THIS week has been the calm before the storm, but we look to have two potentially exciting runners heading to Sandown on Saturday, and victory for either would give us all a timely boost for next week's Cheltenham Festival.
Despite a welcome change in the weather, the ground will still ride soft – probably tacky – on the Esher slopes, where we run Gone Too Far in the EBF Final and Avispa in the Listed Mares Bumper.
Assessing their chances, Alan said: "Gone Too Far ran with the choke out when he finished third at Doncaster last time, but it was his first run since November and this has been his target for a while. Any improvement in the ground would probably help his cause, but he is in good form.
"We won the Listed bumper two years ago with Call Me A Star, and, hopefully, we'll get another good run with Avispa. She won well at Huntingdon, where she showed she handles soft ground, and she worked very well last week-end. I'd be hopeful that she'll run a big race.
"The plan is to run Trigger the Light in the long-distance chase at Warwick on Sunday. He loves the course and ran well on his comeback there in February, having been off 11 months. However, he is now a 13-year-old, so we will give him a spin and see how much ability he retains, and if we feel he has done enough we will seriously consider retirement."
Alan will be giving you a daily bulletin on his views for Cheltenham next week, but he confirmed that Medinas will go for the World Hurdle and Meister Eckhart will stay in the Coral Cup, while "it will be the Ryanair or nowhere" for Medermit, who will not run in the Gold Cup.
Reflecting on the form of the string, Alan added:"We had three winners last week and 15 of our 21 runners finished in the frame, so I have to be happy with the welfare of the horses, and, while I would not want to go through what we suffered in December and January again, at least we have a fresh bunch of horses for Cheltenham."
Sharing his thoughts on recent events, Alan said:"I was happy with the way in which Inner Drive, Prettyasapicture and Minx of the Lamp shaped in their bumpers at Lingfield, and the three of them will be ready to run in another bumper on the turf when the ground dries up.
"Simply A Legend was too free at Ludlow and needs to settle, but we had a nice winner there in Midnight Cataria who seemed to appreciate the step up in trip. I did not expect her to handle the ground as well as she did, but she won well and was back on the bridle turning into the straight. That was very pleasing and she will now head for the mares final at Newbury on March 22.
"Kuda Huraa could also be aimed at the same Newbury meeting, having run a blinder on his comeback there. He had been off a long time and has had a hobday operation since his last run, so I was pleased to find that his wind was very clear as if there was still a problem he would have been found out on that testing ground. He travelled well and just got run out of it, and he will be a better horse on better ground.
"The better ground certainly helped Bull And Bush at Doncaster, and she won really well. She travelled and jumped, and the further she went the better she looked, so I would not be frightened to step her up in trip. She isn't qualified for the mares final as she has only had the two runs over hurdles, so we will give her a little break and then look to carry a penalty somewhere. She is certainly progressing well, which is encouraging,
"Back at Newbury I was also pleased with Ziga Boy and Fine Words, who ran in the same race. Ziga Boy jumped super and was still travelling nearly as well as the winner two out, and, though ultimately run out of it by the Henderson horse, I was very happy with his run. He is a winner over fences in France, so I think we are going to go chasing with him now and protect his novice hurdle status for next season.
"Fine Words also ran well and crept into the race, but that ground was plenty soft enough for him. However, it was a step up on his last run and I feel he can improve again when the ground starts to dry out, so, hopefully, he can win over hurdles this spring before he goes chasing in the autumn.
"Another of ours who struggled in the ground was Kings Bayonet, who ran well for a long way but still hung on for third, despite tiring badly in the last few strides. He'll need time to get over that race as he was running up and down on the spot close home, but it was an encouraging comeback.
"We will also wait for better ground for Frizzo, who did not get the trip in those conditions but ran much better than his last place suggests. He will drop back in distance and he, too, could jump a fence in the spring,.
"I have made no secret how highly we rate McCabe Creek and L'Amiral David. McCabe Creek just bumped into a good one, while L'Amiral David was green and on and off the bridle early on. However, he will have benefited from that experience and did not have a hard race, so provided we are happy with him he could go for the sales bumper back at Newbury on March 22.
"Turn Over Sivola finished second yet again at Doncaster, having had a winter break. He jumped super and definitely appreciated the better ground, and he was just worried out of it close home, having looked the winner between the last two fences. However, he has run a blinder and should be a good fun horse for the spring.
"Sadly, Lidar did not run as well in the same race. He was disappointing, but that is him. He is very in-and-out, and that was not one of his going days.
"Godsmejudge came back distressed after failing to fire in the Grimthorpe Chase. He is clearly not right and we are having him checked over, and we need to get him back in top form before we start thinking about the Grand National again.
"Pirates Cay got tired at Huntingdon on his first run for 600 days, but his legs were fine on Monday morning and he will come on a lot, while our other winner last week was Ordo Ab Chao in the bumper, and he could not have done it better. He settled well and travelled well and he could be exciting. His point-to-point form is solid, and looks a horse with a big future. He won't go hurdling until the autumn, but we might look for another bumper."
THERE will be no last dance for Oh Crick, following the announcement this week that David Sewell's veteran has been retired after looking as if he was feeling his years at Doncaster last week.
Alan said: "David and I both agreed that it will be in the best interest of the horse to retire him. Oh Crick finished last on Town Moor, and, while he jumped and travelled really well for three-quarters of the race, it was clear up the home straight that the fire had gone out of his belly.
"Oh Crick had been working well and the handicapper was beginning to drop him a few pounds in the ratings, so we hoped that we might be able to find one more race so as to go out on a high, but it was not to be.
"However, Oh Crick has been a marvellous servant for us, and we will never forget that purple patch he hit, winning the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham and following up in the Red Rum Chase a few weeks later.
"He was not the best horse that I have trained, but he was very special to all of us at Barbury and we had such a soft spot for him. I know that one of David's proudest moments was when he finished fifth to Big Zeb in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and I am delighted that the old horse has retired in one piece. He will certainly have a very good home for the rest of his days."
Wroughton | Swindon | Wiltshire SN4 0QZ
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