Staker Wallace is on course to bid for Cheltenham Festival glory – without a previous victory under rules and after just four career starts at the age of nine.
Trainer Enda Bolger admits he is wary of racecourse inexperience, and more so of any drying ground next week for the St James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase.
But he is nonetheless optimistic the fragile gelding can prove his class, having overcome a catalogue of injuries.
Staker Wallace has been well-backed of late – against his famous owner JP McManus’ other contender and former Gold Cup runner-up Minella Rocco, as well as favourite and defending champion Hazel Hill.
Bolger is unable as yet to confirm some reports that top amateur Derek O’Connor may even end up preferring Staker Wallace to Minella Rocco, but he does have a high opinion of his dual point-to-point winner.
“At the moment we intend to run,” he said, describing Staker Wallace’s alternative entry at Gowran this weekend as purely “a precaution” in case of any uncertainty about the Festival going ahead.
“I hope the ground stays the way it is – he doesn’t want it too good.
“If it stays the way it is, on the easy side, it will be all systems go.”
Staker Wallace ran a hugely promising race to finish an eight-length second to Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham hope Billaway on only his second chase start at Naas in January, and first following a near three-year injury lay-off.
“He’s been a very fragile horse all his life, but it seems like all his little problems have settled down now,” said Bolger.
“We’ve had more problems than an old soccer player. Everything that could go wrong, he got it – but all the problems are behind him now, touch wood.
“The only downside to him is probably race experience. He was good in his point-to-point, but he’ll have to up his game again.
“It’ll be a big ask. But he’s in good form, and I’m happy with where he is at the moment.”
As for Staker Wallace’s likely big-race jockey, Bolger said: “I don’t know yet – I’ll leave that until later on in the week, see how jockeys are sorting themselves out.
“Derek O’Connor was on Minella Rocco the last day (victory from Hazel Hill at Wetherby), so I don’t know what his plans are at the moment.”
Bolger also reported his two challengers for next week’s Glenfarclas Chase are intended runners, although he is well aware of the tough task they face to try to dethrone the mighty Tiger Roll, and get the better of several other strong contenders.
Josies Orders, who won the Festival’s cross-country showpiece for Bolger four years ago, and Yanworth are both set to take part in the McManus colours.
“Yep, they’re on course,” he said.
“But it’s going to be a very classy race this year.
“You’ve got those three top horses – Easysland, Tiger and Might Bite. We’ll try to pick up the pieces if anything goes wrong with the others.
“It’s a pretty warm-looking race this year.
“It’s really raising the bar with cross-country horses. I’d say ours are well-exposed, but we’ll be hoping to get around, and you never know what will happen in those races.”