimistic observers at West Ilsley could have predicted that process would have panned out as smoothly as it has.
Channon added: “He showed us enough when coming back over hurdles that he was fully in the game and on his first two goes at chasing, he jumped and travelled beautifully.
“With Chepstow and Kempton being such different tracks, he’d shown us how versatile he is, but I admit going back to two miles at Sandown against Kalashnikov frightened me a bit. He beat Kalashnikov fair and square, he just needs to go and do it all again now.
“It’s all about jumping and the quality that is rarely seen in any horse, he seems to own – that’s his ability to quicken up not once, but two or three times, which is a trainer’s dream.
“As for his jumping, it’s been a hallmark of his races over fences, but funnily enough that’s the thing that worries me.
“The Arkle is one of the first races on the first day, the meeting hasn’t settled down and they go like hell, but if Jonathan can get him into a rhythm, he will take a lot of beating.”
Mister Whitaker will provide able support to Glen Forsa at Prestbury Park and while he has an entry in the Magners Gold Cup – which Channon views as a not unrealistic scenario – it is unlikely to happen this year.
The Ultima Handicap Chase over three and a quarter miles looks his likely contest, unless the heavens really open.
Channon said: “Mister Whitaker improved to win a Listed chase on his reappearance at Carlisle and we than headed to the old Mackeson over two and a half at Cheltenham.
“It was good, fast ground that day and unfortunately he got too far back in an incident-packed race. We then went to Ascot and bumped into Cyrname.
“Going into it, I defy even Paul Nicholls to have known what he had at his disposal and that his horse was going to win as easily, but not only did he trot up, he’s gone back there to give the form a massive boost.
“As we were giving weight to Cyrname, I have to think there wasn’t much wrong with the way our horse ran.
“Both Tim and Jack (Channon, son) are adamant we should go for the Ultima on the first day. If it came up very soft, I might be tempted to go for one of the bigger ones, but this is his time of year and he looks great.
“He put in a lovely bit of work on Tuesday and I think the Ultima is the right race.
“I count myself lucky to have inherited the legacy left by Terry Biddlecombe, who was a big mate of Tim’s.
“Whitaker was our first Festival winner last year and we go back there with real chances. There’s Glen Forsa, Whitaker and whether Hold The Note goes for the Albert Bartlett is another matter.
“He’s a very good horse, he’s come out of his Huntingdon race well and is crying out for three miles.”