It was pleasing to see Chantry House back to form at Wetherby on Wednesday. Last season's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle third had been well beaten at Cheltenham in December. Found to have been suffering with a back injury, Nicky Henderson's charge was subsequently operated on and it appeared to have done the trick, judging by his three and a quarter lengths win at the A1 track. Leading at the third last, the Yeats gelding only had to be pushed out to the beat the useful Coconut Splash. He was shortened for the Marsh Novices' Chase as a result but it will be interesting to see if his connections consider a tilt at one of the handicaps at the Festival. Rated 147 before his latest win, I will be surprised if he doesn't stay three miles in time and would be tempted to give him an entry in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day of the meeting. His jumping was very good on Wednesday and, while he lacks chasing experience, he ran in two Irish points at the start of his career and will have done a lot of jumping in the early part of his life. He is a smart horse capable of winning a good prize one day.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone to plan for some of those horses nominated in the February Update. Neither Two For Gold or Jerrysback (declared to run at Ascot on Saturday) are likely to line up in the race formerly known as the Racing Post Chase at Kempton on Saturday week, while Cloudy Glen, who looked tailormade for the Grand National Trial at Haydock this weekend, also heads to Ascot instead - ironically, he takes on Jerrysback. So frustrating. Fingers crossed we get a result in the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday.
Donald McCain's interview continues to produce winners though with Dreams of Home making it two wins from as many starts over hurdles at Carlisle on Tuesday. The former Irish pointer was given a positive ride by champion jockey Brian Hughes and he drew the sting out of the ex-French gelding Raf Tavel to win decisively in the two miles novice hurdle under a penalty. I spoke to his trainer afterwards and he said the Jet Away gelding won't have much more racing this season but is one to look forward to over fences next Autumn. The Grand National winning trainer has assembled a strong team of novice hurdlers this winter.
Having worked at the Cumbrian venue, I headed south to Newmarket on Tuesday evening. The following day I had another enjoyable afternoon visiting both William Haggas and Roger Varian. The pair trained 118 and 115 winners respectively during 2020 which was a tremendous achievement considering the season was curtailed due to Covid-19. Both have tremendous strength in depth for the season ahead and their interviews make compelling reading. William has recruited some very interesting older horses purchased by his son Sam and Somerville Lodge is also blessed with some regally bred unraced three year olds. Roger, too, has some smart looking three year olds for this year and he has some ambitious plans for his Sky Bet Ebor winner Fujaira Prince.
On Thursday, I conducted an interview with James Tate and the Newmarket based handler kindly ran through his string, including Group 3 winner Top Rank. James also gave me a list of two year old's to keep an eye on, including a couple of 'very sharp early sorts.'
I have therefore completed half a dozen interviews for Ahead On The Flat, namely Ralph Beckett, Roger Charlton, Clive Cox, William Haggas, James Tate and Roger Varian. The plan is to carry another three or four next week, in between a trip to Wetherby for Racing TV on Tuesday.
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