Edwardstone ready to prove himself a ‘Champion’
It’s all about Wednesday for Barbury at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, with Alan’s two confirmed runners of the entire week lining up on day two, though two could become three if Harbour Lake, second-reserve for the Coral Cup, receives a late “call-up”.
Harbour Lake is also entered in the Martin Pipe Hurdle on Friday as well as Kempton 24 hours later, but with the ground on the Old Course at Cheltenham being officially declared as “soft”, it is not inconceivable that there could be a few defectors in the Coral, in which case he might get a run on Wednesday.
And let’s not forget that Harbour Lake ran a blinder on the course when finishing third at the November meeting.
However, there is no doubt that Alan’s focus will be on Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Edwardstone’s recent workouts on Sharpridge’s all-weather gallop have been very encouraging, and, while you’ll never get Alan singing from the rooftops before the most important jumps meeting in the calendar, one senses that he could not have been any happier after last year’s Arkle Trophy hero had done his final schooling session.
Alan said:”Weatherwise, this has been the most difficult season I have known since I started training, and we have always been one race behind with Edwardstone, who, as you saw last season, is a horse who thrives on racing.
“We were on the backfoot going into the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December, so I would have been happy to have finished third or fourth there.
“However, Edwardstone won that Grade 1, and what’s more blew me away the style in which he powered up the run-in from the final fence to put daylight between himself and the chasing pack.
“We only had 24 days between Sandown and the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, and I was probably guilty of not doing enough with him. Consequently, he was a bit fresh and then Tom (Cannon) and him had that disagreement at the ditch, which messed things up.
“We then went to Cheltenham for the rearranged Clarence House Chase and when Edwardstone hit the front I thought ‘job done and he’ll pull away, as he had done at Sandown.
“But Editeur du Gite just would not lie down and he got back up to pip us close home.
“I was surprised that Edwardstone did not hit the line as hard at Cheltenham as he had done in the Tingle Creek, and, while he seemed fine afterwards, at 8 o’clock the following morning he was very lame indeed.
“Happily, it was just deep bruising and the x-rays were clear, and, though it took us most of that week to get him sound again he is fine now and we are firmly back on track.”
Alan is not surprised that for him this week is all about quality not quantity – “We are not far off 50-50 with the horses split equally between Flat and Jumps, but I’ve seen it coming for a while now” – and he stresses that “when Edwardstone is right, he is very, very good.”
Comparing Edwardstone with some of his two-mile heroes from yesteryear, Alan added:”He’d be right up there with the best of them – mentally he’d be tougher than My Way de Solzen and physically he’d be stronger than Voy Por Ustedes,”before adding with a smile “Amazing to think ‘Edward’ found one too good in all three of his bumpers.”
So when did it all click for Edwardstone? “It took a while over hurdles to get him to race properly, but I always said that those competitive handicaps made a man of him, and since he switched to fences we have reaped the rewards.”
Our other Wednesday runner is Favour And Fortune in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, and, while Alan accepts that the Willie Mullins battalion will be hard to beat, he clearly thinks his fellow is a classy individual who could outrun his odds.
He said:”We have given him plenty of time, and he is a young horse whom I have always liked. I was impressed how well when he won at Warwick, especially considering he was carrying a penalty for his debut success at Southwell, so he deserves his place in the field.”