THURSDAY 17 APRIL
'CHOC' (Thornton) was at his best on Pantxoa at Cheltenham yesterday, getting home in an epic scrap from the last for a short head victory in the handicap chase.
Alan said:"That was Pantxoa's fourth win over fences, and he has benefited from his winter break.
"He does not like soft ground, so we might well take him to Market Rasen for the big chase there in July as he does tend to jump right-handed, and going the other way round should suit him better."
BOTH Kumbeshwar and Pantxoa are back from a break at Cheltenham today – the former is a streetfighter, though arguably not the force of old, but the latter will relish the drying ground and has plenty of experience from the autumn – and with the sun shining it will be great to be back at Prestbury Park today, without the pressure that comes with the March Festival.
We have three solid shots there tomorrow and, assessing their chances, Alan said: "The Pirate's Queen runs in the Listed Mares' Novices' Hurdle. She is only small, so it was heartbreaking to see her short-headed in the Mares’ Final at Newbury. She travelled and jumped and gave everything, and she was coming back at the winner at the line, so maybe the luck will go our way this time.
"L'Unique has topweight to shoulder in the mares handicap hurdle. She is a spring filly and, though I thought Cheltenham might come a week or two too soon, she ran an absolute cracker making up 15 lengths on the runner-up from their form together at Warwick. This is her time of the year and despite the weight, we hope she will run well.
"Finally, we have Gabrielle Rose in the bumper, She ran an encouraging first race at Uttoxeter, where Wayne (Hutchinson) said that the hardest job was pulling her up. It took her a long time to find her stride as she was very green, but the penny dropped in the last half-furlong and she finished off her race well. She will improve plenty for that experience and is a filly with a future."
Meanwhile, further news on Wayne. He has undergone surgery on the knee he injured in that fall at Towcester last Thursday, and he is now back on his feet. He reckons "it will be touch and go" whether he will be ready for the bet365 Gold Cup meeting at Sandown on April 26 but, if not, he definitely expects to be back riding the following week.
GODSMEJUDGE, victorious in last year's Scottish National, ran his heart out to finish second when trying for a repeat at Ayr on Saturday, leaving Alan "very proud".
He said: "It was such a relief to see Godsmejudge show last year's sparkle again. He has struggled to recapture his zest, and we only just got him ready in time, so it was a super effort, and now we can think about Aintree next year.
"Valdez had clearly had enough for the season when disappointing in the big novice chase, but he has done us proud and will now be off on his summer holidays, but we had two winners, Ulzana's Raid, who has been a bit of a baby but has ended his season on a high, and Miles to Memphis, who won the bumper and looks very exciting. He, too, has finished for the season and will go straight over hurdles next winter."
We briefly switch to the Flat at Newmarket on Thursday when First Mohican takes on the big boys in the G3 Earl of Sefton Stakes.
Owner Henry Ponsonby said: "First Mohican had some classy form on the Flat with Henry Cecil, and he took some catching one day at Deauville when we allowed him to bowl along in front, so we hope that he might stretch them. He is fit from jumping and seems very well."
Following Wayne Hutchinson's fall yesterday, Alan has been forced to shuffle riding plans for Godsmejudge, and Aidan Coleman now partners last year's winner in his bid for a repeat celebration in Saturday's Scottish National at Ayr.
Assessing our prospects for the day as a whole, Alan said:"We step Valdez up to two and a half miles in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase. He got the longer trip last year over hurdles and now he settles better hopefully he can get it over fences too. He has come out of Cheltenham in really good order and I am looking forward to running him.
"In the Scottish Champion Hurdle we run Montbazon. He was third in the County Hurdle and the form is looking pretty good with the winner going in again at Aintree last week. I hope and think he has improved for that run as we did not have a clear run going into the festival, but things have gone perfectly since. He seems in great form and we are getting plenty of weight from My Tent Of Yours, so we have to give it a go, and the drying ground is definitely a bonus.
"Manyriverstocross goes for the Listed two-mile handicap chase. He won at Ascot last week but he seems very fresh so we are rolling the dice again.
Besides Godsmejudge, we also have Midnight Appeal in the Scottish National. He is in great order and this has been his plan for some time. He has been running well in big handicaps all season. It is into the unknown trip-wise, but he has always given the impression he will stay.
Godsmejudge is definitely coming back to himself, and he jumped super when winning last year. He is 6lb higher and took a long time to come right after the ailments we suffered in December, but the recent signs have been much better.
"I have Vendor in the 2m 5f handicap hurdle. He did not quite get into the race at Cheltenham as we had to drop him out to get him to settle. We might try and ride him slightly nearer the pace this time, though that is easier said than done.
"Finally in the bumper we run Miles To Memphis. He was very impressive when he won at Kempton and he has been working well."
WE keep reading that with Cheltenham and Aintree now firmly behind us, Flat racing takes centre-stage, and, while that might be correct, Alan was quick to point out that there is still plenty of top jump racing left, notably the big Scottish National meeting at Ayr this weekend, the Punchestown Festival and Sandown's important finale at the end of the month.
Reflecting on last week's successful Aintree, Alan said:"Three winners there following our successful Cheltenham has made it an incredible end to the season, and it has been made all the more special because of the difficult period we went through in December that forced us to shut down the yard for most of January.
"It was a tough time but everyone involved in the yard worked tremendously hard and the owners were very patient and we are now reaping the rewards, which is very satisfying and it is wonderful it paid off.
"A few years ago I would probably have tried to find a way through and run a few, but the fact we stopped the whole team saw the horses recover a lot quicker.
"People keep saying it was a brave decision, but I think it is something that comes with experience and it was the only thing we could do. It has worked out and nobody is more delighted than I am.
"It might even have been a blessing in disguise because the ground through January was absolutely appalling and the fact we could not run anything seems to have worked in our favour because the horses are fresher at this stage of the season than they would normally be. "And that freshness helped us win two Grade 1s and a Listed race at Aintree last week and most of the horses that got beat ran with great credit.
"Grumeti, who ran as well as could be expected in the Grade 1 two and a half mile hurdle, will be schooled over fences before his summer holiday and then we can go novice chasing with him in the autumn.
"Another one we can look forward to for a two-mile novice chase campaign next season is Turn Over Sivola, who ran a mighty race. He settled and saw the race out well but made a couple of small mistakes in the back straight, which just got him on the back foot slightly.
"He has not won this season so we will wait until at least May and protect his novice status for another season. He is battle-hardened now, so you would like to think an ordinary novice chase would be a formality for him.
"He has bumped into some very good novices this season but was very consistent and I would like to find an opportunity for him to get his head in front now for a little bit of confidence, but the handicapper shares my view that he is improving as he put him up another 4lb for Aintree, meaning he is now on a mark of 138.
"The highlight of our Thursday was Uxizandre winning the Manifesto Chase. It was tremendous and I was so thrilled. I was a little bit worried going to the last that Oscar Whisky was going to come and collar us, but Uxizandre always keeps a little bit up his sleeve and he kept picking up. I am delighted to have won a Grade 1 with him and it is a marvellous way for him to end his season.
"We had considered stepping him up to three miles, but both AP and Choc have got off him and said not to be frightened of coming back in trip, and I think ultimately he is a proper two and a half miler. The Ryanair may be his ultimate aim next season and he, too, produced a career best as his mark went up to 158.
"We only had one runner on the Friday, but Avispa made sure we still had a winner with a very tough performance to win the Mares Bumper. I cannot say I was shocked she won and she travelled very well. We thought she would go very close at Sandown but she got stuck in the ground and the better ground at Aintree clearly helped. She is quite smart. She had a tough race so we will put her away and go novice hurdling in the autumn. She has schooled very well through the season and is a mare to look forward to.
"Balder Succes delivered impressively in the Grade 1 novice chase on the Saturday, and I see the handicapper has put him up 9lb to 162, so we are climbing towards the top of the two-mile tree. It paid off not going to Cheltenham and he is still relatively fresh, so he may well go to Punchestown for their big two-miler.
"We know he stays a little bit further, but at the moment I would be inclined to stick to two miles. He has to improve a bit but we will see how far down the Champion Chase route he can go. Another summer on his back may just help.
"In the Grand National Walkon ran very well for a long way and his jumping was great, but he took the tendon off his hock turning in and was pulled up pretty sharpish. He is comfortable and we will give him plenty of time to recover."
Alan will discuss our prospects for his twin-attack on a possible second Scottish National celebration on Friday, plus Montbazon's chances of upsetting My Tent or Yours in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, but, being a Scotsman and having such close links to Ayr racecourse, it is a meeting which is very close to his heart, not least because it enables him to stay over with his parents.
He added: "Winning the Scottish National last year with Godsmejudge was a huge thrill and left me quite emotional, and we are taking a strong team up there this year.
"On Friday we have both Sego Success and Ulzana’s Raid in the stayers novice handicap hurdle. Ulzana's Raid was third on his hurdling debut at Warwick and then won over the same course and distance. The step up in trip should suit him and I think a mark of 128 is fair, while Sego Success can also be competitive off his mark, so he could run, too
"In the two and a half mile handicap chase we are likely to run Bless The Wings. He ran well for a long way at Cheltenham before making a mistake at the top of the hill which knocked him out of contention. We also have Lidar entered but there would be a question mark over his participation as he would not want it too soft, though it is encouraging to hear that there is some drying weather around up there.
"Bull And Bush, who has won her last two starts, runs in the staying handicap hurdle for mares. She is learning all the time but is another who would not want the ground too soft, so if they got rain we could redirect her to Cheltenham the following week.
"Our final runner on the Friday is Dundee in the three-mile handicap hurdle. He ran very well at Newbury on his last start having got shuffled back and he ran on really well up the home straight and saw the race out really well. He went up 5lb for that but I still think he can be competitive."
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